Hike to Smuggler's Cove, Channel Islands NP

8 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Mike Quine

8 miles have never looked so pretty! Yeah sure its a strenuous hike, true. But the distance will melt behind you like butter without you even noticing. With the ocean breeze forever in your face and endless horizon, you'll wish the trail was longer. 

Save one stretch of elevation close to the cove itself, this 8-mile, round-trip hike is a leisuring trek across one of the countries most beautiful, though less famous National Parks - the Channel Islands. Smuggler's Cove is located on the Santa Cruz Island, which also happens to be the largest in the island chain. For the sake of this adventure write-up, we are going to assume that you have already taken the boat from Ventura, CA and landed safely on Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz. Whether you just got dropped off by boat, spent the night at the nearby campground, or backpacked from the other side of the island, this hike to Smuggler's Cove will start on Scorpion Beach itself. 

For starters , hop on the trailhead that is "across the street" from the Visitor Center (east). You will follow the trail up along the hill side as is slowly switchbacks up to the first plateau. You'll wanna take a break here just to soak up the spectacular view. From here you can even see some of the other members of the island chain. Don't pause too long because you have a hefty hike yet ahead of you. 

The trail you will be following along could not be more obvious. Its almost a road. Actually it might in fact BE a road. A red dirt road for that matter. Because there is no vegetation to obstruct your view, you'll be able to gaze, unhindered, at the amazing island mountains in the background. The greens, reds, yellows that consume this island are remarkably soothing...or so I found.

When not distracted by your surroundings, you notice the "road" / trail takes a split at at least one point. Follow the path to the left (east). From here there are no longer any other breaks in the trail. For at least the next 2 miles, its more or less a straight shot, with a few slopes and bends in the trail. Enjoy the downhill bits as they last because the gradual uphills might burn if 8 miles is an out of the ordinary hike. The final plummet to the cove will be marked by a relatively steep downhill march as the smell of ocean air because increasingly present. Congratulations you have just reached Smuggler's Cove. Soak in the sun. Jump in the ocean. Or pretend to be a pirate. You've earned it. 

If you are only staying on the island for the day, be sure to budget enough time to make the nearly 4-mile trek back to the boat. If, however, you are camping on the island and still have enough energy, consider making the off-trail march to San Pedro Point - well worth the sore calves.

Otherwise, the trek back is just as enjoyable. At the fork in the road on the return, be sure to hang a right in order to make it back to the Scorpion Beach. 

Just writing this adventure makes me miss the sights and smells of this place. I could not recommend it more.

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Picnic Area
Swimming Hole


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

A unique experience

Was there this past weekend (late March) and it was the perfect time to go. Wildflowers blooming, green grasses blowing in the wind. A truly unique experience. We camped at Scorpion Ranch and went to Smugglers Cove for our evening hike after doing the Ridge in the morning (~10 miles). We had the beach to ourselves, cooled down from the long day in the water and watched the sunset. Definitely somewhere worth checking out

Long hike for a so-so beach

Hiked it in the summer so the vegetation was pretty dry and dead, beautiful height and view of Anacapa and the ocean. The beach on the other side is pretty but all rocky and the waves makes snorkel visibility difficult.

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