Words and photos by Kate Rentz.
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I’m very much an outdoors person, but I also really enjoy living in the city. I live in Los Angeles and love going to art shows, attending concerts, eating really good food, being surrounded by creative minds and ambitious energy. I have access to almost anything my heart desires, but living in a city of four-million people can also be exhausting; I need nature to balance things out.
Escaping for an outdoor weekend is essential for keeping me creative in the city I call home.
Santa Cruz Island is just an hour drive and an hour boat ride away from Los Angeles. It’s part of an eight island chain known as the Channel Islands. Along with four other islands — San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara — Santa Cruz is part of Channel Island National Park. Thirteen-thousand years ago, the Chumash Tribe settled on the island before being relocated to Spanish missions in the early 19th century. Following the exodus of the Chumash, the island was used for ranching for about a century before being sold off to the Nature Conservancy and then to the National Park Services in the 1980s. Only about twenty-four percent of the island is national park land, while the rest is protected by the Nature Conservancy.
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During the winter months, temperatures are mild, the island is green, and ripe for camping, backpacking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and fishing. Day trippers and overnight campers are welcomed, and entry is free. Transportation there, however, is not. We found tickets through the Island Packers website—for day trippers, prices are $59 and for campers, they’re $79 round trip, and if you plan to bring your own kayak like we did, it’s an additional $19. If you’re without one, kayak rentals can also be made a day in advance through the Channel Islands Kayak Center website. If you’re planning on camping at Scorpion Canyon Campground, campsites need to be reserved in advance through the website and site numbers must be provided when checking in for departure with Island Packers. There’s also a weight limit, and each passenger is allowed sixty-five pounds. You must also carry out what you bring on to the island, so save room and bring an extra trash bag or two in your pack.
If you have a weak stomach, make sure to take Dramamine before boarding the boat. Waters can be rough and swells can be large. We found that it’s easy to get sea sick even if you don’t think you’re prone to it—a few of us had to sit inside and focus on our feet for the second half of the trip. My secret is to stick to one spot and either stay inside or on deck and you’ll be good to go. Once you’ve set sail, the journey to the island is incredible. During the winter months, pods of whales and dolphins can be seen heading south to warmer waters, and views of the coast and island are beautiful.
Upon arriving, a national park ranger will gather all campers for important island information before you can make the half mile hike to Scorpion Canyon campground. Some important things to know before packing your bags and staying overnight: There is no hospital, no cell service, and no fire department on the island, so make sure to bring your first-aid kit and let your loved ones know where you’re going before you leave. In order to protect the island, no fires are allowed, so bring headlamps and plan your meals accordingly. Foxes can be found on the island and fox boxes are provided at each campsite to keep your food (and the foxes) safe.
Because there’s so much to do and see on Santa Cruz, I’d recommend making a schedule for your visit. We only had the weekend and were at the mercy of the short, winter daylight hours, so we planned ahead to make sure we got to explore as much as possible. We took the advice of the ranger and hiked some trails around the edge of the island before making our way to Cavern Point for sunset. The next day, we took the Scorpion Canyon Loop Trail to Smugglers Cove. This eight-mile round trip hike is perfect for the winter months because the island is covered in tall green grass and wild mustard. Temperatures are also in your favor because the steep trails are too strenuous for the summer heat. One thing to remember when packing is a set of hiking poles—these can be a huge relief to your knees when you’re making your way down to Smugglers Cove.
Santa Cruz is popular among kayakers and its sea caves are a huge attraction. We were eager to use our kayak on the last day, but were warned of rough waters. We ended up staying close to the cove, but vowed to return to explore the caves during calmer waters in the warm summer months.
As we headed back to the mainland and watched the sunset from the back of the boat, I was sad to leave. It was so refreshing to unplug and feel connected to nature on the island. No sounds of traffic, no deadlines to make, and to think, this perfect weekend getaway was all just a few hours from the city I call home.
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