Things you should know before backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail

Practical Advice on what to pack, how long does it take, where to get supplies, where to camp, how to get permits, where is there water ect. From your Catalina Island Expert!
Ah, the Trans Catalina Trail! Hopefully you read my brief introduction to the wonderful new backpacking trail that transverses the length of California's Catalina Island. This post is a more focused post on logistics of doing all or part of the Trans Catalina Trail. These are common questions I've received over the years of being a part-time Catalina-ian. If you're unfamiliar with the trail, click below for an introduction:

Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail: Part 1

How long is the Trans Catalina Trail? How long does it take to hike it?

The Trans Catalina Trail is about 37 miles long (60 km), one way. This is somewhat of a deceptive number; the western terminus of the trail is 11 miles away from any real exit point. So If you're planning on hiking it end-to-end, plan on it being a 48 mile (77 km) trek. A full trek will take about 5-6 days depending on how fast you hike.

Starting points: You can start at either Avalon or Two Harbors. Avalon is a small city on the island with all normal amenities (super markets, restaurants ect.) Two Harbors is much smaller but it has a small overpriced general store. The Catalina Express leaves from several locations in Southern California to take you to either location. Most people begin in Avalon and end in Two Harbors and you can buy boat tickets to and from either location.
Commonly Clear Skies on Catalina
Section Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

Section hiking is possible too. Most people who try and section hike it will do either the East End-Avalon to Two Harbors Section, or the West End Loop. It also possible to take a bus to most major locations between Avalon and Two Harbors if you chose to cut out some distance.
Here's distances of a couple of commonly done section hikes-
  • Avalon to Two Harbors, one way: 26 miles (41 km): 2-3 days
  • Avalon to Two Harbors, one way, Stage Rd. Shortcut: 20 miles (32 km): 2 days (Stage Rd is the main paved road exiting Avalon and cuts off the Eastern Portion of the trip
  • Two Harbors to Starlight Beach, round trip: 22 miles (35 km): 2 days
  • Two Harbors to Parsons Beach, round trip:13 miles (20 km): 2 days
Which is the best section hike? The West End- Two Harbors to Starlight Beach back to Two Harbors will go through the least crowded part of Catalina Island. I think it is strikingly rugged and showcases the best of Catalina's ecology. Starlight beach is also almost always empty as opposed to other campsites on the island which fill up quickly.
Parsons Beach and Arrow Point
Campsites, Water, Resupply Points

There are several campsites on the island and its is important to know that you can ONLY sleep in designated campsites. Catalina is small enough to be easily damaged by human activity so remember to stay in designated sites only. The campsites with their respective mileage differences are listed:
  • Hermit Gulch Campground (Avalon): 1.5 miles from Trans Catalina Trailhead
  • Blackjack Campground: 13.8 miles from Avalon
  • Little Harbor Campground: 7.2 miles from Blackjack Campground, 5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Two Harbors Campground: .5 miles from Traihead
  • Parsons Landing Campground: 6.5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Starlight Beach Campground: 4.6 miles from Parsons Landing
As far as campsite availability, you need advance reservations for most in the Summer. Two Harbors and Hermit Gulch (Avalon) are notorious for filling up weeks in advance (especially during holidays!). Blackjack and Little Harbor are usually not full but they can fill up on weekends. In the summer, the Boy Scouts reserves every site on Parsons Beach for large overnight scouting programs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Starlight Beach is almost always empty, but its worth it to double check before you go.
Airport in the Sky
Water and Resupply Points

This is a desert-like island and therefore water should be your top concern. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Catalina, water sources are few and far between. It also should be noted that the trail through the interior of the island is notoriously hot and humid. I would recommend carrying no less than 3 liters of water a day and carrying 4-5 liters in the "waterless" areas. Here's the run-down on water sources:
  • Avalon: This is your last chance to stock up on water and supplies for 14 miles. Seriously, I would recommend taking 4-5 liters for the section between Avalon and Blackjack Campground
  • Blackjack Campground: This is the first campsite on the trek and it has water.
  • Airport in the Sky: 2 miles past Blackjack campground, the Airport has water and a small variety of supplies. Get yourself a Buffalo Burger!
  • Little Harbor: 5 miles past the Airport, this is a standard campsite with water
  • Two Harbors: 5 miles past Little Harbor; the town has water and a general store
  • Parsons Beach: 6.5 miles past Two Harbors; there isn't running water at this site, but the Conservancy provides 2.5 gallons of water with each purchased campsite. DON'T expect there to be water unless you've purchased a campsite
So, stock up on that water on the Avalon to Blackjack leg of the trip and the Starlight portion of the trip! Dehydration is common with Catalina hiking!
Mt Blackjack Summit, Catalina Island
Fees, Permits, Red-Tape

Hiking permits on Catalina Island are free. You can obtain a permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy here. Of course, while the hiking permits are free, the campsites are not. Campsites can fill up and advanced reservations are needed. Here's the run-down:
  • Hermit Gulch (Avalon): $19 weekday/$21 weekend. Fills up quickly
  • Blackjack Campground: $14 weekday/$16 weekend. Usually open.
  • Little Harbor Campground: :$14 weekday/$16 weekend. Can fill up on weekends.
  • Two Harbors: $15 weekday/$17 weekend per person. Fills up quickly.
  • Parsons Landing Campground:$14 weekday/$16 weekend. Can fill up on weekends. Not open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the summer.
  • Starlight Beach Campground: Free. Almost always open.
Also, keep in mind that you will have to pay for a ticket out to Catalina by boat. Here are the several locations that you can leave from and return to. Unfortunately, fares are about $70.00 for a round trip ticket. Bleach!

Try and make sure you get all your supplies before arriving on Catalina Island. Everything is literally 3-4 times more expensive.
Sunset on the West End of Catalina
Well, that just about covers it! I would also like to add that there are several side trails and mountains that can be climbed while doing this trail! Silver Peak, Mt Blackjack, and East Peak are all within a short distance of the Trans Catalina Trail. Enjoy the wonderful wilderness that has been preserved for you!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!