Contents
  1. 1. Booking in Advance
    1. 1.1. Booking Boat Tickets
    2. 1.2. Choosing a Campsite
  2. 2. Preparing your Luggage
    1. 2.1. What Luggage to Bring
    2. 2.2. How Thick Should the Clothes Be?
    3. 2.3. Luggage Check-in
  3. 3. The Boat Ride Experience
    1. 3.1. What to Do if You Get Seasick
    2. 3.2. Thousands of Dolphins? Didn’t See Them
  4. 4. What to Do on the Island
    1. 4.1. Hiking
    2. 4.2. Kayaking, Snorkeling
  5. 5. Our Itinerary
    1. 5.1. Day One
    2. 5.2. Day Two
    3. 5.3. Day Three

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

During the recent three-day holiday (4/15-4/17), we spent 3 days and 2 nights camping and hiking on Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in Channel Islands National Park.

First, take a look at two videos to understand Channel Islands National Park.

  1. Treasure in the Sea

  2. Restoring Balance: Santa Cruz Island

Guide from “Summer Journey on the Road”: Southern California Summer Diary | Channel Islands National Park: The Galapagos of North America

This blog post focuses on sharing the experience of camping and hiking on Santa Cruz Islands.

Booking in Advance

If you want to travel to the Channel Islands, it’s best to book tickets and reserve camping spots more than a month in advance. For most people, the only way to reach the Channel Islands is by boat, so booking a boat ticket is essential. Moreover, there are no hotels on the island, the only overnight option is camping, which is even more in demand than boat tickets on weekends and holidays. We wanted to visit the Channel Islands several times but couldn’t because we didn’t book in time. This trip was booked more than three months in advance.

If you have time, I suggest browsing through most of the Channel Islands pages on the National Park Service (NPS) website, as it contains the most authoritative and detailed information. If you still have questions, you can actually call the above organizations. This blog post is merely based on personal experience, supplementing some information.

Booking Boat Tickets

Regarding boat tickets, most of the information can be found on the Island Packers website (the only choice, no other options). I’ll highlight some important points: there are several types of boat ticket prices, day return tickets are cheaper, but camping visitors (Campers) will find tickets more expensive. It takes about an hour to get to the island by boat, but it can take longer (for example, our trip took 1 and a half hours), and after arrival, there’s still luggage collection, assembly, etc. So if you’re not camping, you should book the earliest possible departure and the latest return. Therefore, these tickets are usually sold out first.

Choosing a Campsite

There’s only one camping site on the island named Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground, divided into Upper Loop and Lower Loop. You’ll need to hike to the campsite from the dock, which is about 0.5 mile. Considering the generally heavy camping luggage, it’s advised to choose the Lower Loop, as it’s closer to the pier. Campsite Number selection: The smaller the number on the map, the closer to the pier (and also closer to the toilets, which is more convenient). You can watch this Scorpion Campground - Camp Site Guide YouTube video to pick your favorite Campsite.

At the Scorpion Campground, drinkable tap water is available (tested and drinkable, no weird taste). There are no shower facilities (nowhere to rinse off after snorkeling). There are no flush toilets, but the restrooms are clean, and there are lights inside at night. Camp Stoves are allowed, but no open fires. The campsite has numerous Fox Boxes, with each Campsite having its own Fox Box to store food to prevent theft by foxes and crows. Each site has a separate Picnic table. The campsite is well-treed, so most Campsite areas have shade, though not all. Aside from Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground, there’s also a Backcountry campground, which I have no experience with, so I will not discuss it.

Preparing your Luggage

What Luggage to Bring

Initially unsure of how much camping gear to bring, since our prior experiences were car camping, we watched several YouTube videos. It seemed the vloggers didn’t bring much gear (maybe they just didn’t film everything). But we, two people, ended up bringing 6 pieces of luggage + a wheeled cart (highly recommend a cart, which can be used to haul your gear from the dock to the campsite for an additional fee of $10). Upon arriving at the drop-off area, we found that other campers had brought more gear than we did, and we regretted not bringing more. Since there are no stores on the island, the amount of gear you bring determines what you’ll have available to use/eat. For packing tips, see information on the Island Packers website, Camping | Overnight Gear Guidelines. In my opinion, it’s okay to bring a lot, as long as you can haul it from the dock to the campsite, camping is already hard, why not bring more delicious food, warm clothes.

We brought 7 pieces of luggage in total:

  1. One large IKEA plastic bag containing: tent, sleeping bags * 2, sleeping pads * 3
  2. One bag of dry food: bread, instant noodles * 6, biscuits, apples * 8, beef jerky, Camp Stove, utensils, etc.
  3. One Cooler: boiled eggs * 8, soy milk, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes
  4. One bag of clean clothes
  5. Two hiking backpacks: lots of hiking gear, clothes, headlamp, hiking poles, etc.
  6. One foldable wheeled cart (must be foldable, otherwise it cannot be brought along)

How Thick Should the Clothes Be?

The island’s weather is relatively mild. Before we went, we checked the weather: sunny, temperatures between 10-20 degrees Celsius. Thinking about not bringing too much luggage, after much deliberation, I left cuihao’s insulated jacket in the car, which I deeply regretted. Although the island’s temperature was not low (around 10 degrees), those few days were very windy, with wind speeds of 20-30mph, gusts up to 35mph, making the felt temperature much lower than the actual temperature. The difference with and without wind was huge. Therefore, I recommend bringing a complete set of warm clothes, including hats (gloves are optional), as camping nights can be really cold. I really wished for a wool hat at that time. An Insulated Jacket is absolutely necessary (after this experience, even if I go to the island in August, I would bring a down jacket). Ideally, the clothes you bring should be able to adapt to temperatures from 4 degrees to 34 degrees Celsius (that is, layered so you can dress down when hot and bundle up when cold).

Luggage Check-in

When first checking in luggage, it occurs at the gathering place. Someone briefly checks your luggage for any overweight issues or poor packing (mainly by sight, large items are weighed, but it’s not as strict in practice as written on the website). Then, before boarding, the checked luggage is moved to the boat first, placed in a storage area below deck. You can choose to carry 1-2 bags with you (not be checked). Furthermore, large water jugs and Coolers are not considered checked luggage but are required to be placed on the stern deck. The fuel canister for the Camp Stove must be put into a large metal box.

The Boat Ride Experience

Camping visitors need to arrive at the pier an hour early to check in their luggage. My experience suggests that indeed you should arrive about an hour early to have ample time for check-in, luggage check-in, restroom use, etc. Also, being early in the boarding queue is crucial (really important, as your queue position directly determines where you can sit on the boat). We ended up in the back of the queue this time, so by the time we boarded, the good spots were taken, leaving only seats in the middle of the cabin inside.

What to Do if You Get Seasick

If you, like me, are prone to seasickness, I recommend taking seasickness medication in advance and trying to secure a seat at the back of the deck, as it’s the least likely spot to cause seasickness. The ferry to the island has two levels, with the top level probably being a good spot for sightseeing but bumpier, hence not suitable for those who get seasick. The enclosed space inside the cabin, with its stagnant air, also induces seasickness. Therefore, sitting on the first-floor stern deck with good air circulation and less bumpiness (except for the strong smell of gasoline when stopping) is most ideal. Therefore, you should arrive early to queue up, being at the front allows you to freely choose your seat. Additionally, the crew has many vomit bags, it’s a good idea to ask for one or two right away. I took seasickness medicine for both the trip there and back, the journey there was the bumpiest boat ride I’ve ever taken, I felt terrible the whole time and used 3 vomit bags, vomiting out last night’s dinner. The return trip was very calm; I didn’t get seasick or vomit.

Thousands of Dolphins? Didn’t See Them

Actually, the boat trip itself should be a highlight of traveling to the Channel Islands, I’ve heard from more than one friend about seeing hundreds to thousands of dolphins swimming alongside the boat on the way to Santa Cruz Island, and even possibly seeing whales. We might have encountered 1-2 whales on the way there, but since I was feeling so seasick, I had no energy to stand up and watch for them, so even though I heard the crew mentioning the direction and details of the whales, I didn’t see anything while sitting at the stern. Then, we encountered a small group of dolphins, probably around twenty, three or four of which came very close at one moment, jumping high, which was indeed spectacular, but later they moved further away, and the number was far from the hundred-plus spectacle. On the return trip, we were even unluckier, not seeing a single dolphin. Therefore, I believe our boat trip experience was below average, just bad luck. If you’re lucky, you should be ready to take photos and record videos.

What to Do on the Island

Hiking

Santa Cruz Island Hiking Guide

Spring in Southern California is the most suitable time for hiking because the temperature is comfortable, plants are relatively green, and there are many wildflowers. This trip was initially planned to enjoy the flowers on the Channel Islands, but it seems the flowering season was somewhat over, although there were still many flowers some were already withered. If you want to see wildflowers, it would be best to go in mid to late March.

We walked the following three Trails, only completing half of the Scorpion Canyon Loop. Personally, I enjoyed the Potato Harbor Trail the most (beautiful scenery) and liked the Smugglers Cove Trail the least. The trail with the most wildflowers was probably the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail. The experience of hiking on the first and second days was terrible due to the strong winds, practically on the verge of being blown away (a bit of an exaggeration), but really not enjoyable.

Potato Harbor Trail (Easy, 2h4min, 4.9mi, 603 ft elevation gain)

Smugglers Cove Trail (Moderate, 3h33min, 7.7mi, 1400 ft elevation gain)

Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail (Moderate, 2h3min, 4.5 mi, 784 ft elevation gain)

Kayaking, Snorkeling

For those wanting to kayak on the island, there are three ways, details can be found on the page Kayaking - Island Packers:

  1. Sign up for the island kayaking company’s Guided Tour (starting at $129)
  2. Rent a kayak on the mainland ($35/$55 per day) + arrange transportation with Island Packers ($20/$28), without a Guide
  3. Bring your own kayak + transport with Island Packers ($20/$28), without a Guide

I suggest ordinary people just sign up for a Guided Tour by Channel Islands Adventure Company. Since Santa Cruz Island has many Sea Caves, kayaking here mainly involves cave exploring, which is quite interesting but also somewhat risky, so a Guided Tour is preferable. The Guided Tour provides all necessary kayaking gear, including clothing!! (which is quite rare). They offer Wetsuits and Splash Jackets, as well as slippers (plus paddles, life jackets, helmets). The reason is the water temperature here is low; the sit-on-top kayaks often wet clothes. Without a wetsuit, it can be cold, especially if you fall into the water. Wearing a Wetsuit is indeed much safer, and with a Splash Jacket, you should not feel cold at all.

For snorkeling, you can bring your own gear, and a wetsuit is a must, as the water temperature in Southern California is very low. The kayaking company on the island rents snorkeling equipment.

Up to now, you’ll have encountered three types of workers on Santa Cruz Island:

  • National Park Service Ranger (National Park’s staff)
  • Island Packers Boat Company (Ferry Captain and Crew)
  • Channel Islands Adventure Company (Kayaking Instructors)

Feel free to talk to them; you can get a lot of information and learn more about Santa Cruz Island.

Our Itinerary

Day One

We woke up at 4:45 AM, left Irvine at 5:45 AM via I-405 N -> US-101 N (1h44min, 109mi), arrived at Island Packers Ventura Office around 7:40 AM, parked in the long-term parking area. We checked in, checked our luggage, and departed at 8:30 AM, landing around 10:00 AM. Upon arrival, a Ranger welcomed us at the pier, briefing us on the do’s and don’ts, and we waited a bit longer to pick up our checked luggage. It might have been around 10:30 AM when we finally left the pier. Being seasick was really uncomfortable, so upon reaching the campsite, we rested for a bit before making and eating lunch, then set up the tent. After that, we were so exhausted that we napped in the tent for over an hour. We didn’t start hiking until around 2:00 PM, completing the Potato Harbor Trail with strong winds all the way. Each of us carried 1 liter of water, which we didn’t finish. After returning in the afternoon, due to the strong wind, we adjusted the direction of our tent and secured the rainfly with ropes. After dinner and washing up, we hurried into the tent, as it was too cold outside with the wind blowing. We were shocked upon entering the tent as the sleeping pads were covered in dirt; an afternoon of wind had blown lots of dust into the tent, so we had to clean the sleeping pads before lying down. We took many national park brochures and read them inside the tent to pass the time.

Day Two

We slept in the next day; the wind howled all night, and its noise was pretty disturbing, affecting our sleep. We started hiking rather late at 8:50 AM, traveling the Smugglers Cove Trail, took lunch with us, and carried 1.5 liters of water each (didn’t finish it all). We had lunch at Smugglers Cove beach, where several picnic tables, shade, and a restroom were available. It was quite pleasant there (the beach had several white bones, unknown which animal they belonged to). The weather turned a bit cloudy, and even drizzled a few drops of rain on our return. After returning to the campsite, the wind remained strong; with nothing to do and it being too cold outside, we hid in the tent and napped again. After waking up, we visited the tide pools near the pier but didn’t see much, just one crab and many sea roaches that cuihao fears. We also visited the Visitor Center and had a long chat with the kayaking instructor. We wanted to sign up for a kayaking tour the next morning, but my ferry was scheduled to leave at noon. The first group arriving on the island wouldn’t disembark until around 10:00 AM; after changing clothes, it would nearly be 11:00 AM before they could hit the water. So, I couldn’t join their Tour unless I changed my return ferry ticket. Thus, not being able to kayak was a significant regret of this trip.

There was an Evening Program on the second night, which consisted of outdoor movie viewing attended by a dozen people. Essentially, it featured one of the two Channel Islands videos mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, with only one video shown per night, as the program was canceled the first night due to strong winds. After the movie, everyone had the chance to ask questions to the ranger, who was quite active in answering. I asked about a marked crow wing we saw in the campsite, and the answer was quite surprising.

The island’s video evidence showed crows consuming eggs, chicks, and even adult birds of endangered species (Ashy Storm-Petrels), so researchers wanted to determine whether this was a behavior of all crows on the island or just one or two individuals. They captured some crows and marked their wings with prominent blue markers. A two-year tracking revealed that this behavior was specific to just two crows—number 11 and 13. Therefore, the researchers plan to relocate these two crows. For details, see this Facebook Post

We indeed saw crows marked 11 and 13 in the campsite, often together. The campsite also had many foxes, island foxes, a species unique to the Channel Islands, very small, cute, and not afraid of humans. They were often seen in the campsite, with three or four nearby at most, but none seen while hiking.

Day Three

On the third morning, we started packing and then hiked the first 2.5km of the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail before turning back because we were running out of time and couldn’t complete it. Originally, we hadn’t planned to take this trail, but since we had some time left, the Ranger suggested walking the first half, claiming it had many wildflowers and beautiful scenery. We

Contents
  1. 1. Booking in Advance
    1. 1.1. Booking Boat Tickets
    2. 1.2. Choosing a Campsite
  2. 2. Preparing your Luggage
    1. 2.1. What Luggage to Bring
    2. 2.2. How Thick Should the Clothes Be?
    3. 2.3. Luggage Check-in
  3. 3. The Boat Ride Experience
    1. 3.1. What to Do if You Get Seasick
    2. 3.2. Thousands of Dolphins? Didn’t See Them
  4. 4. What to Do on the Island
    1. 4.1. Hiking
    2. 4.2. Kayaking, Snorkeling
  5. 5. Our Itinerary
    1. 5.1. Day One
    2. 5.2. Day Two
    3. 5.3. Day Three