Backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail
Los Angeles › Trans-Catalina Trail
Added by Drew Robinson
This adventure is a great way to see the entire island of Santa Catalina. Catalina Island is situated less than 30 miles off the coast of Southern California, and can be reached by ferry from Dana Point, San Pedro, or Long Beach. Catalina Express in the company that operates the ferry.
This adventure is best done in 4 days and 3 nights, although you can add an additional night to assist with transportation. You can also cut a day out with longer hiking days by staying at Little Harbor your first night and Parson's Landing your second night.
The following description will assume you take the first morning ferry from the mainland to Avalon and begin right away. If you would like to spend an extra night in Avalon before starting, book a hotel, or reserve a campsite at the Hermit Gulch Campground.
Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack Campground
Day 2: Black Jack to Two Harbors
Day 3: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing and Starlight Beach
Day 4: Parson's Landing to Two Harbors or Avalon for a ferry home
You need to book your campsites for this adventure well ahead of time, as there is limited space, and things book up quickly.
Day 1 (16 miles): Arrive in Avalon and proceed to the Catalina Island Conservancy office. It is here you will receive your permits, printed campground reservations, and Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) hiking map. You can pay to have rangers deliver firewood to your campsite, and they will also deliver water to the campsites without potable water. The water will be dropped off in a locker at your campsite. For Black Jack Campground, you will pick up your key in Avalon. Two Harbors has potable water. For Parson's Landing, you will pick up your key in Two Harbors.
Take Pebbly Beach Rd out of Avalon to make your way to the trailhead for the TCT. After a short walk on Pebbly Beach Rd, you'll take a right and head uphill to Wrigley Rd. The first dirt road that appears on your left is East End Light Rd, this is the start of the TCT.
The first 9 miles on the TCT are fire road with incredible ocean views and a birds-eye perspective of Avalon. At mile 9, you'll arrive at the Haypress Recreation Area, which will be your first spot with potable water for the day. After leaving Haypress, you'll take a single track trail into the heart of the Island. This section of trail in the valley heats up quite a bit on warm days, so be prepared. This is also the section that you're most likely to see the island bison roaming about. At mile 14, you'll arrive at the Black Jack Campground, your accommodation for the night.
Day 2 (10 miles): After leaving Black Jack Campground, you'll start with a slight downhill and then climb for 2 miles to reach The Airport In The Sky. You'll see quite a few planes taking off and landing on the weekend. There is also a restaurant called the DC-3 Grill. They have great bison burgers! Stop in and grab some refreshments.
After leaving the Airport In The Sky, you'll head downhill for 5 miles to Little Harbor. When you've reached Little Harbor, you've hiked 21 miles on the TCT. If you'd like to change up your itinerary, this is a great place to camp. For this adventure plan, we'll just be passing through. Make sure to fill up your water here, as there is a steep uphill section to come.
The section of trail after Little Harbor was my favorite section on the TCT. Of all the incredible views, this one was the best. The uphill section is steep, but short. Five miles after leaving Little Harbor, you'll arrive in Two Harbors. Take a right hand turn off of the TCT and head towards the beach. Here you'll find the visitor center. You can retrieve your campground reservations for Two Harbors and for the following night at Parson's Landing. Don't forget to pick up your key to get water from the locker in Parson's Landing.
Day 3 (15 miles): Leave Two Harbors and take the Trans-Catalina Trail towards Silver Peak. This is the steepest climb of the TCT, so it's good to start early while it's still cool out. In 7 miles, you'll reach your campsite for the night. Parson's Landing campsites are right on the beach and the views are spectacular. Unpack if you'd like to lighten your load for the final section to Starlight Beach, but be careful of crows, squirrels, and the island fox. They can and will get into your food and gear while tearing things to pieces.
The final 4.5 miles from Parson's Landing to Starlight Beach is a bit of a roller coaster, both physically and mentally. Don't let the elevation map fool you here. This trail never get's very high in elevation, but the cumulative elevation gained racks up pretty quickly. Nonetheless, it offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean before you arrive at your final destination. Starlight Beach is the perfect ending to the TCT. You'll have complete solitude here, with nothing but the big blue sea to keep you company. Soak it all in, and then hike back the way you came to Parson's Landing.
Day 4 (6 miles): From Parson's Landing, you don't have to take the TCT back to Two Harbors. Luckily, there is a flat service road that runs along the coast. It's a very pleasant 6 miles back to Two Harbors. In Two Harbors, you can catch a ferry back to the mainland, or take the Safari Shuttle back to Avalon.
- 10 Essentials
- Food and Water
- Permit and Campground Reservations
- Catalina Express Ferry Ticket
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking
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ReviewsLeave a Review
Great trip for new or experienced backpackers
This is a great trip for new backpackers or experienced backcountry travelers alike. I have hiked it many times, doing trips spanning from 3 to 6 days. The island does get very hot year round (I have experienced 80 degree heat in January) so be sure to bring plenty of water. The biggest draw for those new to backpacking is that there are multiple spots along the trail (Avalon, Airport in the Sky, and Two Harbors) to resupply, so there is no need to carry large amounts of food or water. And for the experienced adventurer this is a great training ground for larger trails such as the John Muir, Mt Whitney or PCT.
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