Caves & Coves Kelp Combo (Snorkeling + Kayaking)
Come make friends with Garibaldi, Opaleye, Sea Lions, Uni and more!
- Scorpion Ranch
- Planning Tips
- * Ferry Tkts
Arrival and departure times will vary on a daily basis
Getting to The IslandsChecking in at Island Packers. Whether visitors have arranged their own ferry reservation or made a ferry reservation through Channel Islands Outfitters, CIO asks that every participant check in with CIO staff outside of the Island Packers office prior to boarding the ferry. CIO staff or guides will be issuing Adventure Band/s (glow-in the dark recycled silicon bracelet). An Adventure Band allows guests to bypass the National Park Service on-island orientation and proceed directly to the CIO’s Adventure Base at Scorpion Beach.
Start with some Whale WatchingThe ferry that delivers visitors to Channel Islands National Park is operated by Island Packers and departs from Ventura Harbor. Travelers board one of their stable, high-speed catamarans for the one hour journey to Santa Cruz Island. As visitors cross the marine-rich Santa Barbara Channel, the captain and crew keep a sharp lookout for wildlife, including Humpback, California Gray, Blue, Minke, Finback, and other whale species! It is a common occurrence for visitors to find themselves among megapods of dolphins as well. For total enjoyment, it is best to enjoy a very light breakfast, saving a nice snack for your arrival at the national park.
Arriving at Channel Islands National ParkUpon arrival at Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands Outfitters’ guide/s will show visitors to the CIO base camp where picnic tables, storage lockers, and snorkeling equipment for the day are located. At CIO’s base camp, visitors will receive an island orientation along with a presentation on other places of interest near Scorpion Ranch. Before visitors head off on their own for the morning, a Channel Islands Outfitters guide will show visitors where to secure any food or personal items that they do not want to carry during the morning’s free time.
Gearing up for a Snorkeling AdventureA Channel Islands Outfitters guide will provide a snorkeling orientation prior to putting on equipment, teaching all snorkelers the basics of snorkeling and how to stay comfortable while in the water. Each snorkeler will be issued a 5mm dive wetsuit that is sized to fit (so be honest with heights and weights), along with fins, mask, snorkel, neoprene booties and neoprene hood prior to beginning the snorkeling adventure. This adventures visits the sandy-bottom areas and kelp forests within the Scorpion Marine Reserve.
The Kelp Forest snorkeling part of the tour takes roughly 1.5 hour to explore the kelp forests located just west of Scorpion Beach and within Scorpion Marine Reserve. Channel Islands Outfitters guides love to find wildlife and other treasures of the sea to share with fellow snorkelers. Kelp forest snorkeling is intended as a comfortable and educational experience.
Kayaking the Sea CavesAfter your snorkeling adventure is over, we’ll enjoy a delicious lunch that we provide and gear up for kayaking. We provide you with 3mm farmer john wetsuits and all other necessary kayaking gear. The kayaking adventure heads West towards Cavern Point where we’ll explore the beautiful caves such as Elephant’s Belly and In-and-Out cove.
The Sea Caves that we explore vary in size, shape and depth and the area we visit is full of all variety of sea caves. Our destination is Cavern Point, where one of the largest sea caves of the area waits with mist and bellowing sounds. As we head back toward the beach we will continue to search for wildlife and paddle through the iconic Marge Simpson sea cave (you’ll see why it’s called this).The departing ferry arrives in the afternoon to pick up adventurers, paddlers, and snorkelers for their return to Ventura Harbor. Ferry departure times differ each day, be sure to check your confirmation for travel details.
Santa Cruz Island, the largest and most diverse of the eight Channel Islands, has a long and varied history that is tied closely to its physical attributes. Archaeologists have found human remains on the Channel Islands that suggest settlements that date back to 9,000 years from present day. Upon Spanish contact, the indigenous Chumash were forced to leave the islands and move to the Missionaries. For the next 200+ years various types of ranching occurred including cattle, vineyards, and most recently sheep.
The area our Caves and Coves adventures takes place is called Scorpion Ranch. Located on the East end of Santa Cruz Island, Scorpion Ranch is the perfect destination for kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, camping, and enjoying the peace and quiet of island life. Scorpion Ranch is fairly limited in services, as you’ll only find pit toilets and running water. The beach, and also the CIO Adventure Base is a quick walk from the landing pier. Picnic tables and storage boxes are available to make your stay comfortable.
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 – OPEN as of July 1, 2015
- Refugio State Beach – CLOSED
- 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!)
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
*Camping gear is available for adventurers with pick-up and delivery accompanied by guide. For all others (people who are not on an adventure with us) we charge $50 for pick-up and delivery of camping gear to Island Packers ferry. Please call to make a reservation, camping gear is not currently available online.
Healthy, Delicious Lunch — Provided on all adventures
We have partnered with Channel Islands Provisioners to offer you a health, locally sourced, and organic* sandwich and snack on all adventures. Chefs can arrange food for ANY DIET. Vegetarian, Vegan, GF, Pescatarian, no dairy, etc. Please let us know food choices and dietary requests 24 hours prior to departure. If you do not make a selection the Diablo Veggie Wrap will be the default selection.
*We use organic ingredients everywhere possible. All ingredients are locally sourced, meaning they are grown or created in the greater Santa Barbara area. We package all food in biodegradable wrapping. Because of this, the salad option is $3 more to make up for the additional packaging required.
Included Food Options (select one)select option at check-out
Plantain chips and corn nuts included
Please bring your own reusable water bottle (fill up is FREE on the ferry and at the island)
Make it a salad (organic romaine lettuce tossed in extra virgin olive oil) for $3 more
Deluxe Food Option (add $18/person)you can select this item at checkout.
Choose 1 Breakfast
Included Snacks in Deluxe Provisioner’s trail mix w/ ginger, fresh whole fruit. Water bottle with chilled filtered water supplied. Packaged in lunch bag in reusable containers and cloth napkins.
Neal has been passionate about food and sailing all of his adult life. He grew up in an environment rich in the philosophy of serving “Farm to Table” foods, and menus that changed with our seasons. This has led to a career of over 30 years in the food and beverage service industry. He was formally trained in service, working over the years with an array of talented Chefs. He owned and was Chef of two restaurants and has consulted on many more.
Neal started sailing in 1973 while living in Hawaii. Over the course of the next 40 years he has owned three boats and has crewed and cooked on many. He skippered day boat charters in Lahina Maui, cruised Baja California and sailed to and from Hawaii. Currently based out of Ventura, he cruises around the Southern California coast and the Channel Islands.
Ferry tickets must be purchased to get to Channel Islands National ParkCheck Ferry Availability
Day Tickets: $59/adult | Camping Tickets: $79/adult
*Round trip. Youth, senior, military rates available. A $5 convenience fee is added to Island Packers ferry tickets booked through Channel Islands Outfitters (this fee is waived for groups of 6 or larger)
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. Island destinations range in distance from 11 to 40+ miles away from the mainland. With modern high-speed, hydrofoil assisted catamarans, the journey across can take less than 60 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 not operated by 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.
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.