What is the difference between Scorpion Ranch and Painted Cave Kayaking?

During the summer we offer a lot of trips, but our two most popular trips to Channel Islands National Park are Sea Cave Kayaking at Scorpion Ranch and the Painted Cave Kayak excursion. Both are incredible trips and I would highly recommend them to anyone considering a trip to the islands. Both trips explore areas of Santa Cruz Island. Both depart early in the morning and are full day excursions. Both trips offer kayaking and snorkeling options. Our guides will talk a lot about the natural and human history of this region on both trips. Both trips explore sea caves. But how are they different?

1) The meeting spot – Sea Cave Kayaking departs from Ventura Harbor (sometimes Oxnard Harbor) and Painted Cave departs from Santa Barbara Harbor. These harbors are about 30-40 minutes apart from one another.

2) The transportation – Sea Cave Kayaking departs on a large Island Packers ferry boat with over 100 passengers and the crossing is about 1.25hrs. Once you arrive at the island, you will need to take all of your belongings off the ferry boat and onto the island for the day. Painted Cave departs on a 69′ diving boat with 15-35 passengers; the crossing is about 2 hrs and guests will stay on the boat all day and kayak/snorkel from the boat.

Painted Cave Channel Islands National Park

3) The tour – Sea Cave Kayaking at Scorpion is an amazing day. Once on the island, you will be outfitted for kayaking gear and explore the sea caves in this area. There are about a dozen caves that you might be able to see. After kayaking, guests are free to snorkel, hike or head to the visitors center. The ferry boat usually returns at 4pm (sometimes 5pm) to pick up passengers and take them back to the harbor.

Painted Cave Kayaking is an equally amazing day, once the boat arrives at Painted Cave guests will kayak from the boat and explore Painted Cave and other sea caves at the western end of Santa Cruz Island.  After kayaking, guests can snorkel or swim by the boat – there are hot showers on the boat to enjoy when you get out of the water. You will not go onto the island on this trip, so there is no hiking.

4) The food – If you are Sea Cave Kayaking at Scorpion Ranch, you will need to bring all of your food for the day. Food vending is not permitted on the island. If you are on the Painted Cave Kayak, your food is provided for the day. You will receive a continental breakfast on the ride to the island and a hot lunch on the ride back; these meals are included in the price of your trip.

channel island fox

5) When are they offered? Sea Cave Kayaking is offered year-a-round. Painted Cave trips only operate on select dates in the spring and summer months. If you have a group that is interested in going during the off season, please call to see if one can be scheduled.

6) What is the cost? Sea Cave Kayaking is $149 per person + ferry tickets. Painted Cave is $199 per person. Both trips offer group discount rates. Check out the trip descriptions for full pricing information. Prices are subject to change.

Hopefully this is helpful be deciding which trip to book. If you can’t decide, just book them both – you won’t be disappointed!

On occasion logistic change, so be sure to review your confirmation information if you have already booked a trip. And if you have any questions that I haven’t covered here, please post them in the comment section below or call our office. We are always happy to help.

updated 9.18.2017


Dennis Coates

We are a group of 8 adult males (possibly more). Is there a way to do the Painted Caves as well as camp and kayak at Scorpion Ranch for a couple of nights camping? Might the dive boat drop us off at Scorpion after the day at Painted Caves etc etc.

Nate Mori

Hi Dennis, that’s a great question! The dive boat isn’t permitted to drop guests off at Scorpion Anchorage as they are not a ferry concessionaire for the Channel Islands National Park. Our group sales department can help you though with planning a trip like this, feel free to give us a call at 805-884-9283.


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