Channel Islands National Park Hiking Trails: Our Top 5 Favorite Hikes

The Channel Islands National Park is a must-see destination for nature enthusiasts and shutterbugs alike. They're made up of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara, located off the coast of southern California.

The view of this rugged beauty with its wildflowers and rocky cliffs is breathtaking, with panoramic vistas of the sea or dramatic canyons that plunge into peaceful coves.

The islands also offer over 2,000 species of plant and animal life!

Ready to see stunning ocean views, jutting rock cliffs, and wildlife that you can't find anywhere else in the world? Discover what this park has to offer!

Hike #1: Potato Harbor Trail

If you enjoy amazing sea views, go hiking the Potato Harbor Trail on a beautiful day to Santa Cruz Island. 

After enjoying the incredible view, head south towards Cavern Point, where you can view more opportunities to see wildlife and explore interesting geology on Santa Cruz Island.

Once you get closer to Cavern Point, take a break at Potato Harbor Overlook or head down the side of the bluff to explore this beautiful cove.

Keep an eye out for deer and rabbits during this part of the trail. You might even see some monarch butterflies or a coyote who didn't get the memo about avoiding humans.

Hiking out to Cavern Point is easy enough for all levels to enjoy, but be prepared for plenty of steps. 

  • Total Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 603 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Other Info: 
  • The path is open all year and has a variety of activity possibilities.
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • Hike #2: Smugglers Cove Trail

    This hike takes in some of the most beautiful views of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. The excursion begins with a one hour boat transport from Ventura to Smugglers Cove, and continues with a stroll up to Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz Island.

    When you reach the top of Smuggler's Road, check out the steep, rocky cliff-sides along the road for spectacular Dudleyas examples from throughout the Channel Islands' fascinating variety of plants.

    During the wet season, you can continue your journey into Smuggler's Canyon on a rough use route to view several spectacular waterfalls. And if it's dry, you might as well lie out at the beach for a while!

    When you're finished, retrace your steps back the way you came, or consider returning down the Scorpion Loop Trail for a different scenery!

    • Total Distance: 7.7 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
    • Difficulty: Moderate
    • Route Type: Out & back 
    • Other Info: 
  • This hike requires a boat to Santa Cruz Island.
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • Hike #3: The Cavern Point Loop Trail

    The Cave Point Loop hike takes you through one of the largest sea caverns in the world, where various creatures live. You will not be able to visit the cave, but you can take a full look at the California coast,

    After driving over Scorpion Ranch and other main camping grounds, be prepared for some of the most breathtaking views of the area. 

    Cavern Point also has westward vistas, making it an unusual location to watch the sun set if you're spending the night in Channel Islands National Park.

    The Cave Point Loop is a little steep, but it is also shadeless, like most trails on the Channel Islands. 

    Although, the Cave Point Loop is near enough to the shore to get some relief from a nice sea breeze.

    • Total Distance: 1.7 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 291 feet
    • Difficulty: Moderate
    • Route Type: Loop 
    • Other Info: 
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • Hike #4: Pelican Bay Trail

    The path to Pelican Bay may be the answer if you want to see some of Santa Cruz Island's greatest sights and only have one day to visit the Channel Islands.

    The journey to Pelican Bay begins at the Prisoner's Harbor landing and follows Canada del Puerto Creek to its mouth.

    This area is also near Xaxas, a Chumash village, one of the last Chumash tribes to be "colonized" by Europeans.

    The Santa Cruz Island Jay can also be seen because of the variety and density of vegetation along this stretch of island.

    Regardless of how you go, you have the chance to see some great scenery and feel the rich history that makes these islands a world of their own!

    • Total Distance: 4.0 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 820 feet
    • Difficulty: Moderate
    • Route Type: Out & back 
    • Other Info: 
  • A docent is required to accompany hikers from Island Packers while they are on Pelican Bay, since it is located on land owned by the Nature Conservancy.
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • Hike #5: Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail

    The Scorpion Canyon Trail offers hikers the opportunity to get serious leg-busting hiking time or just a basic moderate hike time, as well as wonderful views of the California coast, island ranching relics.

    There are several routes from the trailhead that will take you into other canyons, where a series of unique arches and a seacoast overlook could be found.

    It's a gorgeous area, with many paths leading to one or another of its scenic delights. You can hike as long as you hike up Scorpion Canyon itself.

    You’ll also have the chance to discover the island scrub-jay, the only native bird species on Santa Cruz Island.

    Hiking to Smuggler's Cove and then returning to Scorpion Canyon for a long day trip is an excellent way to enjoy the natural beauty of Santa Cruz Island. 

    • Total Distance: 4.5 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 784 feet
    • Difficulty: Moderate
    • Route Type: Loop
    • Other Info: 
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • For More Information Visit All Trails.

    The Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center is free and open daily from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. 

    The visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara, however, are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

    The Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center is also open daily from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, and is subject to weather conditions and availability of staff members.