OverviewThe hike from Prisoners to Scorpion is about 16 miles. The main challenge of this hike is the lack of water along the way. You may cross over a very small stream, or two, in the first couple of miles, but don't count on there being water there unless it's rained recently, and there is nothing after that. So, you must pack all your water. Pack a little more than you think you need.
We did this hike in 2 days, staying overnight at Del Norte Camp. Some folks apparently do it all in one day, making it to Scorpion in time to take a boat back to the mainland (they must be trail runners), or staying the night at Scorpion (which does have potable water). Either way is good, just make sure you have plenty of water for the hike.
Some folks do this trip in reverse, Scorpion to Prisoners. But with no water available at Prisoners (unless the stream is flowing) I don't really recommend this. Much better to bring water to start your hike, and have water at the end to replenish yourself.
Did I mention water? The rangers tell me many people get into trouble along this trail, and other island trails, by not having enough.
Along this route you'll have tremendous views of Santa Cruz Island and nearby Anacapa Island, springtime wildflowers if you go in about April, and you'll likely see island foxes if you stay overnight at Del Norte or Scorpion. Look also for the Island pines at the top of the backbone ridge and the Island Scrub Jay in the canyons near Prisoners.
Getting ThereThis hike is on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park. An Island Packers boat can take you to Prisoners and pick you up from Scorpion. The cost will be in the neighborhood of $70. If you are camping on the island you must make camping reservations as well as book your spot on the boat. Do this in advance as both camping and boat spots tend to fill up.
Route DescriptionThe first few miles of this hike are on a road. At Del Norte you then have an opportunity to either continue on the road (called the Navy Road) and this adds about 2 miles to the overall length of the trip. Or, you can do like we did, and take the Del Norte Trail. Follow the road and/or trail as it winds its way in and out of steep drainages on its way up to the backbone ridge of Santa Cruz Island. Once you're up on this ridge you will be on a road again. But as you follow this backbone ridge up to Montanon Ridge, the highest point on the NPS portion of the island, you will revert back to trail, and what a trail it becomes. The last mile or so up Montanon Ridge is very steep, has steep drop-offs, and the rock tends to be loose. The trail can also be hard to find, so I wouldn't recommend this hike for beginners. After admiring the view from Montanon Ridge, you'll then have 3.5 miles to go, and the trail winds its way down to Scorpion. At the well you have the chance to either take the road down to Scorpion Harbor, or the trail down to Scorpion Campground.
This is a good map of the route, courtesy of Trimble, via the Navy Road, along with notable waypoints noted. If you zoom in on the area around Del Norte (Way Point 22) you'll notice the "short-cut" Del Norte Trail that cuts straight across west to east, rather than looping to the south and back north. That's the route we took. Most of the junctions are signed, but still can be a little confusing, so take a good topo map.
The starting and end points of this trail are at sea level, the highest point is at 1,600' or so. You'll have a lot of up and down along the way, though, some of which can be quite steep.
Not much shade up there, just a few widely spaced opportunities. And be prepared for a breeze or downright windy conditions. Fog, as well, may be an issue.
Essential GearWater, bring a lot of it
Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat with chin strap so it won't blow away
Sea-sickness medication for the boat ride over (even if you think you don't need it, why not be better safe than sorry?)
All the gear and food you'll need for your trip - this is an island, with little to no facilities, so come prepared