Scorpion and Little Scorpion Anchorages

Scorpion and Little Scorpion anchorages are the gateway to understanding the Channel Islands
Scorpion and Little Scorpion anchorages are the gateway to understanding the Channel Islands
Loc: E Santa Cruz Island Lat: N34-02.8 Long: W119-32.8 Last visit: Feb 2020
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 7 Prisoner’s Harbor, Santa Cruz WX
Chart 18729 Anacapa Passage Google Earth
Skipper: Capt. Dan Boat: S/V Sancerre Capt. Dan Channel Islands
Landing Permit No Local Notice to Mariners NPS Alerts

Scorpion anchorage

NPS *really* doesn’t want us to visit the construction site.

Scorpion, the gateway to the island’s activities, is closed until late summer or fall of 2020 during construction of a new pier. Prisoners appears to be the backup for Island Packers and kayak concessionaires.

There’s is a big sign alerting us to danger and to keep out. If the behemoths building the pier, the glow of welder’s torches and the general cacophony and roar of the diesels don’t deter you, wait until you meet Big Mike, our name for the daunting person who saunters towards the water’s edge with a somewhat menacing glare. He’s probably a nice guy, but that’s not part of his job description.

Little Scorpion Anchorage

Little Scorpion is the primary overnight anchorage. It usually affords protection from the prevailing westerlies, but the swell can enter the anchorage, making for rough and sleepless nights.

If I plan to spend the night, I also plan a backup. Swell, wind and, on one occasion, the smell from Bird S**t Rock (78) have encouraged me to find another spot for the night. And speaking of the smell, it just isn’t a problem right now. The Park Service has planted the rock and, though they didn’t expect their efforts to cover the islet, they are probably ecstatic at the success they’ve achieved.

Finding the anchorages

This used to be very easy: Bird S**t rock was visible for 10 miles in moderately clear weather. Now, with its new crop of native plants, it’s just another brown rock, so you probably won’t be able to pick it out until you’re fairly close.

Cavern Point

If you’re north of the anchorage, locate the steep cliffs of Cavern Point. That’s less than a mile NW of Scorpion and visible from the mainland on a clear day. Once you’re oriented, shape a course slightly to the east of the point. You’ll likely spot Scorpion Canyon next. It runs right into the day anchorage. There is a pier in the SW corner and two mooring balls.

Little Scorpion is a fraction of a mile east.

Little Scorpion

The anchorage is quite deep and you’ll find that you have to maneuver in fairly close to anchor in less than 35 ft. The bottom is mostly sand, though we have encountered some eel grass.

Scorpion in foreground, Little Scorpion in the distance.
Scorpion in foreground, Little Scorpion in the distance.

We generally anchor bow and stern to prevent swinging. Other boats line up beam-to-beam in a NW-SE line all along the east side of the rocks. I prefer the spots in the SE corner of the anchorage but will accept the second tier spots that are farther out. There is also room to moor east of the primary spots close to shore.

If it’s late in the day and we’re the only ones looking for a spot, we’ll sometimes use a single hook in the center of the anchorage.


Nothing that you can’t see. The bottom is sand and holding is excellent and kelp is not an issue these days. Eel grass might be. Occasionally, abrupt wind shifts (though not necessarily Santa Anas) will suddenly make your secondary anchor the primary. Our advice is to ensure you’ve got 7:1 scope at both ends if you’re using rope rode and make sure both are set hard.

Scorpion Anchorage – closed! 

Scorpion Anchorage - remain clear of the buoys. Only NPS, CG and Island Packers are authorized users.
Scorpion Anchorage – remain clear of the buoys. Only NPS, CG and Island Packers are authorized users.

The shore near Gherini (Scorpion) Ranch has two distinct anchorages. Island Packers uses Scorpion (the western one at the mouth of the valley where the ranch house and interpretive center are located) to offload hundreds of hikers, backpackers and kayakers. It can get very crowded here, particularly when kids are on summer vacation.

We stay well clear of their dock, which is tucked in the west corner of the anchorage.

When we intend to spend only a few hours, we prefer to drop a single hook just shoreward of the charted 13 ft. rock (just left of the “S” in Scorpion on the chart) in 20-25 feet of water but will accept a spot almost anywhere along the beach and will anchor to within 100 yards west of Bird S***t

Scorpion chart
NOAA chart of the anchorages. Little Scorpion is to the right of rock (78)

rock(78′ rock) if we have to. But remember, for a yacht on a single hook, this is, at best a fair weather anchorage. The swell frequently creeps around the corner in the Island Packers

anchorage and it can be difficult to get close enough to the shore to get out of the westerly wind.

The bottom in this area is sandy in many parts, but there are areas of mud and weed where holding is less secure. On the other hand, this is where you can bring your dinghy or kayak ashore with ease.

Beach at Scorpion
Beach at Scorpion

There is rarely any breaking surf, which makes this one of the few easy places to come ashore on Santa Cruz. The beach comprises fairly large rocks, so water shoes or sandals are essential.

We rarely anchor here overnight. The video explains our method and describes our trepidation.

BTW – we don’t leave the boat unattended for more than a half hour or so. The wind over the course of the day will frequently vary between nada and 15 knots. As we’re only two or three boat lengths from a lee shore, we are skittish about taking the whole family ashore.

Note: Kelp, which virtually disappeared from all of the islands, is rebounding with vigor at Scorpion  and covers the surface south and east of (10) rock. It’s now a significant obstruction.


Scorpion Attractions

Scorpion has the best kayaking spots on the island. Painted Cave, further west, is far more vast, but the caves near Scorpion are easily accessible and require no spelunking gear. They’re not very scary, either. Nevertheless, take time to observe the swell and surge before you make a decision about entering.

Don’t miss the Blue Grotto sometimes called Emerald Cave, which is accessed on the east side of Bird Sh**t rock. It’s got a cathedral-high ceiling, a grand light show and a passage through the rock itself.

Blue Grotto - Scorpion anchorage
Blue Grotto – Scorpion anchorage

If you drop your boat in the water when the sun just peaks over Anacapa, you’ll likely find glass-smooth waters and excellent visibility. It can be more revealing than any aquarium as you see in this picture of the bottom, which was not shot from underwater, but sitting in my plastic boat.

And don’t miss the loop trail to Potato Harbor. It’s some of the most spectacular scenery in California.

Kayakers Caution

While this is a great spot for exploring in your plastic boat, many of the caves have dangerously low ceilings. A little bit of tidal rush, a biggish wave, maybe just the wake off a tourist boat can ram you into the ceiling. Even with a helmet,  you could still be crushed if you’ve picked a cave with poor clearance. Additionally, if you leave the shelter of the anchorage, be aware of the afternoon westerlies, particularly in summer, which can make paddling back to your boat extremely difficult. We generally paddle west in the morning and, if we’re on a long trip, in good position to ride the westerly home.

Landing Permits NOT Required

Permits not required; it’s your national park. For information about camping ashore, guided tours and facilities, go to National Park Service. For additional information about the joint conservation efforts of Nature Conservancy


If you have new or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, please contact Capt. Dan .


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