Though not the high point of Santa Cruz Island (that honor belongs to 2434' Picacho Diablo/Devil's Peak which sits deep within the restricted Nature Conservancy territory and is off limits through April 2007) El Montanon (El Montañon) Peak is the highest point accessible to the general public. (Okay, I know that it only stands at a quaint 1808 feet but you'll still get about 2500' total gain for the 9 mile loop from Scorpion Harbor.) It's a great diversion with impressive views for those looking for a longer trek then the 2 mile Cavern Point loop---oh, and the summit's easy to point to from the mainland.)
This hike will cover a number of historical aspects of the area: you will be able to explore a derelict oil derrick; hike through WWII-era plane wreckage and ponder the strange, large stone cairns and caves that harken back to the Chumash Indians' 7,500-year influence on the island, mostly. (Do you remember reading Island of the Blue Dolphin in junior high? Ask a ranger about the cairns, though.)
There are two ways to start the hike to the peak: 1) turn south (left) at the Scorpion Ranchhouse and head up the access road to the bluff which hooks back and meanders along the hills ultimately bringing you to the Scorpion Canyon Loop trail junction. This is the more boring way to go. A better route (both going and returning) is 2) follow the road up past the campgrounds until it starts the Scorpion Canyon Loop trail (there's a sign and it's an actual single track trail instead of a dirt road). This is a scenic route that will also bring you up to the Loop junction near the old oil derrick. There will be a sign for Montañon Peak as you head west along the road/trail. Once you reach the ridge dividing this end of the island, head south (up) to the summit. There is a register and incredible views. Return the way you came.
Well, you could swim, but that might add too much fun to the adventure. The most economical way of getting to Santa Cruz Island is via Island Packers out of Ventura Harbor (check their website
for current prices). The trip takes about an hour (more if there are whales in the channel, as the boat will slow down so you can take pictures). If you are planning on dayhiking, make sure you take the early boat (8am) since you'll need to be back at the dock by 3pm, making your 9 mile trip a jaunty one.
As mentioned, you'll need boat passage (charter or private) to reach the island and a camping reservation if you're staying overnight (see camping).
If staying overnight, there are two camp areas in Scorpion Canyon: the lower camp (at 1/4 mile from the pier) and the upper camp (about 1/2 mile). If you come out on a weekend, it is highly advised you walk the extra 1/4 mile and stay in the upper camp---unless you really like college kids drinking, cussing, whooping and wretching all night. Weekdays, especially in spring and fall, are blissfully quiet.
All provisions must be brought by campers, including food, supplies and fueled campstoves. Potable water is provided at two taps in the lower campground and one tap in the upper. Due to extreme fire danger on the island no campfires are permitted. Pit toilets have been rebuilt and are much nicer, located just up from the beach, at the entry and exit of the lower camp and in the middle of the upper camp.
A reservation is required to camp (camping only allowed on eastern Santa Cruz) and can be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online here
. More camping info can also be found here
Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands
- for boat travel departing from Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors to all of the islands. (805) 642-1393.
- for boat travel departing from Santa Barbara Harbor to all of the islands. (805) 962-1127.
Brief History/Etymology/Plane Wreckage
For those not familiar with the area, Santa Cruz is the largest island off the coast of California. Located between Anacapa and Santa Rosa Islands, it lies about 19 miles off the coast of Ventura and 23 miles off the coast from Santa Barbara. It's quite a lovely sight when the fog decides to take a break. Santa Cruz Island is divided between The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76% of the island; the eastern 24% is owned and managed by the National Park Service.
According to legend, Santa Cruz Island was named for a priest's staff accidentally left on the island during the Portola expedition of 1769. A Chumash Indian found the cross-tipped stave and returned it to the priest. The Spaniards were so impressed that they called this island of friendly people "La Isla de Santa Cruz", the Island of the Sacred Cross.
About the Plane Wreckage
I haven't met a ranger on the island yet who has the full story about the plane that went down on the hill southeast of Scorpion Ranch. At approximately 10:00 PM on March 2, 1949, an APB was received from Orange County Sheriff's Office reporting that a U.S. Navy Corsair F4U, serial number 97448, model number AB 16 had been missing since 2:30 PM. The teletype reported that this plane had sufficient fuel to last until 6:00 PM. Last contact with this F4U was at 2:30 PM reporting that it was off Santa Cruz Island and caught in bad weather. On 3/5/49 the missing Corsair F4U was found crashed on Santa Cruz Island; the pilot was killed in the crash.
While hiking the trail, you will come across a large (3/4 mile) area with the scattered pieces of the plane. While it's interesting to poke around at the pieces, it's illegal to remove any "souvenirs" (not to mention the bad karma involved).
On that note, it's illegal to remove anything (rocks, shells, plants, fauna) from the island. Just take your trash and be happy with photos.