Booking the Ferry to Channel Islands National Park
According to the National Park's website, you must book your ferry ticket before you reserve a campsite at any of the campgrounds. The ferries fill up quicker than the campsites because of day trippers, so be sure to check Island Packer's availability first.
The ferry to Santa Cruz leaves from Ventura Harbor. If you are traveling from out of town and want to take a morning ferry trip, I highly recommend booking a hotel near the harbor the night before. We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Ventura, CA - about a five minute drive from the harbor. They provide breakfast in the morning and we were able to fill up our cooler with fresh ice from their ice machine, which made things extremely easy for our early morning departure.
Booking a Campsite in Channel Islands National Park
Even during the busy summer months, it's not impossible to find an open campsite on Santa Cruz Island. We booked our campsite about three months in advance, which is unheard of for National Parks in California. However, I would still try to book well in advance if you are looking to stay on a Saturday night in the summer or over a holiday weekend.
At Scorpion Ranch, there is an upper loop and a lower loop of campsites. The lower loop is about a 1/2 mile hike in and the upper loop is about a mile, depending on where your site is located inside the loop. There is potable water, pit toilets, picnic tables, and food storage bins at this campground.
Pack In, Pack Out
There is no garbage service on the islands so whatever you bring with you, you must pack out — just like any backpacking trip. This means you probably don’t want to bring food with a lot of packaging and I recommend planning your meals in advance.
In order to keep these islands in pristine condition, we all have to work together to keep it clean. Please be considerate and don’t litter. The sea life and island foxes will thank you.
Speaking of island foxes, you will see plenty of them on Santa Cruz Island. They are very friendly and they will pull at your heart strings with their cute little faces, but please don’t feed them! You have to be extremely diligent about keeping everything in the food storage bins. Even if you turn away for a moment, those sly foxes will be creeping up on your food. Apparently, they like dirty socks and underwear too — so keep those locked up! Channel Islands National Park Camping Packing Tips
Before you start packing, make sure your gear meets these guidelines.
The key here is to pack light. Island Packers allows three bags up to 45 pounds per person, plus a carry on. Now, just because they allow four bags per person doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to pack that many bags.
I personally would rather live without a few comforts than try to deal with carrying all that gear to the campsites. We saw plenty of people struggling with stacks of plastic storage containers on the dock and along the trail. Unless you are staying for a week or longer, do you really need that much stuff?