Trans-Catalina Trail

HARD 20 reviews

Trans-Catalina Trail is a 34 mile point-to-point trail located near Avalon, California that offers scenic views. The trail is rated as difficult offers a number of activity options. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
34.0 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
7,939 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

dogs on leash

backpacking

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

beach

views

rocky

This is a long, strenuous trek across the entirety of Catalina Island. But the views are amazing. Beautiful blue ocean views in every direction in the morning, and incredible solitude, serenity and interior island views in the afternoon. Most backpackers do this over four days and depart from Twin Harbors.

hiking
6 days ago

Completed the TCT from Avalon to Parsons Lansing Oct 2016 and it was an excellent experience! However, as mentioned in previous reviews, there is pretty much 0 shade from the sun throughout the vast majority of the hike. And water is only found at camp areas and the airport strip food mart gift shop so plan accordingly.

Got dropped off by ferry at Avalon and hiked straight from Avalon to BlackJack where we camped at Black Jack the first night. Day two we hiked to the airport to fill up on water and onto little harbor. I encourage a pit stop swim in the ocean at little harbor, before strapping on your gear again for another long stretch of straight uphill climbs. From little harbor there was a long very uphill stretch to two harbors, where we camped for the 2nd night.

After we camped the night at two Harbors (which was the most crowded of campsites), we got back on the trail and hiked to Parsons landing which was my favorite of the 3 campsites. Once you refill on water located in pre designated lockers with your campsite number listed on it, you actually set up camp right on the beach next to the ocean on your fairly secluded personal sandy beach. Note- be sure to secure your rainfly on your tent as the ocean creates a mist at night that will get everything damp. The next and final day we hiked from PL back to Two Harbors where we caught a ferry back to Long Beach.

I highly recommend this hike, but be prepared for the island/desert terrain. And I should also mention that buffalo sightings and potentially close encounters with them are highly
likely.

backpacking
14 days ago

Me and my husband made this our first backpacking trip and it was definitely one of my favorite experiences! We went from Avalon to Two Harbors in two days.

Day 1: Ferry in, Avalon to Blackjack campground (11 miles, took us about 6 hours total)
Day 2: Blackjack to Two Harbors (13 miles, took us about 8 hours, including our stop at Airport in the Sky and hanging out at Little Harbor), Ferry out.

So much wildlife, it would be difficult not to see Bison and foxes. We had a fox that hung out at our campsite. My husband also was a little too brave and continued on the trail with a pack of Bison right off the trail, and ended up being charged by one of the bulls. Fortunately he dropped his pack when he ran and it scared the bull. Make sure to keep your distance from them! Also watch out for snakes, we passed a rattlesnake and another yellow and black striped snake on the trail and didn't notice until they stirred.

Beautiful views, changing terrain every few miles, all in all an amazing way to view the island.

The one thing I would have changed was adding another day to our trip so we could have camped at Little Harbor and hiked from there to Two Harbors the following day. The second day hiking was quite a challenge for us considering the heat, the steep ascents to Two Harbors after Little Harbor, and the wear on our legs and feet after day one. However, the views are spectacular to Two Harbors.

Overall awesome backpacking, would highly recommend.

backpacking
17 days ago

Enjoyed the trail and its amazing views (little harbor to two harbors, silver peak trail, top of hermit gulch). We were always close to bison, deer, and foxes. A bison even walked up to our campsite while one of us was showering. Scary.

I did not like jeeps and trucks constantly passing us from Hermit Gulch to Blackjack or from Parsons to Two Harbors, but it didn't ruin the trip.

We went in late June and it was not hot at average 65F but the kids had gotten out of school and Parson's was a madhouse.

The best food served on the trail is at the airport and the food at Two Harbors is overpriced and unremarkable.

On the 3rd day we did the 14mi loop from Two Harbors to Parsons and back (of the official 2017 trail) in 1 day and would not recommend doing that as our feet were in so much pain walking 7.5 miles on a flat road after a >1mi long descent on fenceline road.

backpacking
25 days ago

Great backpack trip if you park your solitude and wilderness expectations at the door and just enjoy it.

We did it in six days: Day 1: Hermit Gulch, Day 2: to Blackjack, Day 3: to Little Harbor, Day 4: to Two Harbors, Day 5: to Parsons, Day 6: Home.

We did the exact route provided by the Catalina Conservancy, but we did the west end of the island in a counterclockwise fashion instead of clockwise.

Caveats: 1) one segment of the westernmost trail from miles 28.5 to Mile 30 is called Fenceline Road. That part of the trail topped out at 30% grade and was very steep. There is an alternative route if you continue toward Silver Peak, and I'd recommend it as this part was just brutal (uphill) and would be dangerous on the downhill. 2) Fox boxes are provided at all campsites. Use them. A fox tore a hole in our tent to try to take our food bag. Our fault for listening to others who said it was okay. (The foxes are adorbs!)

Okay, that said, what a great romantic trip! Restaurants in Avalon, airport, and Two Harbors. We enjoyed being trail-trash and hanging out in Two Harbors as we awaited another couple joining us (who missed the early boat). We did this over Memorial Day and the weather was good for the whole trip except at Little Harbor where it was windy. The holiday weekend made for better music in Two Harbors. (A knowledgeable local says Little Harbor is the place to be in August).

Solitude whenever we were on the trail was interspersed with the tourists in Avalon and Two Harbor. The buffalo were mainly a) at Black Jack (one slept 25 feet away from our camp site [#1!]) and b) near and after the airport. Talk loud and they'll move off the trail.

Day 1 we took the 1:30 boat from Long Beach to Avalon and did the tourist thing. Hiking 5 miles between going to Hermit Gulch, going back to downtown for dinner, and back again with some exploration.

Day 2 is lots of up, followed by lots of up and down. It would have been excessively hot if the weather were so, but it wasn't. so. Views were nice. Blackjack campground is fun.

Day 3 You get to hoof it for a few miles to the airport, then have a giant breakfast! How cool is that? The ladies at the restaurant have trained the local ravens and squirrels, so there's a floor show too. After that you get to see the actual herd of buffalo. Again pretty cool. Others noted how they'd avoided the buffalo herd because they were on the trail. We just talked loudly as we approached and the herd lovingly moved for us. More amazing views as you cross the island and drop down to Little Harbor - Catalina's answer to car camping. Gorgeous views though. Too cool to swim, unfortunately. I will be back to set up a camping trip here at the beautiful giant group campsites.

Day 4: Two Harbors. Easy hike to Two Harbors where we'd meet our friends for their first backpack trip. The views just astound as you hike along the giant cliffs. The trail drops down and you reenter the madding crowd. But hey: grill and bar and shower. Our friends missed the 12:30 boat, so we had to sit there and eat tons, and drink (moderately) and dance to the live music. (Oh and hot showers!) Not bad.... Stayed at Two Harbors Campground. We had one down near the water. Maybe one of the sites up the hill would have been a bit better (but windier?)

Day 5: When we hiked from Two Harbors to Parsons, mostly on road (sad face) we passed Emerald Bay. I think we passed a church service in one of the anchorages consisting of many dingys cuddling up to a big yacht. Emerald Bay looked so amazing that we hiked down and ate and chilled and swam all afternoon. Once you pass the Boy Scout Campground, you are in the wilderness again with great shore views and the relatively secluded Parson's Landing. (Why did he land here, it's all rocks?)

Day 6: We split up with the girls roadwalking back past Emerald Bay while we tough guys climbed up to FOG. Yeah, no views, and that caveated blankety blank Fenceline Road. But we were done. Back at Two Harbors, we got food, got on the earlier boat and slept back San Pedro, where we got our friends to drive us to Long Beach (very near by, a cab would do as well.)

We didn't get to do the final beach because our friends were not up for the additional mileage to Startlight. So, that said, I'd likely extend this trip to include starlight beach for sure, since it seems cheezy not to go to the other end of the island.

backpacking
3 months ago

This is no longer the official route for this trail. Check the Catalina conservancy website for the new and updated map. We loved this trip and would definitely do it again! I wouldn’t suggest doing in the summer when the temperatures are high because there was little to no shade along the trail.

hiking
4 months ago

Did the Trans-Catalina in mid-March and you understand almost immediately why this is mostly a winter-only trip. There is virtually no shade, a lot of sun, and even though you have a lot of access to water, there are at least two very difficult big climbs and a couple big descents followed by immediate climbs. Catalina does not give you a lot of flats to cruise on. Make sure to follow the Catalina Conservancy's map or at least be very clear which deviations you're taking because you can easily go well out of your way. The official Trans-Catalina is well-marked and we didn't miss a single mile marker.

We started in Avalon on a sunny day and your first mile is a nice walk up to Hermit Gulch before your next two miles are a very steady, steep uphill to the top of the ridge. Even when it was only 65 degrees, this was very hard for four fit people but you get spectacular views of the Pacific on all sides. Your next couple miles are up and down along a very dry portion of the interior where you will start to see bison and see how big the island actually is. You spend a significant portion of the next 4 miles on or very close to the airport road, power lines, and pipes and step over a lot of buffalo crap, probably the least good part of the trip. However it is still very scenic. You do a few big descents and climbs away from the road finally which is hard but eventually you'll get to Blackjack which is a nice campground tucked into a pine grove. Nice to hear the wind in the trees at night.

Day Two you can make either very easy or long and moderately hard. We chose easy because it was supposed to rain that day (it did). You start with a confusing portion that confused several backpackers. When you leave Blackjack, turn right at the airport road briefly (look for the markers as this uncharacteristically does not have a sign pointing you in the right direction) then a sharp left. Another hard down-and-up brings you to the airport. Definitely stop for a meal. It's quiet and there's a lot to see in the airport of the history of Catalina. The rest of the day is a pretty easy descent down to Little Harbor. We camped here in the rain and it was perfectly fine, though it definitely feels a lot like a drive-in campground with a lot of huge, out-of-place palm trees. You could potentially continue to Two Harbors from here and make it in good time.

Day Three is where you see the best scenery and are the most isolated. The first five miles is a pretty easy ascent onto the ridge overlooking the Pacific and it is spectacular. Even after the rain, this was an easy trail and a big highlight. You descend quickly into Two Harbors around five miles where you can refill water if necessary. The next portion brings you south of town and up the hardest climb of the trip. Miles 25-27 were by far the hardest and, once the sun broke through again, took a long time. Near the top though you start getting spectacular views again, particularly if you take half an hour to do the Lobster Bay Lookout trail. Amazing. You spend the next few miles walking along a ridge toward the tip of the island before a very steep descent into Parson's. After the rain, this was very muddy but doable going down. I would not attempt going up it after rain. Parson's is a dream, but don't expect to show up and have a spot. Reserve well in advance and get water. Oh! And DON'T FORGET TO GET YOUR KEY AT THE TWO HARBORS VISITOR CENTER. I did and was very lucky someone shared their water with me.

Day Four is a flat 8 miles back to Two Harbors along the coast on the road. The water and vegetation is beautiful but it is a bummer to have to stare down at four different ugly summer camps that you have to wind around. That was another least good thing about the trip. You should make it back to Two Harbors by 10:30 in time to catch the 11:30 ferry back to San Pedro.

A great trip if you like views of the ocean with some difficult terrain and don't mind some portions that interface with human infrastructure a lot.

If I do this trip again, I would most likely make it a bit longer by going from Day One Avalon to Blackjack, Day Two Blackjack to Two Harbors (instead of Little Harbor) and Day Three Two Harbors to Parsons, but hike the entirety of the Silver Peak Trail down to Starlight Beach and then on to Parson's. Adding that leg to Day Three adds over four miles but the views from the top of the ridge are really something.

backpacking
8 months ago

Did this trail at the end of April, which was just about too late in the season since the whole trail is exposed and it was getting hot. The scenery was absolutely stunning! I started at the mile 1 trailhead and didn't see another soul until mile 7. Very difficult elevation gain and loss, but totally worth it. Camped the first night at Blackjack and it was super windy; second night at Little Harbor which was a great site next to the ocean, seemed to be a favorite by boaters; night 3 was at Parsons, and by far the best campsite! It felt like it took forever to get there, but a serene place on the sand. The most amazing views were about two miles outside of Little Harbor on the trek out. Worst moments were the 3 mile stretch into Little Harbor. The trail was straight down! But overall, a wonderful experience.

Monday, June 05, 2017

DO NOTuse the downloaded map on the site to navigate from blackjack to Little Harbor it veers off of the trans Catalina trail and takes you through a very difficult trail that takes you from mountain tops to riverbeds constantly. stay on the official trans Catalina trail !!!!! You will also encounter Buffalo at numerous points on this detour including herds of 30 to 50 in number, quite concerning at times.!Other than that ,the downloaded map is awesome! When you see the wooden sign saying trans Catalina trail as you leave blackjack for little harbor take it !!!!!!!!!!!!! Conversely leaving from Little Harbor going to black jack stay on the ridge top which is the trans Catalina trail DO NOT take the highlighted portion on the downloaded map that takes you down to the right By a bunch of worksheds and industrial equipment go straight up the ridge which is not highlighted in red this is the trans Catalina official trail that will take you to the airport. The detour that is highlighted in red looks much shorter do not take the bait !!!!!!!!!! You can make it from Black Jack to the isthmus in one hike but is not recommended, do yourself a favor and spend an overnight at little harbor. you will get there around 3 o'clock with plenty of time to set up take a swim in the ocean and enjoy the beach!!! pre-ordering would for any of the sites is a huge plus and recommended. Fantastic trail definitely in my top three things to do in California!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Backpacked from Hermits Gulch to Blackjack- one nite. BlackJack to Little Harbor. - one nite. Watch out for Buffalo on the trail to Little Harbor. We had to bushwack around the buffalo standing on three trail. Also some hikers with a dog spooked the bufflo5 and the hikers ended up in cactus. From Little Harborbwe hiked to 2 Harbors- one nite. Took a shower there. 2 Harbors also has washer and dryer. From 2 Harbors to Parsons for 2 nites. Be sure to order your water and wood for Parsons when you book the campsite. There is no drinking water there. Don't miss out on a hike to Starlite Beach - 6 miles from Parsons. A Beautiful secluded Beach.

hiking
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Awesome hike with great views but at times long steep uphill. The signage is not obvious in some parts of the trail- so take a map. We missed the trail twice and had to backtrack. Once at Wriggly park and the other before airport.

backpacking
Monday, March 27, 2017

Instead of heading all the way to the north tip, we cut down to Two Harbors and packed kayaks for a 2 day 1 night return to Avalon. Stayed at Goat Harbor and it is by far the best boat in site. We have done this trip (TCT + kayaking) a few times and always had a great experience. Must book boat in campsites ahead of time as well as kayaks as the company which operates out of Descanso Beach will drop them off at two harbors and take any extra gear back to Avalon via the kayak delivery truck.

backpacking
Thursday, September 08, 2016

My favorite backpacking trail in Southern California. It's my annual birthday trip (free roundtrip on the Catalina Express if you arrive on your birthday, must register beforehand).

To get the most out of your trip. Take it slow.

I like arrive early and make camp at Avalon's Hermit Gulch Campground for our first night. This way we can kayak, SUP, snorkel, etc for a whole day before we start our hike.

Wonderful coastal views until you get deeper into the island and are greeted by herds of Bison and the endless sight of Catalina's rolling hills.

Our most favorite spot on the island is Little Harbor. If your time window allows, spend a night there and do some rock jumping into the ocean.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Black Jack campground is about as far away from "Catalina" that you can be. It feels like you are up in the mountains! There are pine trees everywhere, planted, I guess at a time that no one cared about planting non-native trees. There is a cool barbeque pit that has been there what looks like forever!
Just be careful...when you wake up in the morning, there just may be a bison standing in front of your tent!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Awesome picturs, Jeff!

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backpacking
Thursday, October 20, 2016