Long Distance Trails

A Guide to Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

POSTED ON July 4, 2023 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Hiking a trail can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences. Walking through nature and absorbing the beauty surrounding us can make you feel alive and connected. If you are a hiker looking for a challenging and memorable trail, look no further than the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT). The Trans Catalina trail offers an incredible 38.5-mile (62 km) journey through the stunning Catalina Island, perfect for hikers, trail runners, backpackers, and thru-hikers looking to experience some of the most beautiful California scenery.

In this blog post, we will dive into the highlights of the Trans Catalina Trail, what to expect while on the trail, and any preparation you need to undertake before getting started.

History

Situated off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island holds a captivating history that stretches back centuries. This rich heritage intertwines with the Trans Catalina Trail, traversing the island’s diverse landscapes.

The Catalina Island Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the island’s natural beauty, plays a crucial role in the Trans Catalina Trail’s existence. The Conservancy has been instrumental in protecting Catalina Island’s wildlife, plants, and cultural resources established in 1972. Their commitment to conservation enables Trans Catalina Trail hikers to explore the island’s stunning vistas and experience its unspoiled wilderness.

Catalina island

Key Facts about Trans Catalina Trail

Length: Approximately 38.5 miles (62 km)

Hiking Time: 3-5 days

Elevation Gain: The cumulative elevation gain varies depending on the specific route, but it’s generally around 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 meters).

Established in: 1972 by the Catalina Island Conservancy

Highest point: The island’s summit (Mount Orizaba Peak) at 2,097 ft. (639 meters) above sea level.

Lowest point: Sea level, at the starting point in Avalon or the trailhead in Two Harbors town.

Dawn in Santa Catalina Island

Trail Overview:

The Trans Catalina Trail is a well-maintained trail stretching across the extent of Catalina Island, located in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 21 miles (33 km) off the coast of Southern California.

The island’s isolation has allowed its unique flora and fauna to develop, making it an exciting destination for nature lovers. The trail encompasses picturesque spots like Little Harbor, offering respite and scenic beauty for weary trekkers. In addition, Avalon Canyon’s lush greenery and the awe-inspiring views of Hermit Gulch enchant hikers as they venture across the entire island.

The Trans Catalina Trail takes adventurers through breathtaking landmarks, starting at the beautiful town of Avalon, the island’s main town. From there, hikers venture towards San Pedro, an area brimming with historical significance as it served as the gateway to Catalina Island during the early 20th century.

The trail is rated moderate to strenuous. So, you can expect a long-duration hike to complete it fully. You can either go for a one-day excursion to complete a section of the trail or plan an extended ultralight backpacking trip. Be sure to prepare accordingly to ensure a successful and life-changing hiking experience.

But, to embark on this extraordinary journey, you need to obtain hiking permits, which are available in Long Beach or Dana Point. These permits ensure the responsible exploration of the Trans Catalina Trail and contribute to the conservation efforts of Catalina Island.

On the trail, you can expect to encounter unique fauna & flora, and wildlife or spend quality time enjoying the serenity provided by the natural environment. The trail meanders through the island’s northern end, including the Airport in the Sky and the main destination for planes & private aircraft, where you can spend some time exploring or restocking your rations.

As you continue on the trail, you can expect some challenging terrain, including steep inclines and declines, rocky pathways, and elevated heights, which can take up to three to five days to complete fully. When journeying, make the best of every opportunity and take in breathtaking sunsets, starlit nights, and memorable experiences with fellow hikers.

Avalon Santa Catalina Island

Trail Difficulty and Safety Precautions:

Embarking on a Trans Catalina Trail adventure promises an unforgettable backpacking trip through the remarkable landscapes of Catalina Island. While the journey offers breathtaking vistas and encounters with the island’s unique wildlife, it’s essential to be aware of the difficulty level and potential challenges that lie along the way.

To prepare for the entire Trans Catalina Trail, consider studying trail maps and obtaining reliable resources from the Catalina Island Conservancy. In addition, familiarize yourself with the trail’s route, potential water sources, and camping spots to plan your backpacking trip effectively. You can check out this guide to learn how to navigate and find your way in the wilderness.

Navigating the Trail

The Catalina Island Conservancy has diligently maintained the official Trans Catalina Trail, ensuring a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. This trail stretches from the bustling town of Avalon to the picturesque village of Two Harbors. However, it’s important to note that hiking permits are required for traversing the trail, obtainable in Newport Beach or Long Beach.

Here is an example itinerary for a 5-day trek with a relaxed daily distance averaging 8.4 miles or 13.5 km. If you’re faster and more experienced you can combine days 2 and 3 into one and/or use alternative campgrounds for a 3 or 4-day itinerary.

Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack Campground

Start your journey in Avalon, the main town on Catalina Island, and head towards the trailhead near the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. Hike approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Avalon to Black Jack Campground. This section is moderately challenging, with some uphill sections.

Along the way, you’ll pass through scenic canyons and enjoy panoramic views of the ocean.

Spend the night at the Black Jack Campground.

Day 2: Black Jack Campground to Little Harbor Campground

Continue your hike from Black Jack Campground to Little Harbor Campground, covering approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers). This section is considered one of the most scenic parts of the trail, as you traverse through the interior of the island and are treated to breathtaking vistas.

Little Harbor Campground is located right by the beach, offering picturesque ocean views.

Day 3: Little Harbor Campground to Two Harbors

From Little Harbor, hike approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) to reach Two Harbors, a small village on the isthmus of the island.

This section of the trail takes you along the coastline, providing stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find accommodations such as campgrounds, a rustic lodge, and a general store where you can restock supplies in Two Harbors.

Day 4: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing Campground

Depart from Two Harbors and embark on a 12-mile (19-kilometer) hike to reach Parsons Landing Campground. This section of the trail is considered more challenging due to its length and some steep climbs. However, the rewarding views make it worthwhile.

Parsons Landing Campground is situated right on the beach, offering a tranquil setting for camping.

Day 5: Parsons Landing Campground to Starlight Beach Trailhead

On the final day, hike approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Parsons Landing Campground to the Starlight Beach Trailhead. This section takes you through picturesque coastal landscapes and offers the chance to see wildlife such as bison, eagles, and Catalina Island fox, an endemic species found nowhere else.

Upon reaching the Starlight Beach Trailhead, you can take a shuttle or arrange transportation back to Avalon.

Note that: This 5-day itinerary is just one suggestion, and you can adjust the duration and pace based on your preferences. Additionally, there are alternative campgrounds and lodging options available along the trail, such as Hermit Gulch Campground near Avalon or campgrounds in Two Harbors, which can be used to modify the itinerary.

One notable section of the trail is the ascent to Silver Peak Trail, offering a challenging climb with steep inclines. Another segment is the Middle Ranch Road, which winds through the island’s interior.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike and Weather Conditions

Off the Southern California coast, Catalina Island enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild temperatures and limited rainfall. However, the  Trail offers a fascinating trek throughout the year, with each season painting the island with its unique hues and charm. Unfortunately, the climate and weather can influence your hiking experience, making it necessary to understand the island’s climatic patterns and how they can impact your journey.

From vibrant fall foliage to the blossoming beauty of spring, this trail promises a memorable adventure amidst Catalina Island’s ever-changing landscape. Here are the trail’s distinct characteristics during each season. You will also discover the best times to embark on this unforgettable journey.

Sunset in Dana point

Spring (March to May)

Spring is generally regarded as the best season to hike the Trans Catalina Trail because temperatures are mild, ranging from around 60°F (15°C) to 70°F (21°C). These pleasant temperatures allow for comfortable hiking conditions. However, it’s important to note that weather can still be unpredictable, so be prepared for occasional showers and fluctuations in temperature.

Spring, furthermore, unveils Catalina Island in all its floral splendor. As you set foot on the trail, you’ll be greeted by a burst of colors as wildflowers bloom along the path. The scent of blossoms fills the air, creating a captivating sensory experience.

It is also an ideal time to glimpse the magnificent bald eagles that call Catalina Island home.

Summer (June to August)

Summer offers hikers the advantage of longer daylight hours, providing ample time to explore the entire Trans Catalina Trail. However, Catalina Island brings warm temperatures, ranging from 70°F (21°C) to 85°F (29°C) or higher.

While the island enjoys cooling sea breezes, always take precautions against sun exposure and heat. Carry and drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and consider hiking during the early morning or late afternoon hours to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Be aware that the summer months can also be drier, so ensure adequate water sources along the trail.

Fall (September to November)

Temperatures start to cool down during this period, ranging from 60°F (15°C) to 75°F (24°C). The weather remains relatively mild, but occasional rain showers may occur.

Fall brings a kaleidoscope of colors to Catalina Island. The island’s flora transforms into a vibrant tapestry of red, orange, and gold, creating a picturesque backdrop for your journey.

The cooler temperatures provide a pleasant hiking experience, making fall an ideal time to tackle the entire trail. You can even capture the beauty of nature’s palette with your camera and immerse yourself in the tranquil ambiance of the island.

Winter (December to February)

Winter on Catalina Island experiences cooler temperatures, ranging from 55°F (13°C) to 65°F (18°C), but can drop lower during the evenings. While winters are generally mild, you must prepare for cooler conditions and the potential for rain. You can also find some relevant information about winter hiking in our guide to help you plan ahead.

Winter presents a unique and serene perspective of the Trail. While some parts of the trail may experience closures or challenges due to weather conditions, it’s an opportunity to witness Catalina Island’s quiet charm. Brave hikers attempting the winter months can appreciate the solitude and tranquility of the trail, with occasional sightings of majestic wildlife.

Before embarking on your journey, check weather forecasts before your hike and be prepared for potential changes in trail conditions.

Catalina Island landscape

Best Time to Visit

For the best experience on the Trans Catalina Trail, consider visiting in spring or fall when the weather is mild, and the landscapes are resplendent.

Before embarking on your adventure, obtain a hiking permit and get up to date with the trail map provided by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Pack essential gear like sturdy hiking boots, trekking poles, and appropriate clothing for the prevailing conditions.

Recommended Gear

When preparing for a visit to the Trans Catalina Trail, having the right gear and packing essentials can enhance your experience and ensure your comfort throughout your journey.

Catalina Foothills

Here’s a comprehensive list of recommended Trans Catalina backpacking gear for each season:

Spring and Fall:

  1. Hiking Boots: Invest in sturdy, waterproof hiking boots and Silverlight compression socks that provide ankle support and traction for uneven terrain.
  2. Layered Clothing: Pack moisture-wicking base layers, lightweight and breathable shirts, a warm fleece or jacket, and a waterproof outer shell in case of rain.
  3. Trekking Poles: Consider bringing trekking poles for additional stability, especially during steep ascents, descents, or mountain hiking.
  4. Sun Protection: Remember essentials like a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.
  5. Trans Catalina Trail Map: Carry a detailed trail map to navigate and plan your journey.
  6. Backpacking Gear: Bring a lightweight and durable backpack with sufficient capacity to carry your essentials, including a sleeping bag suitable for the expected temperatures.
  7. Camping Equipment: If planning to camp along the trail, bring a tent, sleeping pad, and cooking equipment suitable for backpacking trips.
  8. Food and Water: Pack high-energy snacks and ensure access to sufficient water sources along the trail.

Summer:

  1. Lightweight Clothing: Opt for moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics to stay cool in hot temperatures.
  2. Hydration System: Carry a hydration bladder or multiple water bottles to ensure you stay hydrated throughout your hike.
  3. Quick-Dry Towel: Pack a compact and quick-drying towel for refreshing dips in the ocean at destinations like Starlight Beach or Little Harbor.
  4. Insect Repellent: Protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects that may be more active during the summer months.
  5. Cold Outdoor Showers: Remember that some campsites offer cold outdoor showers, so pack the appropriate clothing if you plan to use them.

Winter:

  1. Insulating Layers: Include warm base layers, a down or synthetic insulated jacket, thermal leggings, and gloves to stay warm during colder temperatures.
  2. Waterproof Gear: Pack a reliable rain jacket/poncho, pants, and gaiters to protect yourself from rain and wet conditions.
  3. Warm Sleeping Bag: Ensure your sleeping bag is appropriate for colder temperatures, providing adequate insulation for a comfortable night’s rest.
  4. Extra Warmth: Consider hand warmers, a beanie, and additional layers to your winter gear list for extra warmth during chilly nights.

Regardless of the season, it’s essential to pack essential toiletries, a first-aid kit, a headlamp or flashlight, extra batteries, a multi-tool, and a camera to capture the stunning vistas along the Trans Catalina Trail. Also, check the weather forecast before your trip to make the necessary adjustments.

Where to Stay: Camping and Overnight Stays

Catalina Island offers several campgrounds along the trail, each with unique charm and amenities.

Two Harbors in Catalina California

Here’s a guide to the available campgrounds, permits needed, and nearby amenities to enhance your camping experience:

  1. Hermit Gulch Campground: Located near Avalon Canyon, this campground is the only one accessible from the Hermit Gulch Trail in Avalon. It offers tent and RV camping sites with picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms. A Hermit Gulch campground camping permit is required, which can be obtained at the Catalina Island Conservancy’s visitor center in Avalon.
  2. Blackjack Campground: Situated around 6 miles (9.6 km) from Avalon, Blackjack Campground provides a secluded camping experience. It features primitive campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. A camping permit is required, and reservations can be made here.
  3. Two Harbors Campground: Located near the picturesque village of Two Harbors, this campground offers tent and group camping sites. Amenities include showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and potable water. However, you need the Two Harbors camping permit and reservation which can be obtained through the Two Harbors Visitor Services.
  4. Parsons Landing Campground: Situated on the remote western end of the island, Parsons Landing Campground provides a tranquil coastal camping experience. It offers primitive campsites with composting toilets and picnic tables. A camping permit and reservation are required, which can be obtained through the Catalina Island Conservancy.
  5. Little Harbor Campground: Nestled in a scenic cove, Little Harbor Campground offers tent and group camping sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and pit toilets. It is an ideal spot for beach lovers. A camping permit and reservation are required, available through the Catalina Island Conservancy.
  6. Starlight Beach: While not a designated campground, Starlight Beach is a picturesque location where camping is allowed with a camping permit. It offers a stunning coastal setting, perfect for a night under the stars. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and obtain a camping permit.

For campground reservations and permits, you must make arrangements in advance, especially during peak seasons. Moreover, the Catalina Island Conservancy provides detailed trail maps and helpful information for backpackers.

Nearby amenities and accommodations vary depending on the campground’s location. Avalon and Two Harbors offer a range of options, including hotels, inns, and vacation rentals. Dining options are available in both locations and offer a chance to savor local cuisine and refuel before or after your hiking adventures.

As you plan your camping trip on the Trans Catalina Trail, remember to include essentials like trekking poles, sun protection, and the official trail map.

Whether you stay at black jack campground, the Hermit Gulch Campgrounds, Two Harbors, Parsons Landing, or Little Harbor Campgrounds, each allows you to immerse yourself in the stunning Catalina backcountry.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Getting to the Trans Catalina Trail and navigating the island will help you plan your adventure. Here’s a guide on how to get there and get around, including the nearest airports and transportation options:

Nearest Airports:

The nearest airports to Catalina Island are the Long Beach Airport (LGB) and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Both airports offer convenient access for travelers coming from various locations.

From Long Beach Airport (LGB):

  1. Take a shuttle or taxi from the airport to the Catalina Express terminal in downtown Long Beach.
  2. Purchase your ferry tickets at the Catalina Express ticket booth.
  3. Board the ferry to Avalon, the main town on Santa Catalina Island. The ferry ride takes approximately one hour.
  4. Once in Avalon, you can hike or take a taxi to the trailhead or your preferred campground.

The Catalina Island Conservancy’s visitor centre in Avalon or Two Harbors Visitor Services can provide valuable information about campsite reservations, hiking permits, and ferry schedules.

From Los Angeles International Airport (LAX):

  1. Take a shuttle or taxi from the airport to the Catalina Air and Sea Terminal in San Pedro.
  2. Purchase your ferry tickets at the Catalina Express ticket booth.
  3. Board the ferry to Avalon. The ferry ride from San Pedro to Avalon takes about one hour.
  4. Upon arrival in Avalon, you can hike or take a taxi to the trailhead or your desired campground.

Catalina airport-AVX

Getting Around:

Once on Catalina Island, you have several options for getting around:

  1. Hiking: The Trans Catalina Trail provides a scenic and immersive hiking experience. You can hike to various campgrounds, including Black Jack, Little Harbor, Hermit Gulch, and Two Harbors. Consult trail maps and plan your itinerary accordingly.
  2. Shuttle Service: Catalina Island offers shuttle services operating between Avalon, Two Harbors, and various points of interest. These shuttles can be useful for accessing trailheads or returning to your starting point.
  3. Taxi Service: Taxis are available in Avalon and Two Harbors, providing convenient transportation to different island spots.
  4. Bike Rentals: Renting a bike is another option for getting around the island. Biking allows you to cover more ground and explore scenic routes at your own pace.
  5. Golf Cart Rentals: Golf carts are a popular mode of transportation on the island. Renting a golf cart gives you flexibility and ease of movement, especially in Avalon.

Conclusion

The Trans Catalina Trail offers an incredible opportunity for hikers, runners, backpackers, and adventure enthusiasts to enjoy the natural beauty of Catalina Island.

Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a newbie looking for an exciting and different hiking experience, this trail is for you. With unique dining experiences, beautiful beaches, and rugged mountains, the Trans Catalina Trail offers an adventure of a lifetime and a chance to reconnect with nature. Therefore, grab your gear, pack up your rations, and get ready to take the journey of a lifetime up this spectacular trail.

Start exploring your next adventure today in our Hikes & Trails guide and let the wilderness inspire your soul.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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