Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

Channel Islands National Park - A day trip to Santa Cruz Island with Sophia

Channel Islands National Park - A day trip to Santa Cruz Island with Sophia


This was another adventure shared by myself and my daughter, Sophia. And adventure is our word for exploring. I asked her if she wanted to see foxes and explore on an island. She said yes, to we decided to visit Channel Islands National Park.

Sometimes, when we are driving a long way to get somewhere, she gets a little impatient.

I tell her, "Adventure rarely comes to you; you have to go out and find it, and sometimes that means traveling a long way."

She gets it. She's been to Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Mountain, Yellowstone National Park, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and Rocky Mountain State Park. She has been on four of my 100 Peaks hikes in San Diego and she has been to Hawaii three times, to three different islands.

She is not yet four years old.

I feel that my job as a father is to expose her to as much as the world as I can while I still have influence over her behavior. At some point, she will be making her own decisions and I would like to lay the foundations of exploration and stewardship under my watch. I want her to look back at her childhood and remember our shared experiences of wonder and discovery. I can't wait until she is old enough to travel abroad. Maybe next year we will be able to travel to Europe, Australia, or Costa Rica. Or all three.


I made the mistake of booking this trip on daylight savings weekend. I woke Sophia up at 7:30AM, which felt like 6:30AM. My daughter is a girl who typically groggily wakes up at around 8AM or 8:15AM. I had dressed her in her clothes the night before, so all I had to do was pick her up and put her in her car seat and we were ready to go.

We made the short drive down the Ventura Harbor, where we checked in with Island Packers. I have to say, from my first conversation with their service staff weeks ago, to every person aboard the boat, Island Packers was a top notch organization that provided excellent, friendly service. They saw that I was traveling alone with a small child and offered help wherever appropriate. They do this day in and day out and they looked like they were all having fun doing it. The food on the boat, though not very extensive nor freshly cooked, was less expensive than they could have made it. They have a monopoly on providing service to the Channel Islands, but they didn't show it. It made this adventure that much better. Kudos to them.

Sophia was really excited to get on to the boat and we were lucky enough to snag an inside table. It was pretty cold and I wanted to keep her warm. We bought some snacks from the galley and had fun watching the dolphins out the window as the island got closer. I chose Santa Cruz Island, as, when I asked the helpful representative at Island Packers, she indicated that Scorpion Landing was the best place for a small child and the best place to see Island Foxes.

We were able to see a couple of whale flukes on the way as a bonus, but the real goal was to visit Santa Cruz Island and explore. We had no real agenda as we exited the boat onto the small dock. We made our way along the gravel trail as we watched a large group of campers trudge by.

Most of the campers visiting this island appear to be used to camping next to their cars, rather than true back country campers. Roller bag luggage and coolers were dragged along the rocky trail. People encumbered by more than six overstuffed bags of gear staggered towards the campsite, almost a mile up the road. A few true backpackers led the pack and disappeared around the bend in the trail.

We listened to a Channel Islands National Park volunteer talk to us about the history of the island, as well as the flora and fauna. Sophie, however, was ready to find a spot to have a picnic. We hiked up the trail and looked for a nice spot, but the lower campsite was full and really not that scenic. I asked another park representative, who looked like he was surveying the area with a GPS, if there was a nice spot. He motioned up the trail and said that the upper campsite was empty. Given the amount of gear that people were carrying, I could see why they would pick the nearest site and take it.

Island Morning Glory on Santa Cruz Island
The Trail to Upper Scorpion Campground

I convinced Sophia that it would be worth it to keep on hiking, since she was a little tired from waking up so early. We hiked for about 10 more minutes and were pleasantly surprised by the scenic valley that contained the upper campsites. It was easy to imagine sheep grazing on the rolling green hillsides. The man was right. It was almost completely empty.

Scorpion Campground Sign

We set up our blanket by a log and we relaxed, snacked and played. When she wanted to nap, I opened a small umbrella and we huddled underneath it, feeling pretty protected. After a while, we were ready to explore. We walked around the area, saw some foxes and played hide and seek. Sophia was fearless, trudging into the tall grass to hide. I was happy that she felt so comfortable in the outdoors and she seemed excited when I told her we had a long time before the boat left.

Our Picnic Spot
The Hills around Upper Scorpion Campground
Hide and Seek
Find the girl in the picture

She climbed all over a ring of fallen logs and jumped off. We hiked along the trail and played with her toys. We saw very few people. We hiked back and saw three foxes hanging around a picnic spot.

Overall, it was a relaxing experience and it gave me a taste of what the island would be like once I came back to do some hiking.

Sophia in Flight
Island Fox on Santa Cruz Island

She slept on my lap on the way home as we sat outside on top of the boat. Once she woke up she was back to normal, excited to have been on a boat and an island. She talked about what we saw and the patch she got. There were some other dolphins, but at this point, we both were ready to be home.

I told her, "Sometimes going on an adventure is tiring." She got it.

Santa Ynez Peak and Broadcast Peak - Peaks# 5 and 6 - A cold and windy road to the towers

Santa Ynez Peak and Broadcast Peak - Peaks# 5 and 6 - A cold and windy road to the towers

Back to La Cumbre Peak - This time with a brave little girl

Back to La Cumbre Peak - This time with a brave little girl