Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (Santa Cruz Island)
- Location: Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast. Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park. Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
- Agency: Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
- Distance: 6.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
- Suggested time: 3 hours, or as permitted by the boat schedule
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
- Best season: Year-round (pending boat availability)
- USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C”
- Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
- More information: S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here; Everytrail report here; information about the Del Norte Campground here
- Rating: 8
For the 600th hike posted on this site, we leave the mainland and head out to the largest of the Channel Islands. At 96 square miles of land area, Santa Cruz has been described as a miniature continent. With mountains towering half a mile above sea level, valleys, bays, canyons, native and non native trees, sea caves and more, the island offers plenty of variety and this trip, departing from the Prisoner’s Harbor location, showcases several of Santa Cruz’s facets. Boats to Prisoner’s Harbor, the mid-Santa Cruz Island landing, are not scheduled as frequently as to the more popular Scorpion Anchorage, but for those seeking solitude, it’s worth the effort. One could think of Prisoner’s Harbor as Two Harbors to Scorpion’s Avalon.
Del Norte, just over three miles away, is Santa Cruz Island’s only active back-country campground. For day hikers who may have limited time on the island, it makes a good hike. From the landing area, follow the road past a brick house, through a grove of non-native eucalyptus trees and bear left at a junction. The dirt road begins a steady ascent. Vehicles do still travel the road so be careful. As you climb, you get a panoramic aerial view of Prisoner’s Harbor.
At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction. Turn left on the Del Norte Trail and begin a descent, first gradually then sharply into Canada de Agua. True to its name, this canyon sometimes retains water into the summer months–a rare site on the Channel Islands.
After crossing the bottom of the canyon, the trail wastes no time in quickly ascending almost 200 feet. Another descent brings you to a second canyon, which you make your way across and make your final ascent of the outbound portion of the hike. At 3 miles, turn right at a junction and follow the trail 0.2 miles to the Del Norte Campground. Here, you can enjoy a wide-ranging view of the ocean from the shade of a native island oak.
From Del Norte, you can retrace your steps back to Prisoner’s Harbor for a round trip of 6.4 miles. If you have time and energy, you can continue another quarter mile up the trail to Navy Road and make a loop, returning to the first junction and retracing your steps to the harbor for a total of about 8 miles.
In case you were wondering, Prisoner’s Harbor actually once was used as a penal colony. For more information about the area’s history, click here.
Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.