Posted by: GeekHiker | August 6, 2008

HIKE: Santa Cruz Island, Smugglers Cove

A longer day hike than the Potato Harbor loop, the cross-island trek to Smugglers Cove provides for scenic views of the rolling hills that make up the eastern section of the island. The rocky beach at Smuggler’s cove isn’t the best for sunbathing, but the scenic views to the west of nearby Anacapa Island make for a good sight during your lunchtime stopover.

Starting from the pier at Scorpion Anchorage, head inland along the road approx .2 miles to the junction with Smugglers Road. The trail sign is, for some strange reason, across the creek, but a good marker is the old windmill on the other side. Turn left, cross the dry creek, and start immediately climbing up the hill.

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Climbing the road above Scorpion Anchorage

The trail will continue ascending, yielding ever-expanding views of the rolling, grassy hills above Scorpion canyon.

Scorpion Canyon Photomerge
Panoramic View of Scorpion Canyon; the old adobe is in the middle, Scorpion Anchorage on the right

Eventually the trail will level off, then dip up and down as it crosses small gullies. The unusual stacks of rocks here and there are the result of attempts at growing crops to feed livestock on the island: farmers, when plowing for fields, would simply stack the rocks out of the way in large piles.

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Crossing the mid-point of the island, with rolling hills and the three islets that make up Anacapa Island in the distance

At about 2.25 miles, the trail will start to descend, steeply at first. The trail levels out, circles around a small depression, then descends again to Smugglers Beach.

Santa Cruz 24
Descending to Smugglers Cove

At Smugglers Beach you’ll find the local hillsides planted with olive trees, planted by one of the previous landowners at the request of his wife. As the story goes, if he wanted to keep his island, he had to build her an olive orchard and a bakery, amongst other things!

At the beach itself you’ll find a grove of eucalyptus trees and picnic benches.

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Picnic area at Smugglers Cove

Walking away from the beach up the canyon you’ll also find an old adobe, the previous dormitory and processing house for the olives during the time the orchard was in production. If the day is sunny, the sundial built into the front wall actually works (though, according to the ranger I spoke to, it isn’t calibrated for daylight savings time 🙂 ). The house is currently in the process of being restored, to be used as a dormitory for researchers.

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The old olive processing adobe

Back at the beach, if it’s low tide, good tidepools can be found be heading to the right (west) end of the beach.

Smugglers Cove Photomerge
Panoramic of Smugglers Beach and Cove from the west end

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Shore Crab in the tidepools

Off shore, several boats may be anchored, with the dark shape of West Anacapa Island looming behind them a few miles away.

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Looking towards West Anacapa from the beach

When you’ve finished lunching at one of the several picnic tables, return by the same route to Scorpion Anchorage.

Total Distance: 7.7 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 700’/700′

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



  1. Hiking on/near the beach?

    So jealous, GH.

    I’ve just added another item to my “Things to do in CA” list.

  2. That last photo is absolutely stunning, the boat, the mist over the island, amazing.

  3. Another great post with great jealousy inducing pictures. Great Job!

  4. Beautiful pictures 😀

  5. Beautiful! When I first read the title, I thought it said Snugglers Cove, which piqued my interest because that foggy weather seems like it would necessitate some snuggling. But alas, it’s better for smuggling, apparently. Did you smuggle anything while you were there? Like that cute little crab or some shiny rocks from the beach?

  6. East Coast Teacher – Heh, that’s probably a long list by now.

    BackpackerMomma – Thanks!

    Homer-Dog – Well, if you ever come out to visit, I’ll make the reservations…

    Narami – Thank you!

    Mel Heth – Yeah, I’m single, remember? So that name wouldn’t have much appeal to me. Nah, I left the little guy there. Remember, you can’t take things out of the parks!

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