PADDLE INTO THE DEEPEST VOLCANIC SEA CAVES IN THE WORLD
Travel aboard the vessel “Truth” to the west end of Santa Cruz Island and explore steep cliffs, deep caves, and fissures winding up to 1/4 mile into the island. After kayaking, there’s time to snorkel through kelp forest or relax aboard while enjoying a hot-cooked lunch.
Dolphins and whales are often seen during the channel crossing aboard the Truth from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz Island.
Painted Cave Kayak & Snorkel is the perfect day trip departing from Santa Barbara to experience sea cave kayaking at Channel Islands National Park.
- Departure Harbor: Santa Barbara Harbor (at the Sea Landing docks)
- Destination: West end of Santa Cruz Island
- Spend all day in Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary
Trip Specific Information
- Season: July to October
- Experience Level: Intermediate & up
- Minimum Age: 12 years
- Minimum Number of Guests: 6
- Maximum Number of Guests: 24
- Distance Paddled: 4 miles
- Check-In: 7:30 am
- Briefing: 7:45 am
- Departure: 8:00am
- Boat Crossing to Island: 2.5 hours
- Kayaking: 3 hours
- Swimming/Snorkeling/Lunch: 1-2 hours
- Depart Island: By 3:30 pm
- Crossing back to Santa Barbara: 2.5 hours
- Return to Santa Barbara: By 6 pm
- Boat trip from Santa Barbara Harbor to Santa Cruz Island on the Truth
- Breakfast, lunch, snacks and cold and hot beverages (sodas, coffee, and tea)
- Guides and naturalists
- Tandem or single person kayak w/ backrest, seat, and adjustable paddle
- 3mm Farmer John Wetsuit
- Lifejacket (PFD)
- Cave helmet
- Mask and snorkel
How do we calculate ticket prices?
Get your day going nice and early and let us take care of everything for you!
Meet your crew at the Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor (at 301 West Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA). You will need to park in the main harbor lot. We provide almost everything you need for the day, including food and drinks, but we highly suggest you bring plenty of warm clothing and layers. Being prepared for all temperatures will ensure that you remain comfortable.
Meet at 7:30am for an 8:00am departure
The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the best places to view marine mammals on the planet. As we cross, we’ll have our eyes peeled in search of whales and dolphins. If we encounter any, we’ll slow down and enjoy their company for a short while before resuming our journey to Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz Island is the largest island off of the West Coast of the United States. It also has some of the largest volcanic sea caves on the planet. The longest in the world is called Painted Cave and it extends almost a quarter mile deep into the island. We will spend about an hour exploring this cave. The cave is named after the multi-colored lichen growing on the inner walls and ceiling.
In addition to Painted Cave, there are roughly a dozen other large sea caves that we explore depending on swell, weather, and tides.
This guided kayaking trip is “one-way”. We’ll begin our paddle when the Truth drops us off near Painted Cave, and then we’ll head down current and downwind to finish at Quail Rock where Truth will be waiting to pick us up with a hot lunch ready!
The weather will determine our exact timing and kayak route, but at the end of your kayaking, we leave extra time for swimming and snorkeling in the kelp forest if you like.
We provide snorkels and masks. Life jackets are required to be worn while snorkeling unless you are wearing a 3mm wetsuit or thicker (not provided but you’re welcome to bring your own – water temperatures can be cool, ranging from 55-72°F). If you are wearing your own wetsuit, we have fins you may borrow as well.
Lunch is served! A hot nutritious lunch will be ready when you return from kayaking; if you plan on swimming/snorkeling, we’ll keep it warm for you until you finish your swim.
After everything is loaded back on the Truth, we’ll pull the anchor and begin our journey home to Santa Barbara.
Enjoy the 2.5 hour return trip back to Santa Barbara Harbor. Keep your eyes peeled for sea life along the way. You can bring adult drinks but they are only to be enjoyed on the return trip home.
Estimated arrival time in Santa Barbara Harbor is 6:00pm
We are currently building our locally inspired menu but here is an example of what to expect from your galley crew onboard the Truth.
- Fresh fruit
- Granola and yogurt w/ fixings
- Toast & local jams
- Hot breakfast sandwich or burrito (made to order)
Pre Trip Snack
- CIEx Snack Mix
- Burgers (grass fed beef OR veggie patty)
- Island coleslaw & salads
- Chips & dips
Return Trip Snack
- Fresh baked cookies
Beverages Served All Day
- Hot tea and coffee
- Soda Bar (soda, juice, water, seltzer)
- Ginger Iced Tea
You may bring alcoholic beverages to enjoy on the return trip home.
Santa Cruz Island, originally known as “Limuw” by the indigenous Chumash people, is located 23 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The Chumash people inhabited several large villages on Santa Cruz for thousands of years. Their creation story describes it as the birthplace of their people, who reached the mainland via a rainbow bridge across the channel.
Santa Cruz is the largest island off the continental United States. At 22 miles long, and between 2 to 6 miles wide, it has an area of almost 100 square miles. The island’s coastline has steep cliffs, large sea caves, secluded coves, and sandy beaches. The highest point is Devils Peak, at over 2,450 feet of elevation. A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island Fault, with volcanic rock on the north side of the island and older, sedimentary rock on the south side of the island. This volcanic rock was heavily fractured during an uplift phase that formed the island, and over a hundred large sea caves have been carved into the resulting faults by wind and waves. The largest of these is Painted Cave, among the world’s biggest sea caves.
Kayaking along the western end of Santa Cruz Island gives you the chance to explore along cliff faces, into secluded coves, inlets packed with marine life, and beautiful sea caves. We will explore Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world. Sea lions and harbor seals inhabit the many coves and caves of this stretch of the island. You’ll paddle through a Marine Protected Area where kelp forest provides habitat for an array of fishes and other marine life.
Rather than kayaking a loop or out and back, we will kayak downwind in one direction, with The Truth meeting us at the end of our paddle to pick us up. This gives you the opportunity to see more of Santa Cruz Island, while making your journey less strenuous.
Sea caves are common throughout the Channel Islands and are formed where faults in the volcanic rocks are exposed to the forces of waves and winds. Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island is one of the largest sea caves in the world (specifically it is the longest in the world) and penetrates over a quarter mile into the interior of the island. The cave is named after the multi-colored lichen growing on the inner walls and ceiling. We explore the depths of this cave by kayak and check out the sea life that inhabits it.
Pre Trip Planning
What to bring with you?
- Water – reusable water bottles can be filled onboard.
- Warm clothing – street clothes are fine, dress in layers and bring warm clothes.
- Kayak Clothing – bathing suits and sun tops. You will be given a farmer John style wetsuit (like overalls).
- Wetsuit for snorkeling – if you plan to get in the water with a mask and snorkel, a full wetsuit will increase your comfort level. You can rent a 4mm wetsuit if you’d like.
- Sunscreen – We prefer reef safe sunscreen. Learn what makes sunscreen reef safe here.
- Waterproof cameras – we strongly recommend you take your phone or camera kayaking only if you have a waterproof case for it.
- Motion sickness medicine and personal medications.
- Gratuity for guides and crew.
Frequently Asked Questions
No. All CIEx trips are vessel-supported and include boat transportation to and from your island destination.
The minimum age on this trip is 12.
All children 16 and under MUST BE with an adult in a tandem kayak.
Our age limits are for your safety and enjoyment.
YES! There is no way around this. You don’t need to be excellent at swimming laps, but you need to be comfortable treading water and being in deep water.
We don’t allow reservations of single kayaks ahead of time, but we have single kayaks available for those of you traveling solo or in odd-numbered groups.
The kayaking on this trip is of moderate difficulty due to the chance of exposure to wind and waves on the west end of Santa Cruz Island. You will not be paddling into the wind, we paddle downwind, but you may have to paddle in a range of conditions. We recommend that participants be in reasonable physical shape and comfortable on the ocean.
This trip does not include landing or hiking on Santa Cruz Island. If you want to hike on the Channel Islands, we recommend that you book a 4-Day Expedition Trip with us! If you are interested in hiking specifically on Santa Cruz Island, we recommend contacting Island Packers. Based on the amount of time it takes to travel across the Santa Barbara Channel, kayaking and swimming/snorkeling is all we’ll have time to do in a day on this trip!
Yes, prices vary based on day of week and season. Please call or email with the dates you are interested in and we’ll get you a quote.
Difference between CIEx Sea Cave Kayaking Trips:
- This trip to Santa Cruz is longer and might be more challenging depending on weather conditions.
- The highlight of this trip is Painted Cave (one of the largest sea caves in the world); at Anacapa, the arches are the highlights in addition to many smaller sea caves.
- The water is typically a bit colder on the north side of Santa Cruz Island compared to Anacapa, and so we provide farmer John-style wetsuits.
- We provide breakfast, lunch, snacks, and beverages on this trip. You do not need to bring your own food.
Difference between CIEx Sea Cave Kayaking Trips and Scorpion Ranch Trips:
- All CIEx kayaking trips are vessel-supported. Rather than launching and landing through surf at the Scorpion Ranch beach, all CIEx trips launch kayaks from our motherships with crew assistance from our easy access water-level swim step. On our trips, you paddle in one direction with the wind and get picked up at the end of your paddle by the mothership. You’ll have the support vessel nearby at all times to assist you if needed.
- You are our exclusive purpose. All CIEx kayak guests are here for the same reason… to kayak into sea caves! Scorpion Ranch trips require ferry transportation to get to the island paddling destination, which can result in wait times between activities.
- We paddle at areas where we barely encounter other boaters or visitors to the islands. This means fewer crowds and more wildlife. Scorpion Ranch is the most heavily visited part of Channel Islands National Park – if you’re looking to get a more remote experience, join us!
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