Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail (Hiking Catalina Island)

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

Vital Trip Planning Logistics

  • Trail Distance: 40 miles point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Strenuous with steep ascents/descents
  • Duration: 2-5 days
  • Best Seasons: Fall, winter, and spring
  • Permits: Free permit + campground reservations

Gear Considerations

  • Sun protection is essential on this exposed route. 
  • Trekking poles help tackle the constant uphill and downhill. No water filtration is needed with potable water stations at campgrounds.

Imagine gazing out over the glimmering Pacific Ocean from a rocky cliffside perch. Towering ridges packed with fragrant sagebrush and pine trees stretch before you. The Channel Islands float on the horizon, and you realize this is the only place offering such sweeping coastal panoramas.

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

This is the magic awaiting hikers on Catalina Island’s iconic Trans Catalina Trail. Traversing the length of Catalina from bustling Avalon to the quaint harbor town Two Harbors, the nearly 40-mile route has quickly gained fame for its rigorous climbs showcasing the island’s wild interior and endless ocean vistas.

Yet the Trans Catalina Trail is no straightforward thru-hike. It has its quirks and challenges requiring planning. But the payoffs for those who put in the effort are views and adventures not found anywhere else. Intrigued to take on this bucket-list SoCal hike? 

Let’s break down everything you need to know about the trail and prepping for a successful journey across Catalina.

Getting To Catalina Island: Flying or Ferrying to Catalina

While only 22 miles offshore, getting yourself over to Catalina Island takes a bit more effort than typical hikes. You’ll first need to either ferry or fly over, as there is no bridge to Catalina Island.

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

The most popular—and affordable—public transportation option is to board the Catalina Express ferry. Ferries run daily out of several ports, including Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. Depending on the departure harbor, the ride takes about an hour, bringing you right into Avalon’s vibrant harbor dotted with yachts, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.

Roundtrip fares average $70-80. You can also ferry back from Two Harbors instead to complete your point-to-point Trans Catalina hike. Reservations are highly recommended during summer and weekends.

For those short on time, small planes zip directly from regional airports on the mainland to Catalina Aiport in just 15 minutes. But flights come at a cost ranging from $175-250 roundtrip per person. Upon arrival, shuttle buses provide transport into the main town of Avalon to begin your journey.

Obtaining Your Backpacking Permit + Campground Reservations

Thru-hiking Catalina differs from typical multi-day treks in that there are no designated backpacker campsites. To preserve Catalina’s limited wild spaces, all campers staying overnight must book one of five primitive campgrounds spaced along the Trans Catalina Trail operated by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Hiking Catalina Island

Each campground varies in location, amenities, and number of coveted sites, ranging from 7 to 15 campers maximum per night. Options include Hermit Gulch, Black Jack, Little Harbor, Two Harbors, and Parsons Landing. You must reserve campsites at each separate campground for every night of your trip up to one year in advance online or by phone. Permits cost $8-28 per night, depending on season.

In addition to reserving campsites, all Trans Catalina Trail backpackers must obtain a free permit through the Conservancy to officially thru-hike. Permits help manage crowds on the fragile island ecosystem. You can easily secure this permit online once campsites are booked.

How Long Does Thru-Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail Take?

While super-human athletes have completed the Trans Catalina route in a day or two, most hikers spend 3 to 5 days tackling the trail’s ups and downs. Countless alternative routes exist using connectors and village pathways, but most follow the official 40-mile point-to-point path from Avalon to Two Harbors.

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

To enjoy relaxed miles and ample beach time, I’d plan for 4 days/3 nights:

Day 1Avalon to Black Jack Campground11 miles
Day 2Black Jack to Little Harbor Campground10 miles
Day 3Little Harbor to Two Harbors Campground10 miles
Day 4Two Harbors to Starlight Beach4 miles + shuttle back

What Gear Is Essential to Pack?

As a self-supported thru-hike, including desert mountain landscapes and exposed ridges, durable footwear, plenty of sun protection, and proper layering are key when packing your gear.

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

Since you’ll bunk at campgrounds with potable water, no water filter is necessary. Do plan ample snacks and electrolyte mixes to counter sweating in the heat. Trekking poles help stability during steep stretches. Also, be sure to pack light — whatever gear you start out hauling could end 50 steep miles later!

Taking in Gorgeous Sights Along the Route

Lace-up those hiking boots, knowing captivating sights await almost every mile on Catalina’s length. Each segment traverses vastly different scenery across Catalina’s wild heart.

Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail

Mountaintop lookouts deliver nonstop ocean panoramas from San Clemente Island to Zuma Beach. The western wild interior feels remotely castaway with rugged outcrops and valleys with herds of buffalo — Catalina’s signature inhabitants — often spotted grazing roadside.

History and evidence of Catalina’s past also appear through old crumbling infrastructure once fueling the island industry. And, of course, those famous golden beaches like Little Harbor and Two Harbors for kicking off shoes after a long day of trekking are what dreams are made of.

The Trans Catalina Trail represents a best-of album for Catalina’s ecological and geographical diversity, historical heritage, and island culture. With this unique challenge, you’ll breathe fresh air and drink in vistas found nowhere else!

The Bottom Line: Is the Trans Catalina Trail Right For You?

In the end, if craving an immersive island getaway combining outback adventure with beachfront relaxation (plus some ferry and plane ride there and back), then Catalina’s iconic Trans Catalina Trail is likely already itching its way onto your bucket list radar.

Just come prepared navigationally, physically, and mentally to take on Catalina’s steep ridgelines. Your reward? Panoramas and secluded coves most Californians only glimpse aboard helicopters and hot air balloons soaring overhead. Except out here, it’s just you, bobbing packed mules and the vast Pacific meeting the sky at each turn. Pretty tempting, indeed!

Let me know if any other questions come up about thru-hiking this iconic escape chockful of coastal magic. Now, go start planning that well-deserved island adventure!

Similar Posts