Hiking Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail
Channel Islands is a beautiful archipelago off the Southwest Coast of California that encompasses eight islands. The National Park makes up five of the eight islands. The trail to Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail is located on the biggest, Santa Cruz island. Channel Islands National Park is unique in that the park helps to ensure that the islands remain mostly untouched from human activity.
Channel Islands actually used to be geographically closer to San Diego via tectonic plate mechanisms. The result is an environment that shows what immediate coastal Southern California would look like without any human involvement. The only other area to quite possibly see this type of environment would be on the areas of Camp Pendleton just off Interstate-5 which remains the only open land between San Diego and the rest of Southern California.
Santa Cruz island is the largest of the eight islands and features hiking trails, kayaking, and camping – although no campfires are allowed on the entire island. Channel Islands National Park is also a marine sanctuary where the coastal waters up to six nautical miles offshore are protected. The high level of protection of this park offers an incredible opportunity to view unique animals such as the Island Fox, marine wildlife, and lately, a reintroduction of bald eagles to the area.
On A Personal Note:
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor trial is actually a combination of two trails. Cavern Point is a loop trail that winds up from Scorpion Harbor. According to the National Park Service, the trail is about two miles but it’s much shorter. Potato Harbor is an out and back trail that begins in the same area and is listed as five miles by the National Park Service. In reality, it’s much shorter. I recommend combining the two trails for while there. For more on getting to the island, see the trail directions below.
Do you have any updates to the hiking trail or want to share your hike/pictures? Please leave a comment below.
- Overall Difficulty: 45% 45%
- Overall Views: 75% 75%
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail Quick Facts:
- Elevation: 538 feet.
- Elevation Gain: 406 feet.
- Estimated Distance: 7 miles (according to the NPS) .
- My Actual Distance: 5 miles
- Estimated Time: 2-4 hours.
- My Time: 2 hours 29 minutes (moving), 3 hours 27 minutes total.
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail Directions:
Open in maps. The trail to Cavern Point begins at Scorpion Ranch just a short distance away from Scorpion Harbor. Since this is an island, there are two options of getting here. You can have your own boating arrangements made or you can go through the folks at Island Packers to arrange a visit. Once at the harbor continue about half a mile to Scorpion Ranch where the trail to Cavern Point begins. Cost is admission of the boat tour.
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail Pictures:
Who Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: This is a great day hike for just about anyone visiting Santa Cruz Island. The bulk of the difficulty is coming up and down a mild elevation gain and for most people wouldn’t be too difficult. The most difficult part of the trail is coming up off of the Scorpion Ranch trailhead. Once you get to Cavern Point, see how you feel and if you’d like to continue to Potato Harbor or continue the loop back to Scorpion Ranch.
Advanced Hikers: This is a very mild trail that will offer great coastal views. The trail should take about three hours at most so make sure you have something else planned for your day if you’re waiting for the boat to return.
Expert Hikers: Same.
It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.
Best Time Of Year To Hike Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail:
This trail is generally great year round. Winters can be cool with intermittent rain. In my opinion, Spring would probably be the nicest time of year to hike this trail as the plant life will be fresh from any rain that was received. Ocean temperatures keep the immediate coast with a cool breeze year round. With that being said, summers can still be quite hot away from the immediate coast and in the valley. Prepare for full exposure to the elements and plan accordingly.
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor Trail Conditions:
Cavern Point and Potato Harbor trails are both very well maintained trails. Tralis are maintained through both use and by also the National Park Service. Both trails are low in elevation and hug the cliffs along the coastline. Because of that, there is little overgrowth to the trails. Most growth occurs during the Spring months after winter rains and is grass. The trails are completely exposed to the elements and there is no shade along the trail.
Cavern Point trail can be done alone as a loop trail and Potato Harbor can be done as an out and back trail. However, these trails do connect to each other. Most people do choose to link these two trails together. The total distance is near five miles. I started hiking towards Cavern Point in a counter-clockwise fashion from the Scorpion Ranch trailhead. Most of the trail’s elevation gain is done at this part as it winds up to the bluff then evens out along the cliff of the island.
Follow the trail to Cavern Point which is an overlook along the coast with great views. Here you can either follow the loop trail back down to Scorpion Ranch or follow the trail along the cliff towards Potato Harbor. Potato Harbor is a beautiful overlook to a white sand beach down the cliffs below. From here you can turn around and follow the trail the way you came. Another option is to head down the hills towards Scorpion Campground and follow the small valley back to Scorpion Ranch.
These trails are generally too dry and sunny for any poison oak. However, these trails are the perfect habitat for rattlesnakes so keep an eye out for them.