Channel Islands Painted Cave Tour

Painted Cave Tour, Channel Islands National Park, California

If you’re planning a trip to visit the Channel Islands National Park, you may be interested in visiting Painted Cave via the Island Packers Cruise. In total, visiting Painted Cave will add about 4 – 4.5 hours to your trip due to it’s location on the north end of Santa Cruz Island by Prisoner’s Harbor. Painted Cave is a sea cave large enough to fit a large ferry boat inside for a certain distance. If you desire to go further into the cave and explore, a kayak or smaller vessel will be needed.

Painted Cave has several different colored layers of rock from the naturally occurring lichens & algae that give Painted Cave its colorful appearance. It’s a beautiful and unique sight to see!

How to get to the Channel Islands Painted Cave

The Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island, is only accessible via the water. A boat is needed to arrive at the island, which can then take you for a tour or you can book a kayak tour prior to your arrival.

Prior to our arrival in California, we booked our boat/tour tickets through Island Packers Cruises that runs out of Ventura. The cruise does fill up quickly, so be sure to book ahead of time!

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Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California

Location: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

Our booked tour left out of the harbor early in the morning. It is required that check in around 45 minutes before departure, to ensure that the crew has been able to go over all of the details with you, as there are no amenities on Santa Cruz Island, except for pit toilets.

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

When it’s time to board, everyone gets in line and goes for the best seats! Personally, we prefer the outside front or rear seats as these provide you with the best views – despite it being cold.

Update: We took our kids on a 10-day California Coast Road Trip and once again visited the Channel Islands via Island Packers Cruises. You can read all about hiking Santa Cruz and our whale spotting in this post.

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

On the way out to the island, we were in the back of the boat in the open-air seating.

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

While on our ride out to the island, there was a filming crew of some sort on our boat…I’m not sure what they were filming for, but they certainly looked legit!

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

Dolphin Sightings

The channel between the mainland of California and the Channel Islands is home to over 27 species of whales and dolphins. On both our way out to the island and back to mainland, we had a pod of dolphins follow us. It was magical!

Update: When we visited in March 2023 for our California Coast Road Trip with Kids we had a once in a lifetime sighting of a breeching whale! It was absolutely amazing and looked just like “Free Willy”! Check out day 5 of our trip to watch our whale spotting!

YouTube video

Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park

About and hour after departing the mainland in Ventura, we arrived at Santa Cruz Island. Here we dropped off passengers who were either booked for camping, hiking or kayaking for the day. Once they disembarked, we continued on to the Painted Cave, which was the tour we were on for the day.

Channel Islands National Park, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

Painted Cave Channel Islands

The Island Packers Cruise boat is able to enter the cave to give you the best possible glimpse of the naturally occurring lichens & algae that give Painted Cave its colorful appearance.

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

You can also enter the cave via kayak…but you would want to ensure you had waterproof flashlights to see around. In this photo below, you can see two brave kayakers exploring the cave much further in than we were able to on the large cruise boat.

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

The colorful rock walls ranged from red, orange, yellow to green. It truly was beautiful.

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

Towards the bottom of the rock, near the water level, the rock was actually bluish-purple in appearance. So pretty!

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

Looking back at the entrance of the cave!

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
YouTube video

Prisioner’s Harbor Hike on Santa Cruz Island

After completing the Painted Cave tour via boat, passengers are then taken to Prisoner’s Harbor, where you have around 3 hours to hike around and explore the island.

Painted Cave Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

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