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Smugglers Cove

From Scorpion Cove, a wide path leads over the island to Smugglers Cove, with a remote beach and even further hiking options once you get there.

Hiking Moderate

12 km
440 m
440 m
3-4 hrs
Low Point
1 m
High Point
208 m
Smugglers Cove Map

Scorpion Cove is one of the most popular landings in Channel Islands National Park. Most of the boat shuttles from the mainland to Santa Cruz Island go here, and private boats can also land using the public pier. From Scorpion Cove, there are a number of options for hiking, and the trip to Smugglers Cove is one of the best.


Smugglers Cove is a beach on the remote east side of the island, separated from Scorpion Cove by cliff-lined coast and by miles of the interior. There is an old dirt road, however, that crosses the island to reach it. This is Smugglers Road, and if you have ample time before your return boat ride, you can hike it all the way to the cove and back. It’s a journey across windswept hills with no shade, so you’ll need to be prepared for the conditions and bring lots of water. You can fill up upon arrival at Scorpion landing but nowhere else after that.

From Scorpion, you’ll cross the beach, then head up the Smugglers Road. It’s flat only briefly before turning and making a steep cut up the hillside. The incline lessens as you get higher, and soon you’ll leave the bustle of the beach far behind, traded for the rolling grassland atop these hills. The rocky road continues gradually uphill and to a high point nearly 700 feet above sea level, then tips downward. On the downhill journey, you’ll look over the sea and Anacapa Island nearly the whole time, then pass through an olive-tree grove just before reaching the coast.

Once there, you’ll find a stony beach facing the open ocean, seemingly cut off from the world. There are some picnic tables beneath tall trees, and also a pit toilet. There is no water and no other amenities. You will need to pack out all your own trash. Due to the remoteness, you can expect to share this beach with few other people. Private boats can get here, but rough seas around the tip of the island make it difficult, and there are no mooring buoys in the cove.

You can lounge peacefully by the water, or choose to explore more. The olive orchard is part of an old ranch, and historic adobe buildings still stand. There is also Yellowbanks Trail, an unmaintained path that leads to a vista and an even more secluded beach. Then there is Smugglers Canyon, an off-trail route through a rugged streambed that sometimes trickles with water. Whatever else you choose to do at Smugglers Cove, be sure to leave time for hiking all the way back to catch your boat.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/chis/planyourvisit/hiking-santa-cruz-island.htm https://www.meganstarr.com/hiking-channel-islands-national-park-california/



Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

all year round


  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area