- 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
- Distance: 8.9 miles (Ascent via Scorpion Canyon; descent via Smugglers Road)
- Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
- Suggested time: 5.5 hours (Plan accordingly when booking your boat tickets)
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain, terrain)
- Best season: October – May (depending on boat availability)
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: None for most of the route; fair to good in some spots; usually reliable on the boat up to 10 miles on shore
- Water: None (must be brought from the mainland; food and drinks can be purchased on the boat but selection is limited. All items need to be packed out.)
- Restrooms: Vault toilets at Scorpion Anchorage and at the Scorpion Canyon Campground
- Camping/backpacking: Scorpion Campground is about half a mile from the dock. Ambitious hikers can do a 20-mile round trip to Del Norte Campground.
- Recommended gear: Hiking poles, sun hat, sunblock, insect repellent, Dramamine (for the boat ride)
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
- Rating: 9
Updated March 2019
Montanon Ridge (elevation 1,808 feet) is the highest point on the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island, making it the highest accessible point in the Channel Islands National Park. The rugged, exposed hike is taxing but offers outstanding views. Heavy rains in early 2019 have made the island exceptionally green and on days of good visibility, the hike includes views of Anacapa, Catalina, Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Islands.
As the largest island in the chain, Santa Cruz features a diverse landscape and this hike samples it all: canyons, ridges, beach views and open fields. The route described here climbs through Scorpion Canyon and descends via Smugglers Road. The advantage of hiking this way is that you can knock out one of the steepest parts of the hike near the beginning (depending on what time your boat arrives, you will probably reach it before the midday sun becomes too intense.) You can also enjoy excellent views of Scorpion Anchorage from Smugglers Road on the descent.
After receiving your orientation from a park volunteer, walk through Scorpion Ranch, which features various artifacts from past eras in the island’s history. Pass the Cavern Point trail and continue toward the campground. At the far side of the campground (0.7 mile), pick up the Scorpion Canyon Trail. Head southwest for a pleasant 0.7 mile, making your way through the grass beneath the towering bluffs. The trail then makes a pronounced left turn and begins a stiff ascent – over 600 feet in 0.8 mile. As you climb, the views get better and better, a payoff for the effort.
At 2.2 miles from the start, you reach a junction with a path leading to Smugglers Road, your return route. Head uphill, passing the ruins of an old oil well. The trail becomes rocky at this point, though not hard to follow. Your destination, Montanon Ridge, lurks off to the left. You descend briefly to a saddle where the trail follows a narrow ridge with a sharp drop on the right, yielding excellent if somewhat nerve-wracking views of the island’s north shore. A steep climb then brings you to a view point (3.5 miles) where you take in an impressive view to the west, giving you an appreciation of Santa Cruz Island’s size.
From the view point, the trail continues uphill for 0.3 mile to a junction. A narrow, rocky trail heads toward Prisoner’s Harbor. To reach Montanon, stay left and follow the trail along the ridge. Some easy scrambling and a final ascent bring you to the summit. Despite the presence of a small antenna, the views here are worth the effort it took to reach them. If you have time and inclination, it is possible to scramble farther along the ridge to another bump farther southeast.
Retrace your steps, exercising caution on the steep and loose descent. At the junction, continue east for 0.4 mile to Smugglers Road. Turn left and follow the road 1.9 miles back to Scorpion Anchorage, enjoying views of Anacapa and the mainland on the way.
Text and photography copyright 2019 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.