Smuggler Under Cover

One of the best hikes in Channel Islands National Park traverses Santa Cruz Island, offering panoramic vistas and…

My Weekend Sherpa:

Want to do it Did it


One of the best hikes in Channel Islands National Park traverses Santa Cruz Island, offering panoramic vistas and leading to a secluded cove. Head out on a 7.5-mile round-trip journey to Smuggler’s Cove (en route you may even spot the island scrub-jay—only found on this island). Start at Scorpion Anchorage and ascend a singletrack trail with sweeping views of inland hills. Follow the trail as it edges along bluffs that drop straight to the crashing waves, and look for the distant Santa Susana Mountains to the east. Continue onto Smuggler’s Road, marked by an old windmill on the other side of the path. The trail draws a definite sweat with its steady, steep ascent. The only distraction from your burning legs might be the views of Scorpion Canyon’s rolling grasslands flanked by shrub-coated hills. After about 2 miles, things level out and the neighboring Anacapa Islands come into view. Olive trees flank the final steep descent to Smuggler’s Cove where a few picnic tables and eucalyptus trees border the slim cobblestone beach. The cove also has tidepools with hardy sea life like green anemones and the scarce black abalone. Head to the west end of the beach during low tide to catch the best show (be careful, there are some sharp rocks on shore). Return the way you came: the first mile is straight upwards—but don’t rush it; a true smuggler knows how to play it cool.

TIP: An alternate return route has you forking left (east) towards Scorpion Canyon at the 2-mile trail marker. The road descends at an old oil derrick after .25 miles into the wide nesting grounds of the island scrub-jay before looping back towards Scorpion campground.

Start at Scorpion Anchorage by taking the ascending road to the right of the pier. Continue for .2-mile until you reach the intersection at Smuggler’s Road. Cross the dry creek and begin a steep incline. After 2.25 miles the path begins a descent and then levels as it circles Smuggler’s Cove before leading to the beach. Restrooms are available at Smuggler’s Beach. There is no water available at Smuggler’s Cove, so you must bring plenty for the road. Hiking trail maps are available at the visitor center at Scorpion Anchorage. Trails are well marked.


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