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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 trips explore areas of Santa Cruz Island. Both depart early in the morning and are full day excursions. Both trips offer kayaking options. But how are they different?

We get asked this questions a lot. First of all, if you have never been to Channel Islands National Park before then we usually recommend Sea Cave Kayaking as this tour offers the most sea caves, guests can visit the on-island Visitor Center and you will get to see the foxes! Everyone loves the foxes!

1) The meeting spot – Sea Cave Kayaking departs from Ventura 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 and the crossing is about 1.25hrs. Once you arrive at the island, you will spend the day on the island. Painted Cave departs on a diving boat; this is a much slower boat and the crossing is usually over 2+ hours long each way. Once at the island, guests are not permitted to “land” so you will spend the entire day on the water. If you get seasick, Painted Cave may not be for you.

3) The tour – Sea Cave Kayaking at Scorpion offer the most sea caves in the National Park. 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 visitor center. The ferry boat usually returns at 4pm (sometimes 5pm) to pick up passengers and take them back to the harbor. Painted Cave kayaking guests will kayak from the boat and will have no hiking or on island options.

channel island fox

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

Hopefully this is helpful be deciding which trip to book. If you can’t decide, call our office and we can help.

On occasion logistics 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.



This is very helpful! Thank you!
If a party is staying in Scorpion overnight, is there any way to go to Painted Caves without going back to the mainland and then back out?
Is it possible to kayak on your own from Scorpion to Painted with your own kayak or is that way to far?

Anna Jacobson

Hi Matt,

They are two separate trips so you would have to go to the mainland. Scorpion Anchorage kayaking trips depart on the Island Packers ferry from Ventura. Painted Cave kayaking trips depart from Santa Barbara on a charter boat. Currently, there is no way to do that. No, it is too far to kayak to Painted Cave, 20-30 miles.

Sometimes Island Packers visits Painted Cave by ferry on the way back from Santa Rosa Island, but not from Scorpion Anchorage.

Feel free to give us a call and we can help you plan your trip! 805-884-9283


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