Trans-Catalina Trail


Santa Catalina is a beautiful island located only 27 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 Conservancy.

The 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail traverses the entire island, from Avalon on the eastern tip to Starlight beach at the western end. Of course, once you get to the end, you’ve still got to hike back to Two Harbors to catch a boat back to the mainland. This adds another nine miles, making the total mileage a bit over 46 miles — perfect for a long weekend backpack getaway.

An overview map of the Trans-Catalina Trail

Trail Overview

  • Distance: 37.2 miles officially, though we logged a total of 53.3 miles (you have to hike back to Two Harbors)
  • Total elevation gain/loss: 9600′
  • Hiking time: 3-4 days backpack (11+ miles/day)

Trip Itinerary

  • Day 1:  Avalon to Black Jack – 15 miles
  • Day 2: Black Jack to Two Harbors – 12.5 miles
  • Day 3: Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing to Starlight Beach (the official terminus) and back to Parson’s Landing – 15 miles
  • Day 4: Parson’s Landing back to Two Harbors – 6.5 miles

Though surrounded by the Pacific, there’s no reliable water sources on the island. This isn’t much of a problem though, as you’ll find water provided at each of the campgrounds. Campsites can be reserved online through the Santa Catalina Land Company, and generally run about $16 per person, per night.

Getting There

Most people take a ferry from either San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach or Dana Point to Avalon. Boats run daily to Avalon, and the fare runs about $32. The tricky part is the return trip. There is limited ferry service from Two Harbors back to the mainland, and at the time of writing, San Pedro was the only port with a ferry to Two Harbors. The alternative is to take a cab from Two Harbors to Avalon.

Trans-Catalina Trail Trip Report – Day One

We left Dana Point marina on Friday morning, taking the 7:45am Catalina Express to Avalon. I’ve heard that they don’t allow you to bring fuel on the boat, but they didn’t ask and I didn’t tell. Arrived in Avalon a little after 9am. Stopped at the Von’s Express to pick up last minute supplies (chapstick!) and then picked up our campground reservations (which double as your hiking permit) at the Atwater Hotel. Note that you pick up your reservations at the front desk, which is manned 24/7 (so you can start early, which I highly recommend). We paid an extra 8 bucks for a bundle of firewood for our first night camp. They store the firewood in lockers, and give you a key — a pretty good system.

From the Atwater, we wandered over to the Catalina Conservancy office and picked up another map. They have maps with the Trans-Catalina Trail on them, but gave us an older 2005 map that didn’t show the trail. Be sure to get the Trans-Catalina map. From here, we hiked a couple miles up Wrigley Terrace to the trailhead.

In the first five miles, we climbed up, up and up over 1600 feet to the Divide Road. The views at the east end of the island were phenomenal.

Divide Road dips up and down like a roller coaster. At 7 miles, we reached a junction with the Hermit Gulch Trail. This is the most direct route to Avalon, and popular with day hikers.

Day 1 on the TCT - Along the Ridge

At 9.6 miles, the TCT splits off from the Divide Road, veering left into the hills. At times, the trail almost seemed to disappear in the new growth of grass.

The Trans-Catalina Trail?

At 10 miles, we reached Haypress Reservoir. This makes a great place to break for lunch. The last 6 miles dove deep into the backcountry of Catalina Island, letting us enjoy some of the most remote sections and solitude.

Haypress Reservoir-7

One unexpected surprise? The gates we had to pass through where sections are fenced off to control movement of the island’s bison population.

Black Jack campground has lockers shade, picnic tables and fire rings. We reached the area after sunset, mainly because of our late morning start time.

I would recommend either taking an earlier boat (you can get one from San Pedro) or spending a night in Avalon (Hermit Gulch campground) and getting an earlier start. As it was, we didn’t really hit the trail until nearly 11am, and didn’t reach Black Jack until 7pm. We took our time and enjoyed the hike, but would’ve rather had a little more daylight at the end of our hike. As an alternative, we could’ve gone up the Hermit Gulch Trail to the ridgeline and shaved about 7 miles off Day One, but if we had, we wouldn’t have hiked the entire Trans-Catalina Trail.

Day Two on the Trans-Catalina Trail

Day Two started lazily with hot coffee around the campfire at Black Jack. We wanted to make a stop at the Catalina Airport — only about 2-1/4 miles away — for lunch of buffalo burgers. Be sure to check out the soapstone — used by Native Americans to craft items for trade on the mainland.

From the airport, the trail loops around eventually beginning a long downhill to Little Harbor, on the island’s south coast. On the map, this is generously labeled as Sheep Chute Road. The ruts indicated otherwise.

The Long Trail Down to Little Harbor

Little Harbor is about 7 miles from Black Jack, and next time I hike the TCT, I’ll stop here for a night. The harbor is quiet but windy, and the sites have picnic tables and some include shade structures. There is a restroom facility – a relative luxury for a backpacking trail.

As with all of the campgrounds on Catalina, there are roads that lead here. Most of the people we saw camping had been driven in and dropped off. In fact, there are services that will lug your gear from campground to campground on the TCT for a fee, leaving you to travel even lighter, or bring a cooler and more gear.

We stopped for a break at Little Harbor, then started another big climb. We had already hiked 7 miles, but our final destination for the day was the Two Harbors campground — another 6 miles away.

Fortunately, our climb was rewarded. The Ridgeline Trail from Little Harbor to Two Harbors was quite possibly the most beautiful section of the Trans-Catalina Trail. The coastline views were incredible.

Two Harbors was quaint, though the campground was nearly full and somewhat noisy. There is a restaurant/bar and a general store where you can find pretty much anything you need.

Day Three on the Trans-Catalina Trail

I awoke early on Day Three and headed down to the beach to get some pictures as the sun came up. The morning cloud cover made it difficult, but there were a few breaks where the sunlight shone through brightly.

Two Harbors Panorama

After breakfast, we broke camp and stopped at the Two Harbors Visitors Center (located on the pier) to pick up our locker key for Parson’s Landing. The staff at the visitors center were great, and even had a better map of the Trans-Catalina Trail. From there, we headed across the isthmus and back up the ridge line  following the Silver Peak Trail on the western section of the island.

Much of this part of the island appears to have new vegetation after the brush fire in 2007. Everything looked very fresh and green, and the wildflowers were in full bloom.


The Silver Peak Trail climbs over 1,600 feet, then descends sharply down the Fenceline Trail to Parson’s Landing. NOTE: The Fenceline Trail down toward Parson’s Landing is really not designed for hiking, let alone backpacking. It is ridiculously sleep and treacherously slippery. Even with trekking poles, we had to make our way down this trail very carefully.

We reached Parsons Landing in the early afternoon, and setup our camp. The campsites are right on the beach, and this was our favorite place to camp on the island. Very beautiful, very remote, and the water was crystal clear. As at the other campgrounds, Parson’s Landing has chemical toilets, but no potable water. Your campsite reservation includes one bundle of firewood and a 2-1/2 gallon container of water (plenty for the two of us).

Once camp was setup, I set off for the western terminus of the Trans-Catalina Trail — Starlight Beach. It’s 4.6 miles from Parson’s Landing to Starlight (over 9 miles round-trip), so I had to hustle to make it there and back before dark. Thankfully, I only needed to carry a few supplies and not my backpack. This trail doesn’t go more than 600 feet above sea level, but somehow it manages to go up and down that you accumulate a lot of elevation gain.

Next time, I would spend two nights at Parson’s Landing, and hike to Starlight Beach after a good night’s rest. This breaks up the hiking and gives you more time to really enjoy and explore the area.

Catalina Fox

I did follow a little Santa Catalina fox along the trail for a while , and the trail was very tranquil.

Day Four on the Trans-Catalina Trail

On our last day we woke up to light rain, ate a no-cook breakfast and took the relatively flat coastal trail back to Two Harbors.

Technically, this six mile stretch is not part of the Trans-Catalina Trail; that ended at Starlight Beach. But you still have to get back to town to get to the ferry home.

Other Worldly

Unfortunately we missed the safari bus to Avalon (it leaves Two Harbors daily at noon). At the Two Harbors visitors center we were able to swap our Avalon-Dana Point tickets for a ferry ride from Two Harbors to San Pedro, and (lucky for us) were able to get a ride to pick us up.

One of the remarkable things about this trip was the solitude. While there were always others at the various campgrounds, we rarely saw a soul on the trails. When we finally finished our 53.3 miles and were waiting for the ferry, we ran into another couple who had also completed the Trans-Catalina Trail on the same schedule, but we had only seen them at Parson’s Landing.

The weather this time of year was perfect for the trip. The daytime temperature was in the 60’s with cooling breezes. Nights were chilly, but we were comfortable in our sleeping  bag and tent. Because so much of this trail is exposed to the sun, I would recommend doing this fall through spring and avoiding the worst summer heat.


Final Tips

There’s a lot of wildlife on Catalina, including bald eagles, bison and fox. Food and supplies available in both Avalon and Two Harbors. If you plan to take the ferry from Two Harbors back to the mainland, check the ferry schedule. You’ll probably need to plan your schedule around the Two Harbor ferry schedule.

Campsites in Two Harbors book up months in advance, especially for weekends in warmer months.

Trans-Catalina Trail Map

Click the icon in the top right to go full-screen. Click anywhere on the trail to get the mileage and elevation at that location.

Photo Gallery

Click on an image for a larger version.

Additional Trans-Catalina Trail Resources

Weather Forecast for Catalina Island

Today Thursday Friday Saturday
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 7:00 PM PDT on September 02, 2015
Partly Cloudy
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 7:00 PM PDT on September 03, 2015
Partly Cloudy
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 7:00 PM PDT on September 04, 2015
Partly Cloudy
It is forcast to be Clear at 7:00 PM PDT on September 05, 2015


  1. Cornflakegrl says

    Great info! I’m looking at doing this trail over 4th of July (I know, could be VERY hot)…how long is the ferry ride from Dana Point? And I noticed online reservations for campsites say “2 night minimum” — any advice? I’m looking to stick to a similar itinerary – 4 days to cover the entire trail.

  2. says

    Awesome! I think you’ll be fine, as long as you start hiking early in the morning. If I could do anything differently, I would hit the trail by 7am.

    As for the 2-night minimum for campsites, that was not the case when I reserved mine. I tried to make reservations online, but it didn’t work. I called them and explained that I tried, etc., and they took my reservations over the phone and waived the normal $10 phone reservation fee. So I would suggest giving them a call and see what they say.

    Finally, the ferry ride from Dana Point is roughly 90 minutes, but will depend on the conditions. That said, you will NOT get an early start on the trail if you take the earliest ferry from Dana Point. A better solution is to go on the last ferry the night before, spend a night at Hermits Gulch campground (just outside of Avalon — no hiking, really), and then get an early start on the trail in the morning.

    Good luck, have fun, and let me know how it goes!

  3. Peter Turk says

    My wife and I are hiking the trail starting on June 21. We have been counting the days for the last couple of months. Thank you for the information and the pictures of the trail. You have the best photo gallery that I have found. Would you recommend hiking the trail in trail running shoes or hiking boots.

  4. says

    Thanks Peter! I’m sure you’ll have a great time. As for boots vs trail runners, that’s a pretty subjective decision. I hiked it in boots because I like the extra support when carrying a backpack. But the trails are not terribly rocky like some mountainous trails and trail runners would be okay.

    Note that the final downhill section towards Parsons Landing is VERY steep. While trail runners should work fine, you may appreciate having trekking poles.

    When you finish your trip, come back and post a reply to let me know how you enjoyed it!

  5. Tt says

    Hello, if I just wanted to hike from Little Harbor to Two Harbor, is there transportation from Avalon to Little Harbor? Is the trailhead well marked?

  6. says

    Yes, you can take the Safari Bus from Avalon to Little Harbor.

    The trail from Little Harbor to Two Harbors is pretty clearly marked. For the most part, you’ll follow the ridgeline up, up, and up to the top then a well marked trail down to Two Harbors. There were a couple sections where I scratched my head and said “THAT is the trail?!” In a few sections there are neon-colored nylon “brushes” planted in the ground that mark the trail. The major junctions are all well marked.

  7. says

    There are a few options from the Airport to Avalon, but I would say it depends on your time, ability and interest. If you’re just looking for a day hike, it’s problematic, as you need to get TO the airport first. Again, you can take the Safari Bus or a taxi, but those are expensive options.

    If you fly to Catalina, this is an option, and I suppose you could hike down to Avalon and take the ferry back to the mainland.

    As for the trail on the site you linked, I have been briefly on sections of that road where the Trans-Catalina Trail crosses or (briefly) follows the road. I personally didn’t enjoy that road, and would much prefer a hiking trail.

    The Trans-Catalina Trail also runs between Avalon and the airport. It is a much more scenic route, but it is also much longer (probably close to 20 miles). You could shorten this by about 6-7 miles by taking the Hermit Gulch Trail to the ridgeline road and then following that to the airport.

    Ultimately, it depends on your full itinerary. If you’re only there for a couple nights, I would recommend spending a night in Little Harbor, then hiking to Two Harbors on the Trans-Catalina Trail. It’s only about 5 miles, but it’s a challenging hike with some steep terrain. And the views are simply amazing.

  8. Tt says

    Thanks for all the tips. Your pictures are amazing.
    We only have a day in Avalon, and your comments about the lack of shade en route to Blackjack gave me second thoughts about hiking from the airport back to Avalon. I’ve decided to do the 5 mile Hermit Gulch loop ending at the botanical garden. Next time with better planning, I hope to do the full TCT.

  9. DK says

    amazing! very detailed! my husband and I are going to do this hike mid Sept just in time for my bday.. Do you have any info as how much camping permits cost? do you know if they rent out tents ? Thanks .
    The pictures are awesome! love love it!

  10. Lars From Atlanta says

    This is AWESOME.
    I was stationed in the Coast Guard LA/Long Beach years ago – we made frequent trips to Catalina, San Clemente, and the other islands. Now to see that there’s a trans Catalina hiking trail, Jesus that’s just made my day.
    I’ve hiked much of the Appalachian trail here in GA, as well as every trail other imaginable in this area. I’m planning in hiking the trans Catalina the week of Thanksgiving….using hostels in Long Beach/LA for my land stays, and taking your advice about the evening ferry, camping at Avalon, and an early start the next day.
    Looking forward to it. Thanks for the writeup, advice, and above all…the pictures. I miss southern Cal and can’t wait to return.
    Cheers –

  11. LindaBeth says

    Hello! I have found your site very helpful. I’m in the North San Diego County area until mid December, from New York State, and am looking forward to some SoCal hikes. I’m planning to backpack the TransCatalina Trail this week, because I have an extra day off for Veterans Day. I’ll be there Thursday until Sunday.

    I wanted to know if there’s enough time in Day 2 to go snorkeling or kayaking or 2 hours in Little Harbor.

    I’m also curious, if you remember, how long each day took to hike.


  12. says

    Thanks, LindaBeth. Glad you found the site helpful!

    Snorkeling or kayaking is definitely a possibility. I would recommend an early start. The days were long, and this time of the year you have even less daylight.

    I would actually recommend you do that at either Two Harbors or Parsons Landing. Little Harbor is on the side of the island facing away from the coast, and much rougher water. Most people prefer water activities on the more sheltered side (Two Harbors, Parsons Landing and Avalon are all better choices).

    As for the time, as I said, the hikes were long. We took our time, starting late and hiking pretty much until sundown. If you check out the stats from my hike on you’ll find all the details.

    Have a great trip! Come back and let me know how it went.

  13. Lars from Atlanta says

    How much does a cab cost from Two Harbors to Avalon? I find that on Friday the 26th, I’ll be wawking up at Two Harbors….the only ferry that day is at 5:45 pm which is WAY too late (I have to get from LB to LA that day)….so on that day I need to get from Two Harbors to Avalon, as early…and as cheap…as possible.
    Alternative is to possible come into Two Harbors to START the hike, and end it in Avalon on Friday.
    I see that the safari bus is $30 from TH to Avalon…eeek. Hopefully a cab is cheaper.
    Your website and links have been a big help in planning this hike, btw….thanks!

  14. Albert says

    This is great info for first timers, thank you. I have a little group of friends who do small hikes around the San Diego County but we want to challenge ourselves to something bigger and Trans-Catalina is perfect. From your trip experience, how much are we looking in terms of expenses?? just a ballpark if you don’t mind?

  15. Heidi from Ojai says

    Excellent review and photos of the trail. A friend and I attempted the trip last March just about when you went. We travelled the opposite direction. With the heat, 88+ degrees one day, we cut the trip short.
    We’re heading back next week and giving ourselves an extra day. We’ll bypass Two Harbors and camp at Little Harbor. Sweet spot. Really looking forward to the first night at Parson’s Landing………magic!

  16. says

    Sorry to break this to you, but the Safari Bus is your cheapest option. There aren’t a lot of vehicles on the island, for obvious reasons.

  17. says

    One thing I would warn is that the Trans-Catalina is a significant challenge. It was far more challenging than I expected, after all “it’s a little island.” Hah! Was I wrong!

    Having said that, you will pay for transportation to and from the island, and then camping fees for each campsite. Add in food or supplies at Two Harbors and it can easily add up to over $100 per person, not counting the food you bring.

    Backpacking on the mainland will be cheaper, but wow, this trail is such an amazing experience. It’s worth it.

  18. says

    Good luck, Heidi! Let me know how it goes this time (how it went?).

    We got very lucky when we went last year. It got very warm during the day, but mainly because the sun was out and we were hoofing it up and down the hills. I can only imagine what it would be like at 88 (or more) degrees. Yikes!

  19. Monica says

    this is a great write-up – thanks for sharing! we are looking to do a (partial) trans-catalina hike from hermit gulch to two harbors in october. taking the ferry in on friday then camping out at hermit gulch, trekking to and camping at blackjack on day 2 then trekking to two harbors on day 3 – i know the hike from blackjack to two harbors is a full day’s hike, but based on your experience, do you think it would be possible for us to get to two harbors in time for the 6 p.m. ferry back to san pedro?

  20. PM says

    I agree completely. The downhill into Parsons requires trekking poles. Also, I used Salomon trail runners and it was fine. My 12 year old son hated that section. He has had a thing about downhills ever since he tipped forward and face planted on the downhill section of the Santa Anita loop. I think if we lighten his pack and as he gets bigger this issue should go away.

  21. PM says

    My son (12yo) and I used your guide and it was absolutely invaluable. We were planning to do the whole thing in February but the first day was so brutal (for us) we only got as far as Two Harbors. We went back this last Spring Break and finished up the section from Two Harbors to Starlight Beach. People need to take your advice seriously about starting the first day early, no later than 7am. We are probably going to make this an anual tradition. Going forward we are going to cut the first day into two by coming off the boat at 10am on the first day and hiking the first section of the first day to Hermit Gulch and then heading out from Hermit Gulch early on the second day. This divides things up into our comfortable limit of 8-10miles a day.

  22. PM says

    I know this is late but the Taxi has to be chartered and I believe the fee is $180 for up to 6 people.

  23. Renee says

    Loved your write-up and photos of Trans-Catalina Trail! We are planning to take 6:15 am boat out of Downtown Long Beach on Friday to Avalon and return evening of following Tuesday to San Pedro from Two Harbors over May 6 -10th. We plan to take the Renton Mine Trail and do the whole thing to Blackjack campground the first day. We have booked going to Two Harbors the second night and then staying two nights in Parson’s Landing so we don’t have to go to Starlight Beach on the same day we leave Two Harbors. We are questioning whether we should stay over in Little Harbor the second night instead and only one night in Parson’s Landing. We have been training in Crystal Cove State Beach Wilderness Area and Laguna Coast Wilderness area and recently hiked Santiago Peak via Holy Jim Falls Trail to get in shape for this hike. Do you think a night in Little Harbor and an easy day that day after the first day to Blackjack campground would be preferable to two nights in Parson’s Landing?

  24. james D'Evelyn says

    Great site! Picked up on a few trails here near me in Dana Point. I just finished Avalon to Blackjack to Little Harbor to Blackjack to Avalon. Great experience and will go back for other areas/trails. Thanks for the pre-trip info. What kind of camera are did you use? Any other willing to suggest camera types I’d welcome their advice. Currently have a palm size cannon that has been very good.

  25. Lee from El Monte says

    Seven of us went backpacking the TCT in Catalina on April 7, 2012. The trip was for 6 days. Upon arrival at the Hermit Gulch Campground on the first day afternoon, one of our friends went for a short hike. For reasons unknown, she fell and suffered a nasty cut to her forehead with bumps and bruises on her face. Luckily a group of young hikers spotted her and escorted her back to the campground. We took her to the campground office to seek help immediately. William, the Campground Manager (we called him Ranger Will) quickly checked out her wounds and drove her to the hospital in Avalon. Later in the evening, after the doctor released our friend, Ranger Will drove from the campground to the hospital to bring our friend back. Ranger Will was very considerate. He gave us his phone number in case we needed help during the night. Next morning, our friend decided to go back to LA. Again Ranger Will came to our aid. He checked out the ferry schedule and upgraded our friend’s ticket to ensure her a comfortable ride back. He then drove our friend to the pier and made sure she boarded the ferry safely. What Ranger Will had done was over and beyond his duties as the manager of the campground. Throughout the ordeal, he was professional and caring. We wanted to show our appreciation to Ranger Will but he would not accept any monetary compensation or reimbursement from us. We were very fortunate to have Ranger Will as our guardian angel. Thank you Ranger Will!

  26. Chris P says

    I need information about gear haul. I am hiking from Two Harbors to Little Harbor, staying two nights, and then hiking to Avalon. I can carry my clothes and food, but I do not have a light weight sleeping bag or tent. What is my best option?

  27. DPclimber says

    Hey Jeff thanks so much for the awesome review.

    I am looking to tackle it in January for my birthday with some buddies.

    The Islands website was a little vague about fresh water and I tried calling the to get some info but am having some trouble getting through. I was wondering if you knew what the water situation was at the campsites. I remember you saying that fresh water is included at each site but is the water included in your site fee or is does it cost extra?


  28. says

    DPclimber, the way the water works is like this: You pay a campsite fee per person, which includes a key to a locker. Inside the locker is water and firewood, if you purchase it. If you need or want more, you can pay for that and I believe they will give you another key. It’s a pretty smart way for them to manage this, as they can stock up the lockers with water and firewood and hand out keys as needed.

    Let me know how your birthday trip goes!

  29. Stephanie says

    This has inspired me to do a part of the trail from Two Harbors to Parsons and back! Any tips on what campsites are good at Two Harbors? There are some available that look line they are on a bluff on the beach sites but I was worried they’d be really windy? Looking at a mid April trip.

  30. says

    Stephanie: That’s awesome! The campsites at Two Harbors will be find. Because you face the mainland, the wind is too much of a problem. Personally, I would pick a site further up the hill for a little more quiet. This campground is the one campground on Catalina that gets really busy. Because you can take a ferry from San Pedro to Two Harbors, a lot of people drag stoves, coolers, and all kinds of equipment there.

    Parsons Landing on the other hand, is magnificent. Have a great trip, and let me know how it goes!

  31. Stephanie says

    Thanks for the tip Jeff! One more question, was the hike to Starlight from Parsons worth the extra 9mi? We are strong hikers and could do the hike from Two Harbors to Parsons with no problem. Thought about dropping some stuff off at our site and then continuing on to Starlight like you did. But only if it was something spectacular. We would start at Two Harbors EARLY, and hopefully make it to Parsons by 10ish to give us enough time to do the next 9 without all our gear, I suppose only if it were safe to leave alone though.
    Already booked the sites and the boat! Can’t wait!

  32. says

    Stephanie, your gear should be fine. For what it’s worth, next time I hike the Trans-Catalina Trail I plan to add two days, staying a night in Little Harbor and an extra night at Parsons. Parsons was our favorite site, and an extra night means we can do that 9 mile round-trip to Starlight as a day hike.

    Is Starlight worth it? To me, hiking the “whole” Trans-Catalina Trail was important. As it was, it was gray and gloomy and a little anti-climactic. However, if I had hiked earlier, and if it were sunny, it would probably look very different. And in fact, some of the people I met coming back from Starlight were very impressed (they caught it in the sun).

    The trail itself is one of the more remote segments, and so you’ve got that going for it. I was joined for a while by a Catalina Fox, and that was a nice treat. And seeing “The End” of the island was pretty cool (although the trail doesn’t actually take you to there).

    With all that in mind, and sense you’ve said you’re strong hikers, I would say go for it!

  33. Kelly says

    We are thinking of doing this trip Memorial Day Weekend – seems like average temp is 70’s. Should we expect hotter?

  34. says

    Here’s the skinny on temperatures. It gets downright chilly once the sun goes down, and this is often accompanied by a stiff breeze from the side of the island facing the Pacific. During the day, it can get quite warm, especially if it’s sunny. Most of the trail is exposed, so sun protection is key. The photos from our gallery were taken during the first week of April, and we had beautiful weather most days, chilly at night, and a little misty rain one day. I’m not a meteorologist, but I would say that it might be a little warmer, but who knows?! Best to be prepared.

  35. says

    That’s fantastic, Maria! I’m jealous. You should be hitting it right at the sweet spot for wildflowers and green hills. Have a great time, and let me know if you have any questions before hand, or if you have suggestions for improving the guide afterwards.

  36. says

    just wanted to say thank you for this write up and the guide you posted on everytrail. we just did this over 4 days this past weekend and it was gorgeous and challenging at parts (thanks to your tips we were somewhat mentally prepared!). we did skip little harbor on day 2 and cut out 2 miles and took the rollercoaster-ish route.. maybe one day we’ll make a trip out that way to ‘complete’ the offical trek!

  37. Christopher says

    Great site!

    Trying to figure out the logistics for the first day upon arriving in Avalon and had a couple of questions. What’s the very earliest (and at what location) one can pick up the camping reservations / hiking permit during the week? Wondering how much time we would lose that first day if arriving on the earliest morning ferry if we have to kill a few hours for an office to open so we can get our permits. Any other options for picking up the reservations/permit along the trail (e.g. at the airport) or by mail? Do you receive keys for all campgrounds at one location/time? Thanks!

  38. says

    Christopher, this is a great question! If you’re starting at Avalon and heading to Blackjack, you’ve got your work cut out for you — it’s a long day. An early start is HIGHLY recommended. Fortunately, you pickup your reservations at the front desk of the Atwater Hotel in Avalaon, which is staffed 24/7. So you can take the earliest ferry you can. Note that we took a ferry from Dana Point, which meant we didn’t get started until late in the morning. There are earlier ferries available from San Pedro and Newport Beach, but check their schedules to be sure.

    Next time we do this, I’m going to spend the first night in Avalon, so I can get a really early start the next day.

  39. SS Max says

    Hi Jeff,
    Great pictures, trail details and tips.
    Noticed that you are a dog person too. Question – Are dogs allowed on trail and campsites?
    (We’ve taken our dog with us on lots of multi-day hikes. He is a strong hiker -usually out hikes all the humans!- and it’s so fun having him along.) We’re planning to do the TCT in December.

  40. says

    SS Max, dogs are permitted on Catalina Island trails. The island is managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy, who in their “Cautions and Policies” page state: “Dogs must be held on a leash while in the interior of Catalina.”

    So yes, you can bring your dog, but you’ll have to keep them on leash. Probably a good idea anyway, given the rattlesnakes, bison and other critters.

  41. SS Max says

    Thanks Jeff and Christopher. Since it is required to camp in campgrounds and no dogs are allowed in the campgrounds, guess we’ll have to leave him at home. Too bad.

  42. lesley fulton says

    oh my….I love this.
    question: What about doing this trail in mid December??? What do you think? Do able??

  43. says

    Lesley, I don’t see why not! It will be cold, and you should be prepared for rain. But there’s a certain beauty in that weather, too! Let me know how it goes.

  44. Jonathan says

    Great website! Do you know if it is mandatory for backpackers to stay at the campgrounds? Can one just procure water there?

  45. says

    Jonathan wrote: …Do you know if it is mandatory for backpackers to stay at the campgrounds? Can one just procure water there?

    The Conservancy only permits camping in established campgrounds. There is no free water available at Blackjack, Little Harbor or Parsons Landing. Your campground reservation includes a key to a locker at the campground where you’ll get jugs of water.

    The campgrounds are okay. When we went, the only one that was crowded was Two Harbors (which is typical). Parsons Landing was fantastic, and next time I’ll stretch the trip and spend two nights there.

    Samantha wrote: Wow! You make planning this backpacking trip easy. Thank you!

    You’re welcome. :)

  46. Kevin says


    I’m interested doing the same trip at end of the April.
    I called Ferry and was told that canister fuel is not allow on the boat, I’m using Jetboil for cooking, do you know if there is any store in Avalon that sells that? I was told that Chad’s hardware have them but when I called they say they don’t have the particular one I’m looking for


  47. says

    Kevin wrote: “…was told that canister fuel is not allow on the boat”

    First, I don’t know whether any store in Avalon sells Jetboil canisters (sorry).

    I will say that the ferries don’t ask or inspect your backpacks. I’m sure many people have brought canisters tucked away in their backpack with no problem. Typically you will throw your pack on the deck at the back of the boat (where all the bikes are stored as well) and no one inspects them. I’m not advocating that you break any rules, just pointing out what I’ve observed.

  48. says

    I have been meaning for awhile now to post a follow up since we successfully completed the TCT back in September of last year. We used this website for extensive planning purposes, which helped immensely. We had a wonderful trip, covering just north of 55 miles in four days (13,000+’ of elevation gain).

    We have posted an HD video of our journey:

    As well as some still photos:

    If there’s any advice I’d offer to anyone contemplating this trip, it’s the following:

    (1) Take at least four days (we did: Avalon-Black Jack, Black Jack-Two Harbors, Two Harbors-Parson’s, Parson’s-Two Harbors).

    (2) Bring hiking poles.

    (3) Add extra water for delivery to Parson’s.

    (4) Be prepared for long days and a lot of elevation change. The TCT is no joke.

    (5) Consider 3L hydration inserts (we took 2L ones and everyone ran out of water the first day a few miles from Black Jack).

    (6) For a relaxing final day, return via the coastal route (it’s flat and has nice views; you will have already hiked the entire TCT the day before).

    Thanks again to SoCalHiker for the detailed notes!

  49. says

    Christopher, I loved your video! You did a great job capturing the essence of the Trans-Catalina Trail (sans the sweat). Great photos, too. Everyone who reads this post should also take a look at both the video and photo links you shared… seriously!

  50. monkeyfeet says

    Hello, I was wondering if its safe to ride your bike on this trail or if theres any trails that can connect you from Avalon to Two Harbors via bicycle

  51. Diane Ohara says

    Jeff, I love this site! I’m a 64 yr old grannie, but I do a fair amount of hiking. I want to plan two days of hiking and follow with two days of “lounging”. What is your recommendation for the hike?

  52. Matthew Hicks says

    Thanks for this, I followed your itinerary exactly over the last four days and just got home. The trail is beautiful, but could really stand some switchbacks, especially when the rain turns it into mud.

  53. says

    Diane, it’s a rigorous trail. If I were to do just two days of hiking, I would probably start at Two Harbors and hike to Parsons Landing the first day. If you follow the Trans-Catalina Trail, it’s a rigorous climb to the ridge and then an VERY steep descent to Parsons Landing (trekking poles are essential). On Day Two, I’d do a day hike out-and-back to Starlight Beach (the western terminus of the trail) and back to Parsons Landing. Then I’d spend an extra day in Parsons Landing, then take the “easy” coastal route back to Two Harbors, spend one night at the campground there and then the ferry back to the mainland.

  54. sharon says

    My daughter wants me to fly to CA and do the hike mid-June with her. How is the weather during that time? I am concerned about the heat.

  55. says

    I’ve added a picture to the gallery with the monthly average high/low temperatures for Avalon, CA:

    According to that chart, the average high in June is 71, and the average low is 60. Not bad.

    But keep in mind that you will have a lot of sun exposure. It can feel a lot hotter when you’re hiking up a steep hill with a pack on your back and the sun beating down on you.

    Hope this helps.

  56. Herb says

    hiking TCT in May , is there any advantage / disadvantage to starting at Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing day one , Parsons to starlight bch. then back to Two Harbors the easy way day two , Two Harbors to Black Jack day Three , Black Jack to Avalon day four.

  57. says

    Hmmm… better check with the Island to make sure you can pickup a locker key for Blackjack at Two Harbors. Not sure if they’re setup for that direction.

  58. Jerry says


    I will doing the Trans-Catalina Trial next month from March 14-17. I’ve been reading your blog, in fact this is the site which swayed my decision to do the TCT rather than the San Bernardino Trail, I currently live in Albuquerque, and would much rather be surrounded by the ocean. Anyway I’m hoping to get your take on the route in which to take. I was planning on Landing at Avalon, and hiking to the Blackjack campground, I believe the next stop is going to be Two Harbors; this is where I get a little perplexed on which way to go, either the Silver Peak Trail, or the other trail that appears to run along the coast of the island. I have four days set aside for this and I am doing this my first backpacking trip, at that solo as well. So I’m looking for an experience beauty and challenges, I heard from someone that there are water falls on the island I think would be awesome to see even if it is out of my way. Hints, pointers, or direction as to where I could find some of this info would be greatly, greatly, appreciated.

  59. says

    Well, if your goal is to hike the TCT, you need to go up the Silver Peak Trail. The coastal route between Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing is not part of the TCT. If you’re looking for a challenge, the Silver Peak Trail portion between TH and PL is, IMO, the hardest part of the TCT (around every corner you realize the trail just keeps climbing!). I’m glad we didn’t skip it, but do be prepared for a hard hike up and a very steep descent coming down. Hiking poles are a real asset.

    Now, once you finish the TCT at Starlight, no reason not to enjoy an easy hike back to Two Harbors along the coast. :)

  60. says

    Sick of answering TCT questions yet? LOL. Hey I read somewhere that there is storage available at the dock on Catalina. Do you know if this is true? I am flying down from Seattle to do the Catalina next month but plan on doing some other stuff while I’m in SoCal and might bring a smallish suitcase along with my pack. Do you know of any other luggage storage options available for someone wanting to do something like this?

  61. says

    Thanks for the detailed guide! I noticed that without this, it would’ve been incredibly confusing just using the individual Catalina websites. Thanks for that! This inspired me to do a short 3-day trip from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing during spring break. (I’m not as hardcore as you folks. Slow and steady is my game.^^) Want to some day do the TCT, but for now I’ll be satisfied to do one leg of the trip. :)

  62. says

    I had the joy of living on Catalina for about four months over the 2012-13 school year as a camp counselor in Emerald Bay and loved every minute of it. I never had the time to do the trail while we were there but I hope to go back someday to do the TCT!

  63. Bill says

    Due to campsite limited availability at Parson’s we will need to start at 2 Harbors and hike back to Avalon, vs the original plan was Avalon to 2 Harbors. So I was wondering if there is a bus that runs between Avalaon and 2 Harbors in the morning (our ferry drops us off at Avalon, not 2 Harbors, so we need transport to @ Harbors to start the hike. Any advice?

  64. says

    Bill, I’m certain that the bus goes from Avalon to Two Harbors first. I’m not certain about what time it leaves. Check with their site — they can fill in on the details.

    I’m traveling this week, but I’ll make a note to add this info to the site when I get a chance.

  65. Bill says

    Hi Jeff

    Hi Jeff: Thanks for the reply. I decided to take ferry to Two Harbors, hike the island and them take the suttle from Avalon. Just did it in reverse. I was able to get the last reservation at Parson’s that matched our itinerary, so we are in good shpe now. Bill

  66. says

    Hey Jeff thanks for the great post and information. I have a quick question for you, do you know if its possible to filter water from the many reservoirs on TCT instead of paying 9 bucks for the lockers every night? Thanks!

  67. says

    It’s not allowed. The fee is for the permit to camp. You’re assigned a specific campsite, and it includes the water. You have the option of adding firewood to the permit as well, but you can’t camp without a permit, and the permit includes the water.

  68. Sean says

    If we want to do the trail in reverse can where do we pick up our reservations in two harbors?

  69. Joel G says

    This is awesome. I’m planning on backpacking this in November. Do you think you can post a list of your gear that you brought to your trip? This will be my first time actually backpacking.

  70. Billy M says

    Hi, is there anything potential backpackers should know about food storage for this trail? Thanks! I’m planning on doing the TCT as soon as I get off school, very excited.

  71. Berto says

    Hi there. Considering that there’s no water sources on the island, how much water did you start with (per person/for yourself)? Was this amount chosen taking into consideration the water that you got at your campsites? Thanks very much, your website has been a great resource for me.

  72. keith says

    My two friends and I are planning this trip, except we don’t want to pay for campsites as we are on a budget and want a adventure as well. I understand it is illegal to camp off the sites, but how hard would it be to make our own camp without others seeing? And do rangers really patrol? Water is a big concern however we will accommodate with taking enough to get us to the airport refill then get to two harbors refill, and stock for the two day after that. Is this all realistically achievable or am I being a nut? Physically we can do that, I’m hoping for your insight to my crazy scheme, thanks

  73. says

    Keith, not recommended. Do rangers patrol? Yes, but I never saw one on the trail — just the campgrounds. Water would be a very real concern. Personally, I would save until you can afford the permits (which include the water). My $0.02 worth.

  74. Bill says

    My son and

    My son and I just did Catalina last week (Two Harbors to Parsens Landing to Little Harbor to BlackJack to Hermit gulch). Fantastic hike, and like you said Jeff, this hike is no joke! I would rate it as difficult, given the vertical and steepness of some parts of the trail. Some things we learned for others: 1) Beware the crows/ravens…they are aggressive little thieves and flew away with my smartphone, a knife, spatula, dish scrubber and ov-glove at Parsens Landing. Leave NOTHING outside your tent! 2)the foxes in Hermit Gulch campground have been trained by the crows apparently…one was in our tent cabin in the middle of the night trying to pinch some food…woke me up. 3) signage marking the trail I would describe as poor in some critical spots (like at the Microwave tower where the trail branches and there is no signage – – we took the wrong way and it cost us an hour…the Ranger even told us the trail signs are bad). All-in-all a fantastic adventure so I have no complaints. Oh and one more thing: use wool socks, not cotton! We did not know this basic thing and our feet got very sore.

  75. JaneLeeb says

    Hi Jeff,

    I am planning a test hike from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing via the coast trail (West End Rd?). I am worried about the last bit going in to Parsons. I am post surgery from broken/pinned leg. Is the coast trail as hard as the TCT?

  76. says

    Hi JaneLeeb! The Trans-Catalina Trail from the ridgeline down to Parsons Landing is super-steep. We had boots and trekking poles, and it was still treacherous.

    In contrast, the coastal route between Two Harbors and Parsons is a relative breeze and fairly flat. I know which one I would choose… 😉

  77. says

    I would love to do this hike but would like to know if you know of people who need hiking partners or groups that go together im doing this on my own and would like company hopefully someone who has done the hike before

  78. Adam says

    Thanks Jeff. Great info and fantastic pics.

    Per your advice and the advice of others, I’m hiking the trail over five days: Avalon>Black Jack (one night)>Little Harbor (one night)>Parsons (two nights, with full day to visit Starlight Beach)> Two Harbors. I’m going in August, which is not ideal, but it’s when I’ll be down there for a work trip, so better hot and dusty than not at all.

    A question: Can the lockers be relocked/used for anti-critter gear storage? I’m asking because I’ll be traveling light, with a tarp shelter that does not seal out foxes, chipmunks, or crows. Ideally, the lockers would work like bear boxes.

  79. says

    @Adam – the lockers are not re-lockable. Once you insert the key and turn it, the key cannot be removed and the door cannot be locked. You could possibly put stuff in there and use a stick as a shim to hold the door firmly closed. Obviously that doesn’t keep out the human critters, but I don’t see much of a worry there.

  80. Zach Ellis says

    Hey Jeff,
    How did you go about making reservations for the campgrounds. I have been trying to make them on the website and it will only let me make reservations for two nights. I have also tried calling several time and no answer or callback. What number did you call for your reservations?

    Also thank you for all the helpful advice.

  81. Evyn says

    Hi Jeff,

    I just booked campsites for Labor Day Weekend and I was required to book two nights at Black Jack. I’m only going to be there for one and would love to sell or give away the first night. Any idea if there is a forum anywhere for Catalina hikers/campers where we might find someone interested?


  82. Zach says

    If you call the visitors center they can change your reservation from two to one night or at least they did for me.
    Here is their phone number, +1 (310) 510-4205

  83. renee says


    What do you know about the Rancho Escondido trail? Its not part of the TCT but it skirts it and also goes to Little Harbor. There is the old horse ranch there and an up and coming vineyard. Sounds better than Sheep Chute which I understand is steep.

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