Posted by: GeekHiker | August 4, 2008

HIKE: Santa Cruz Island, Potato Harbor Loop

This 5 mile moderate dayhike is perfect for the day visitor to Santa Cruz Island. It can be completed easily before the boat returns to the dock, with time for relaxing with a picnic lunch at the beach before returning to the mainland.

Of course, there is a drawback to the hike: with it’s brief overview of the island’s variations, it will likely whet your appetite for more.

Starting from the dock at Scorpion Anchorage, the hike is best done in a clockwise loop, which will save the steepest incline for your final descent. From the dock, head inland on the wide road, passing an old adobe building and a display of rusting farm equipment from the island’s earlier days. You’ll pass the first campground and, about .8 miles from the start, arrive at the second campground, a flat area shaded by eucalyptus trees.

Santa Cruz 02
Campground in Scorpion Canyon

Turn right at the trail junction just before the campground, ascending a side canyon to the main Scorpion Canyon along Potato Harbor road. Bright white outcroppings of chalky rock and wide open grasslands highlight this section of trail as you climb.

Santa Cruz 03
Looking back down the trail towards Scorpion Canyon

Santa Cruz 04
Chalky outcropping along the trail (I wish I’d been a geologist so I could tell you what it is!)

At the end of your climb you’ll arrive at a junction overlooking the wide expanse of the Pacific. Looking to your right you can see Cavern Point (the further outcropping in the picture below). Be sure to stay back from the edge: cliff edges along all the islands can be deceptive and disintegrate beneath you.

Santa Cruz 05
Looking towards Cavern Point

Turning left along the trail, the path follows old ranching roads, winding inland a bit from the cliff edge and giving views of the grasslands and hills in the distance.

Santa Cruz 06
Walking along the old ranch road

After .7 miles you’ll arrive at the overlook for Potato Harbor. The old trail to the point itself, as you can see, has long since disintegrated.

Santa Cruz 07
The trail is closed because the trail is gone!

Santa Cruz 08
Skeleton of one of the introduced boars on the island that have now been removed or killed

A use trail to the left climbs steeply down approximately a half mile (each way), but ends abruptly at a steep cliff off which a trickle of creek plunges. There is no trail access to Potato Harbor itself.

Potato Harbor Photomerge Sm
Potato Harbor

Heading back west along the road, pass the earlier trail junction and continue along the trail as it winds along the steep cliffs of the island. A little over a mile past the junction you’ll arrive at Cavern Point, where a quick climb to the top gives the rewarding view of the Santa Barbara Channel and, on a clear day, the mainland beyond.

Santa Cruz 09
Hiking along the bluff, nearing Cavern Point

Returning to the trail, you’ll quickly descend back to the main road, where a left turn will take you the remaining .2 miles back to Scorpion Beach.

Santa Cruz 10
Descending the final section of trail back to Scorpion Canyon

Total Distance: 5.1 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 400’/400′

For directions and transit to Santa Cruz Island, see this post for more information.



  1. Oh my gosh that picture of Potato Harbor is incredible! You can do this all in a day trip? It’s gorgeous. Alysha and I are definitely going to have to make a trip out there!!

  2. That thing beside the skeleton looks like a gorilla mask.

  3. Incredible pictures. It’s almost like I took a mini-vacation!

    What is the weather like out there? Is it nice and breezy by the water because it looks like a tough hike on a hot day. Then again, I am a wuss when it comes to heat. I might just sit down on the dock and ask people to bring back some chips from Potato Harbor.

  4. Beautiful! Even makes a non-hiker want to get out there on the trail. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. According to your pictures, one of your best hikes yet. Thanks for the update!

  6. Mel Heth – Wait, I’m not invited? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Just A Girl – I do believe that’s what’s left of the skin & fur…

    Dingo – It kinda was. Weather can vary wildly, as you’ll see from the next post. Plus, it can get the brunt of Pacific storms. Best times to visit are spring & fall…

    SingleFabulous – It’s a good trail to start on, I’d be happy to do another trip!

    AA – And this was just a short one! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Beautiful vistas!! Gosh, everything looks so… vast and big, really impressive ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. GH, you’re totally invited. Who else would lead us to all the cool spots?!

  9. Almost makes me want to come back to California.

  10. […] information: here; trip description here; Santa Cruz Island Yelp page here; video shot at Potato Harbor […]

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