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- What to Expect
- * Ferry Tkts
- Planning Tips
Gearing up for a Sea Cave AdventureUpon arrival at Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands Outfitters’ guide/s will show paddlers to the CIO base camp where picnic tables, storage lockers, and kayaking equipment for the day are located. Each kayaker will be issued a wetsuit that is sized to fit (so be honest with heights and weights), along with helmet, a lifejacket, booties, a wetsuit top, and paddling jacket prior to beginning their kayaking adventure. Wetsuits are necessary for staying warm as well as for protection from the rocks and hard-bodied sea creatures living on them.
Storage Boxes: We have locked storage boxes for you to keep belongings in while we paddle. These are community boxes and are used mostly to keep the animals from rummaging through your gear.
Changing Rooms and Bathrooms: The Park Service provides both. They are a 5 minute walk away, so having your bathing suit on already and using the ferry bathrooms is best practice.
Exploring Sea Caves by KayakGeared up and ready to go, paddlers hit the water for adventure! For CIO paddlers, that means exploring the nooks and crannies of the sea caves that surround Scorpion Anchorage. In addition to exploring sea caves, CIO guides are trained as naturalists and will make sure that island adventures include information on the island wildlife, geology, kelp forest ecology, marine and inter-tidal species, natural history, and cultural history. We’ve heard people say “it’s like Disneyland!”, but to us, this is the kind of place that Disney visits for inspiration!
On the “Classic” tour we paddle to the West towards the Elephants Belly and Cavern Point Caves systems and to the East around Scorpion Rock and Little Scorpion Anchorage. We always paddle past the beach, so you can land to use the bathroom if needed. All caving is optional and subject to the conditions at hand. We cannot guarantee caving on all tours, we care about you too much! Your guide is trained to make a judgement call based on current conditions. Caving is typically best from June-October.
Snorkel and/or Hike + LunchFollowing an unforgettable kayaking adventure, you can stay in your wetsuits and grab some snorkel gear for a nice 20-30 minute swim through the kelp forests in the Marine Reserve. We provide mask, snorkel, and fins plus hoodies and wetsuit tops. The snorkeling is best from the beach and you are likely to see Seals, Bat Rays, Octopus, and a variety of fish that call the kelp forest home.
Lunch is available once the kayaking is complete. After lunch visitors typically have enough free time to go for a hike. We suggest the 45 minute hike to Cavern Point where the views of the island and Channel are breathtaking. The hike is a 1.5 mile loop with an tiny ascent to the bluff. Bring your camera for a group selfie, but stay away from the edge! The amount of time you have after lunch varies on your departure time from the island, and so both hiking AND snorkeling may not be possible. With 4pm returns, both are possible, if snorkeling for less than 30 minutes and you are a strong hiker.
Cameras and Pictures
Each CIO guide carries a waterproof point-and-shoot camera on each tour. They are guides first, keeping you comfortable and out of danger… and photographers if all else is going smooth. We encourage you to bring your own cameras. They must be waterproof, we do not supply dry bags for this purpose (mice eat our dry bags and make them semi-damp bags), and plastic ziplocks kill marine wildlife. If they are not waterproof, you can keep them in our lock boxes while you paddle. Back to our photos; we post them to Facebook. We are an Island Outfitter, moving equipment and people is priority one, memory cards a distant second. This can take up to 1 week after your tour to be posted, please exercise patience, we appreciate it very much.
Ferry tickets must be purchased in addition to this adventure.
Island Packer Tickets to Santa Cruz Island – Scorpion Ranch (+$5 fee, waived for groups)
Round Trip Day Tickets: $59/adult | $42/under 12
Round Trip Camping Tickets: $79/adult | $57/under 12
($5 discount for senior/military)
We do not include ferry tickets in the cost of the adventure because the price for a day trip is different than a camping trip. Therefore, if you want to arrange a 2-3 day camping trip on your own, you can book this adventure a-la-carte. If you prefer us to do this for you, we are happy to be your agent for that service as long as you participate in an adventure with us either on your arrival or departure day.
The Channel Islands are the least visited National Park due the Park Service’s management plan to reduce human impact. Since only a limited number of people can travel each day, we suggest you plan several months in advance. Santa Cruz Island is 20 miles from Ventura. With modern high-speed, hydrofoil assisted catamarans, the journey across takes 60-75 minutes…. depending on the marine wildlife sightings! Almost all of our island adventures depart from Ventura Harbor, but please look for the departure location in the Adventure Details or ask an Outfitting Specialist by phone.
Ferry’s are operated by Island Packers, which is not part of CIO. Each visit to the Channel Islands is unique, which is why we keep ferry tickets separate. This allows you to choose your own itinerary. Island Packers is the ferry company that takes us to East Santa Cruz Island, Scorpion ranch. You can purchase tickets through CIO, or you can contact Island Packers and reserve with them. If you have already purchased your own ferry tickets to Scorpion Ranch, simply let us know in the comments box upon check out.
Check Availability (only book here if you are going to add an adventure) Check Ferry Availability
Camping Tickets: Tickets for camping cost a little bit more since the ferry will be transporting camping gear for you. If you would like to camp, you will need to check the National Park Service’s campground availability. If sites exist, and the ferry has availability, you are set for your camping adventure. If you have trouble with this process, or would just prefer to have us do this for you, please call our office. 805-899-4925.
Your adventure starts in the Ventura Harbor at the Island Packers ferry. Parking is FREE. When you arrive in the parking lot, park closest to the road that you drove in on and make sure you’re within the yellow lines. Eat light and get a good night of rest. Here are some of our Ventura recommendations.
Camping in the area
We do not recommend camping the night prior to your departure. The camping areas are not very close and you will have to get up really early to take down camp. If you have an RV or motorhome, this might be a bit easier. Here are the camping areas from closest to furthest.
- McGrath State Beach
- Carpinteria State Beach
- El Capitan State Beach
- Refugio State Beach
- Holiday Inn Express Ventura Harbor
- Four Points Sheraton Ventura Harbor
- Ventura Beach Marriott
- Comfort Inn Ventura Beach
- Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach
- Brophy Bros Restaurant Ventura Harbor– Lunch and Dinner – Harbor-side Dining and Cocktails
- Boatyard Cafe – Serving Breakfast and Coffee
- Surf Brewery – Local craft beers
- Spencer Makenzies’ Fish Tacos – Lunch and Dinner beer and wine
- Water (reusable water bottles preferred)
- Bathing suit (you will wear this under the wetsuit). It is best to have on under clothing upon arrival.
- Warm clothing (for the ferry ride in the morning)
- Water shoes that cover the whole foot or that have a heel strap
- Hat or Visor
- Synthetic layer for extra warmth such as rash-guard, polypro top or other synthetic top
- Sunscreen/Lip Balm
- Sunglasses w/ safety strap (example: Chums or Croakies)
- Waterproof camera or dry case for camera
- Personal medication
- Waterproof Headlamp/s (optional, just for fun!)
- Hiking Boots if you plan to walk around the island
Lodging in the Ventura Harbor Area
(Listed by closest to Island Packers in Ventura Harbor)
Food and Beverages
Santa Barbara Area
If you are traveling from the Santa Barbara area, please depart 1.5 hours prior to the departure time on your itinerary. We ask that you arrive 45 minutes prior so that we can check you in and board the ferry for a prompt departure. The driving time from Santa Barbara to Ventura harbor is 30-40 minutes. Traffic is unusual but check upon waking to make sure you don’t get stuck in a jam!
Suggested Packing List for Day Adventures
If you have other questions or need assistance in finding something in the area, you can call us anytime. Your guide will also be able to help you with local favorites as well.
Camp at Scorpion Ranch
Spending a night or two at Santa Cruz Island is a very unique California experience. The campground is settled in a eucalyptus grove, with fairly good wind shelter. There are two camping areas:
Camping adventures are available year-round and are subject to ferry and campsite availability.
If you are on an adventure with us your first day, you will leave your camping gear with us in our secure storage boxes. If your adventure occurs on a day other than your first day, you will be able to move your equipment to the campground and enjoy a day of hiking and relaxing on your own.
What to Know about Camping on Santa Cruz Island We like to refer to it as “primitive car-camping”. This means you can bring the two-burner stove and a cooler, but you should keep the other gear minimal. There are no facilities at the islands other than pit-toilets and running water from spigots. A suggested packing list is sent to you with your trip confirmation. No camp-fires are allowed year-round, so propane cooking is the only option.
Great Hiking: We highly suggest a hike to Potato Harbor (3.5 miles round trip), Smugglers Cove (7 miles round trip), and/or Montanan Ridge (6.5 miles round trip, 1,800 foot ascent). Our guides will be available to assist you in finding trail heads and selecting routes.
When to go? To avoid crowds, mid-week and non-summer months are the best, however, there is a very special feeling at the islands in the summer where watching the sunset from Cavern or Potato Harbor is quite possibly akin to the evening entertainment.
Camping gear is available for rent*
- 2-3 Person Tent = $15/night
- Comfy 2-inch thick Paco Sleeping Pad = $6/night
- Sleeping Bag = $10/night
- Camp Kit for up to 6 (Includes cooking pots, pans, cooking utensils, sharp knife and meal kits for up to 6 people. Meal kits include plates, bowls, cups, and eating utensils. 8 oz of coffee and drip filter included. Table cloth, napkins, cleaning supplies, trash bins, and lantern also included) = $30/night
- 2 Burner Stove with propane = $10/night
- Camp Chair = $4/night
Booking and Cancellation Policies
We’re a small business that wants you to be happy. We’re adventure travelers also, and we know how important it is to be treated fairly. We’re pretty flexible where we can be and we’re always available to talk.
Deposit: a 50% deposit is required for all reservations outside of 7 days. 100% is collected for all reservations within 7 days. Balance will automatically be charged to the card used to make the deposit 7 days prior to departure.
If YOU cancel: 100% of what you paid can be applied to a new date up until 72 hours prior to your departure. 90% of what you paid can be issued as a refund on your credit card up until 72 hours prior to your departure. If you cancel within 72 hours 50% of what you paid will be applied as a credit. Cancellations the day of your departure will forfeit all of what you paid, sorry.
If WE cancel: Poor weather and/or rough seas can force us to cancel the adventure. If your trip gets cancelled prior to you traveling to the islands you can get 100% credit or refund, your choice. The ferry will make that call to cancel at 5:30am the morning of your trip. If the ferry decides to operate and we get to the islands and find poor conditions that force US to cancel, you can either get a full raincheck on both ferry and adventure for another day. If you’d like your money back you can get a 100% refund on your kayaking adventure, but you will still be charged for the ferry.
A note about weather. Forecasts at the Channel Islands are incredibly unreliable. You may look at the regional weather and see rain in the forecast, but it will be a sunny day at the islands. It may be calm when we leave the harbor and blowing 20 knts when we get there. Most forecasts are not reliable at all, and at best only within 12 hours of departure. We know you’re paying a chunk of money and you want the best weather possible, but all we can guarantee is an adventure.