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Avalon, California, United States

The Trans-Catalina Trail

A four-day backpacking trip that traverses the length and breadth of beautiful Santa Catalina Island.

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 (15 votes, 10 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 37 miles / 60 km
Duration: Multiple days
Overview: Santa Catalina is a beautiful island located only 22 miles off the coast of southern California. Though Catalina is a short 90-minute boat ride away, it feels like another world. There are two small, quaint towns on the island -- Avalon and Two Harbors -- and the remainder of the island is primarily wilderness managed by the Catalina Island Conservatory.

The 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail traverses the entire island, from Avalon on the eastern tip to Starlight Beach on the western end. The trail begins and ends outside of town, so your total mileage is over 50 miles.

The Trans-Catalina Trail is relatively young, officially opening in April 2009. Most sections of the trail follow established trails or roads, but some sections are new and have rarely seen the bottom of a hiking boot.

Then length of the trail lends itself to hiking over four or five days. You must use established campgrounds, and the first day from Avalon to Black Jack is a long, grueling 15 mile hike. Because of the length of the first three segments and the steep hills and total vertical elevation gain, this is a very strenuous backpacking trip.

Tips: The ferry schedule will to some extent determine your itinerary. Not all ports on the mainland have service to both Avalon and Two Harbors.

If you choose to go in and out of Avalon, add in the expense of taking the Safari Bus from Two Harbors back to Avalon after you finish.

The best time to go is March or April. The weather is balmy, the hills are green and the wildflowers are in full bloom. The summer could get unbearably hot on the ridgeline trails. But this is southern California, so is there really a bad time to go?

There are bison. You may see them. They sometimes like to use the trails, too! Give them a wide berth and don't provoke them. Don't bother them, and they won't bother you.

Keep an eye out for bald eagles. Catalina is home to several nesting bald eagles.

Finally, if you've never used trekking poles before, you may want to seriously consider them for this trail. It is at times treacherously steep, and you'll be thankful to have a "portable handrail."
Guides in this Bundle
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack
Avalon, California, United States
Difficult: 14.9 miles, Full day
Day 1 of a 4-day backpacking trip spanning the entire length of Catalina Island.
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 2: Two Harbors
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 2: Two Harbors
Avalon, California, United States
Difficult: 13.6 miles, Full day
Day 2 of a 4-day backpacking trip along the entire length of Catalina Island.
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 3: Starlight Beach
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 3: Starlight Beach
Avalon, California, United States
Difficult: 17.0 miles, Full day
Day 3 of a 4-day backpacking trip along the entire length of Catalina Island.
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 4: Back to Two Harbors
Trans-Catalina Trail Day 4: Back to Two Harbors
Avalon, California, United States
Moderate: 8.1 miles, Half day
Day 4 of a 4-day backpack trip along the entire length of Catalina Island.

Pictures in this guide taken by: jeffhester
So excited, i'm gonna hike this later this month or early March. Would you suggest bringing a water purification system or would it just be unnecessary weight?

by tstigler on Feb 13, 2015
awesome place... must visit everyone

by planetwi36 on Oct 19, 2014
First of all, thank you so much SoCal hiker for this amazing guide. It really is the best on the web.

I just got back from this hike last weekend and it was a ton of fun but also incredibly hard! I consider myself in fairly good shape (hike at least once a week, work out at least 3 times) and it was really tough at times. We intended on doing the whole thing as SoCal hiker wrote it but ended up only making it to Two Harbors. I'm not going to go into details of our trip since SoCal hiker covered everything in his guide but I will give a few tips that I wish I knew.

1. If you are using a JetBoil or an MSR stove, BRING YOUR OWN FUEL. All they have on the island is the green Coleman propane tanks.

2. Blackjack DOES have running water for drinking but if you want fire wood, you need to get in touch with the rangers. (310) 510-4205 They are not the easiest group to get ahold of and you may have call several times so plan accordingly.

3. This trail is REALLY exposed and there are NO switchbacks. Trekking poles, sunscreen, and plenty of water is must.

4. There is no topo map that exists. We checked with every nature center, conservancy, and the Atwater Hotel. This is the only map that exists:
You can either print that or buy one for a few dollars at a conservancy location on the island. We found out at the end of our trip that the one that you can buy has close-ups of areas of interest and info about local plants and animals. In hindsight, I would recommend just buying it if you can.

I hope these tips help. It really is a great trip and really beautiful but just be ready for a challenge.

Visited on Oct 16, 2013

by mgauthier15 on Oct 23, 2013
I had a great time on the trail. I cut day two in half and stayed in Shark Harbor. When I was there camping wasn't allowed at Starlight (I don't know if it is now) so I stayed my last night in Parsons Landing. Since I was there in February I didn't see another person on the trail the entire time and the weather was perfect - 50's at night and 70's during the day. There are some really challenging parts but nothing a novice hiker couldn't do. I look forward to hiking it again.
Visited on Feb 01, 2011

by Jemorrison on Jul 19, 2013
Catalina Island is a very quiet two town kind of place. I started at the very south end of the TCT and it was a dirt road that followed the fire break. We made it to Black Jack campsite after 16+ miles of hiking. There wasn't much in the way of scenery besides brush and coastal chaparral along the way. Day two wasn't any different, except I followed Little Harbor Road instead of the TCT because the grade of the road was more consistent than the constant elevation change of the trail. By the time I got to Little Harbor, I was hitch hiking to Two Harbors, and left that night. If your looking for breath taking views and locations worth the hike, Catalina is not the place for you. If you want to know what Catalina looks like, take a small walk into any canyon around San Diego and then imagine it surrounded by water. I wasn't impressed.
Visited on Aug 09, 2011

by surfinfreak9000 on Aug 11, 2011
Having read the trail report here and having read about some Catalina Island campgrounds and activities elsewhere, I am planning on staying on Catalina Island for 10+ days in order to hike, snorkel, kayak, fish and enjoy the solitude and night sky soon. Thanks for the great trail info!

by Bobert on Aug 08, 2010
nice work, jeff. invite me next time! although with this fantastic guide, i can just go by myself. ;) hoping to follow in your footsteps next spring!

by Laurawiggs on Jul 02, 2010
This is an amazing retelling of a beautiful trail! So accurate and detailed. I did this trail back in April and absolutely loved it! See you on the trail.

by tortuga on Jun 29, 2010
Awesome guide, can't wait to go!

by pablo on Jun 24, 2010
Enjoy the trail, Pablo! The Trans-Catalina Trail exceeded my expectations in every way.

by jeffhester on Jun 24, 2010

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I live in Southern California, where most people are completely unaware of the hundreds of great hiking...

The Trans-Catalina Trail 3 Day Forecast

Extended Forecast