Permits, Itineraries, Gear and More – Bearfoot Theory


Located solely 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is an inhabited island that gives wonderful kelp forest diving, wildlife, and seems…some fairly epic tenting, mountain climbing, and backpacking on the Trans Catalina Trail.

The Trans Catalina Trail is a 40-mile path that traverses your complete island with wonderful beachfront tenting, some difficult climbs, continuous views, solitude (in November after I hiked), and even a few eating places alongside the way in which.

I grew up going to Catalina, so after I discovered concerning the Trans Catalina Trail, I knew I needed to do it. So I organized journey for Ryan, myself, and one other pal, and we spent 5 days transversing the hillsides and coastlines of this California treasure.

It was a improbable journey that I’d extremely suggest for anybody who’s in search of outside journey in Southern California. Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail can be a visit you are able to do lengthy after backpacking season is often over within the mountains. In this put up, I share all the pieces that you must find out about mountain climbing your complete Trans Catalina Trail.

As it goes in the entire locations we share, please observe good path etiquette and bear in mind to Leave No Trace. This means packing out your entire rubbish, being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established guidelines. 

Trans Catalina Trail Stats & FAQs

The Trans Catalina path runs East-West alongside Catalina Island off the coast of California. It’s a part of the Channel Islands archipelago.

  • Total Distance: 38.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain Loss: +/-7,940 ft
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Days wanted: 2-5 days
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes (apart from Two Harbors Campground)
  • Advanced Reservations Required: Yes (see the following part)
  • Number of Recommended Nights: 4 nights / 5 days (minimal)
  • Cell Service: Sporadic

TransCatalina Trail Map

Backpacking on Trans-Catalina Trail with ocean views in distance
How lengthy is the Trans Catalina Trail?

The full path 38.5 miles. Hikers sometimes begin in Avalon and finish in Two Harbors after mountain climbing a loop across the northwest peninsula of the island.

How many days does it take to hike the TCT?

Most folks hike the Trans Catalina Trail in 3-5 days. See beneath for itinerary choices.

How troublesome is the Trans Catalina Trail?

the Trans Catalina Trail is not any stroll within the park — it’s onerous. Over the course of the journey, there may be loads of up, down, up, down – in complete over 7,940 ft in elevation acquire/loss.

There can be a number of solar publicity and no shade alongside the path, that means it will probably get highly regarded in peak summer season months so you should definitely deliver solar safety.

With that being stated, this hike throughout Catalina Island takes you thru an extremely distinctive and delightful ecosystem, and the expertise was greater than well worth the problem. There are additionally some different route choices you’ll be able to take if you wish to keep away from among the elevation acquire and loss or in case you merely don’t have sufficient time for your complete route (I share some different itineraries beneath).

Is the Trans Catalina Trail distant?

This shouldn’t be a standard wilderness backpacking journey. Some of the hike is correct on the street the place you’ll encounter the occasional car.

Also, on the Airport, you’ll discover a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch and in Two Harbors, they’ve a full-blown basic retailer, restaurant, and bar.

Is the Trans Catalina Trail well-marked?

Yes, the TCT is well-marked. However, I nonetheless suggest selecting up a map on the Catalina Island Conservancy store the place you should buy an in depth Trans Catalina Island Trail map.

What route ought to I hike the Trans Catalina Trail?

This one-way path will be traveled in both route, however I like to recommend beginning within the city of Avalon and ending your hike at Parson’s Landing (returning on the ferry by way of Two Harbors). In this route, the views and solitude solely enhance as you hike.

Do I want a mountain climbing allow for the TCT?

Your tenting reservations will function your allow to hike the Trans Catalina Trail, so you should definitely carry a duplicate with you. (See extra about tenting beneath)

You don’t want a further allow until you’ll be day mountain climbing on the island, and in that case, you’ll have to request a free allow.

How lengthy does it take to hike the Trans Catalina Trail

The hottest TCT backpacking itinerary is 5 days/4 nights. If you’re an skilled hiker, you might do it in 4 days. See extra about planning your itinerary beneath.

What is the water availability?

There is not any potable water on the path in between the campgrounds, however water is accessible at Black Jack, Little Harbor, and Two Harbors campgrounds. For the final night time at Parson’s, you’ll have to buy a locker key that provides you entry to a 2-gallon jug of water.

I like to recommend that if you hit the path every morning, you’ve at the very least 3-4 liters of water for the day.

Best time of 12 months to hike the TCT

Catalina Island sometimes sees greater than 260 days of solar per 12 months.

My suggestion is to hike between September by early November for essentially the most comfy temperatures and the very best probability of sunshine.

Graph of Catalina Island average temperatures and rainfall
Average temperatures and rainfall on Catalina Island
  • Spring: This is a superbly vibrant time to hike with inexperienced hillsides and a path filled with wildflowers. Views could also be obscured by fog.
  • Summer: With a scarcity of shade on the path, the summer season months will be highly regarded and dry. There is not any water out there between campgrounds on a majority of the path, and the path can really feel a lot hotter than the temperature may point out.
  • Fall: Comfortable temps and many sunshine. The solely draw back of the autumn months is that the panorama could be very brown.
  • Winter: Most of the rainfall on Catalina Island happens between December and March, and when it rains in California, it will probably pour. These months are the riskiest for climate, however then once more, you might luck out.

You might have heard the saying “May Gray, June Gloom” for California. During these months, there’s an excellent probability Catalina can be engulfed in fog. Hiking temperatures can be comfy, however it’s possible you’ll not get the sunny California views you might be hoping for.

Views of Catalina Island's steep coastline from the Trans-Catalina Trail
Views from the Trans Catalina Trail in November

Planning your journey

Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail does take an excellent little bit of planning between getting there, making campsite reservations, and packing all the mandatory gear.

Below I dive into all the pieces that you must find out about planning your TCT journey.

Choosing an itinerary

The Trans Catalina Trail will be carried out in 3-5 days. A 3-day trek can be fairly difficult with numerous elevation acquire and longer days.

We needed to take our time and benefit from the unimaginable surroundings, so we selected a 5-day itinerary, which allowed us to maneuver at a relaxed tempo and actually take within the expertise.

Here are three totally different Trans Catalina path itineraries:


  • Day 1: Avalon to Blackjack Campground (10.7 miles/+2,930 ft)
  • Day 2: Blackjack to Two Harbors Campground (14.5 miles/+2,526 ft)
  • Day 3: Two Harbors Campground to Parsons Landing and again to Two Harbors (13.6 miles/+2,289 ft)


  • Day 1: Avalon to Blackjack Campground (10.7 miles/+2,930 ft)
  • Day 2: Blackjack to Little Harbor Campground (8.3 miles/+987 ft)
  • Day 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors Campground (5.3 miles/+1,369 ft)
  • Day 4: Two Harbors Campground out to Parsons Landing and again to Two Harbors (13.6 miles/+2,289 ft)


This is the itinerary we did.

  • Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack Campground (10.7 miles/+2,930 ft)
  • Day 2: Black Jack to Little Harbor Campground (take into account neighboring Shark Harbor for extra solitude) (8.3 miles/+987 ft)
  • Day 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors Campground (5.3 miles/+1,369 ft)
  • Day 4: Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing Campground by way of the TCT (6.7 miles/+1,773 ft)
  • Day 5: Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors by way of the street and Lion’s Head (6.9 miles/+516 ft)

Down beneath within the journey report, I am going into element about every day’s trek.

Backpacking hiking on ridge line trail on the Trans-Catalina Route
The TCT could be very hilly with lengthy, steep climbs. Choose an itinerary that fits your health and mountain climbing expertise

Crunched for time?

If you wish to expertise the Trans Catalina Trail however don’t have time to do the entire thing, listed here are a number of different choices:

  • Take the ferry on to Two Harbors and hike the 5-mile stretch from Two Harbors to Little Harbor and again. My pals and I all agreed this was essentially the most scenic part of the path. Little Harbor can be rated “One of the Best Campgrounds in the West” by Sunset Magazine. This can be a easy 1-2 night time getaway.
  • Another possibility can be to take the ferry on to Two Harbors and hike to Parson’s Landing. This was my favourite campground of the journey and would make an important base camp for a few nights, with a day hike to Starlight Beach.

Making campsite reservations

There is not any free/dispersed tenting on Catalina Island, so that you must make campground reservations earlier than you begin your journey.

Campsites do e book up throughout the busy summer season months, so don’t delay in making your plans, particularly if you’re headed to Catalina on a weekend. Campsites will be booked as much as a 12 months prematurely.

The 5 campsites alongside the Trans Catalina Trail are:

  • Hermit Gulch
  • Black Jack Campground
  • Little Harbor Campground
  • Two Harbors Campground
  • Parson’s Landing Campground

You can e book your Catalina Island campsites on-line. Keep in thoughts that since you’ll be staying at a unique campsite every night time, you’ll want a separate reservation for every night time.

You may also reserve your entire campsites over the telephone. Before you name, browse the official web site which has a ton of details about every campsite. When you realize which internet sites you need, the reservation specialists can assist arrange your itinerary over the telephone primarily based on availability on your complete journey. To e book a reservation over the telephone, name (310) 510-4205. 

Campground Amenities: All of the campgrounds have chemical bogs and most have chilly water showers. The solely campground that doesn’t have potable water is Parson’s Landing. You can select to buy a key at Two Harbors Visitor’s Center which gives you entry to a locker with potable water and firewood at Parson’s Landing.

Camping gear set up and spread out around campsite on Catalina Island
Each campground differs in what is accessible, however all of them have chemical bogs and a fox field. Some have chilly water showers, potable water (Parson’s is the one one which doesn’t have water), picnic tables, and hearth rings.

Getting to Catalina Island

Getting to the island is an journey in itself with the chance to come across some large marine life like whales and dolphins throughout the 60-90 minute boat experience.

Be conscious that the seas can get tough, so if you’re liable to seasickness, plan forward. I extremely suggest taking ginger tablets for seasickness and carrying Sea Bands.

There are two ferry operators that provide each day departures to Catalina Island:

  • Catalina Express presents each day departures to Avalon from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. However, they solely present service to San Pedro from Two Harbors on your return journey.
  • Catalina Flyer presents each day departures to Avalon from Newport Beach. They don’t supply ferry service to/from Two Harbors.

Another possibility for attending to Catalina Island is a 15-minute helicopter experience from Long Beach to Avalon which runs as much as $179 per particular person every approach.

FERRY TIMINGS: There are a few choices for timing your ferry rides to and from Catalina.

Arrival: You have two choices for arriving on the island:

  • The first is to take the earliest ferry of the day so that you get to the island as early as potential. The earliest ferry leaves Long Beach at 6:00 am. Ferries from and San Pedro and Dana Point are later within the morning. It’s roughly an hour’s experience to Avalon, so bear in mind, you’ve an 11-mile day forward of you so time is of the essence!
  • Alternatively, if can go away the night time earlier than and keep in a resort if it’s in your price range. Avalon has a restricted variety of inns to select from. You may also camp for an evening within the Hermit Gulch Campground which is only a quick stroll from Avalon.

Departure: The Catalina Express doesn’t run every single day from Two Harbors to San Pedro, so you should definitely examine their schedule earlier than planning your journey.

I like to recommend getting a late afternoon ferry from Two Harbors, so you’ll be able to have a pleasant chill morning at Parson’s Landing campsite.

If you don’t wish to sail to San Pedro from Two Harbors, the Wildland Express is a bus shuttle service between Two Harbors and Avalon. Reservations are required.

View from the ferry heading into the harbor on Catalina Island
The ferry experience to Catalina Island is a part of the expertise!

Navigating the path

The TCT is fairly well-marked, however I nonetheless extremely suggest stopping within the Catalina Island Conservancy store to choose up an in depth Trans Catalina Island Trail map.

While many of the path was nicely marked, there have been a number of areas the place we obtained confused on the route, so having a tough copy of the map completely got here in useful.

The map additionally signifies the situation of water sources, loos, meals, and different facilities alongside the path.

My TCT Trip Report

I hiked the Trans Catalina Trail in 5 days. Here’s my detailed journey report.

Day 1: Avalon to Black Jack campground (10.7 miles)

  • Potable Water Availability: In Avalon and at Black Jack Campground
  • Best Campsite at Black Jack: #1 (most secluded)

We opted to take an early ferry from Long Beach. Once we obtained to Avalon, our first cease was the Catalina Conservancy workplace (it’s on the way in which to the trailhead). There, we grabbed a map, discovered slightly bit concerning the wildlife and island, and requested our last-minute questions concerning the route. (Note that they don’t open until 8:00 am).

Next, we crammed up water on the town at one among a number of spigots. Also, in case you want any last-minute forgotten objects there may be Vons Express proper down the street from the ferry terminal. However, it’s not like a giant grocery retailer on the mainland and it’s costly, so that you’ll wish to deliver most of what you intend on consuming with you. Check out this put up on Lightweight Vegan Backpacking Food Ideas for my favourite straightforward path meals.

We took our time strolling alongside the waterfront and grabbed breakfast, which meant we obtained a late begin on the path.

To shave off slightly little bit of mileage, we hiked up above Avalon alongside Stage Road and met up with the Trans Catalina Trail close to Haypress Reservoir.

It was a steep ascent alongside a reasonably well-traveled street. Once we lastly linked with the path, it was up-down-up-down-up.

Woman standing behind large welcome sign that says "welcome to Santa Catalina Island. You are entering the protected lands of the Catalina Island Conservency. Treat the land with care and respect"

This a part of the path is the longest stretch you’ll go with out seeing the ocean. It’s additionally highly regarded and dry. I used to be glad to have trekking poles, solar safety, and loads of water.

We arrived at our campsite (Black Jack #1) proper at sunset after 5 straight hours of mountain climbing.

At the time of our go to, no campfires had been allowed on account of extreme drought situations. However, at different instances of the 12 months, you’ll be able to pay for a locker filled with firewood earlier than you permit Avalon.

If campfires are allowed whilst you’re there and also you determine to have one, be certain you perceive secure campfire practices.

Camp gear set up at Blackjack campsite on Catalina Island

Day 2: Black Jack to Two Harbors (8.2 miles)

  • Potable Water Availability: At Black Jack Campground, the Airport, and Little Harbor
  • Best Campsite at Little Harbor: LH12, SH 8, SH 9, SH 10
  • For Firewood at Two Harbors: Call 310-510-4205 the day earlier than your arrival and place an order. It’s $10 per small bundle (which burns for roughly 1.5 hours).

Rise and shine! One of the very best elements of in the present day’s hike is that you just get a fast break after a brief 2.25 miles if you arrive on the Catalina Island Airport.

The Airport within the Sky Restaurant (within the airport) opens at 8:30 am and is open year-round for breakfast burritos, freshly baked cookies, and extra.

Interior of the Airport in the Sky Restaurant on Catalina Island
Stop on the Airport within the Sky Restaurant for lunch or a deal with

From the airport, it’s slightly greater than 5 miles to Little Harbor. Along the way in which, you’ll discover a VERY inexperienced patch of land, which is definitely house to the Santa Catalina Island Vineyard. Don’t get too excited…they don’t supply tastings, however it’s nonetheless a reasonably distinctive sight to see.

You’ll additionally discover some very good buildings which comprise the El Rancho Escondido – the former working Arabian Horse Ranch owned by the Wrigley household (as within the founding father of Wrigley’s gum). The household that owns the winery and vineyard is working to revive the ranch.

Once you begin strolling downhill, you’ll know you might be getting near Little Harbor which consists of two beautiful tiny coves – Shark Harbor and Little Harbor – your own home for night time two.

We had campsite LH10, which was proper on the seaside. The greatest website, in my view, was LH12, which was beachfront and had extra privateness.

For most solitude, snag one of many spots subsequent door at Shark Harbor – LH Shark A, B, or C. I’m undecided what the water state of affairs was over there, so it’s possible you’ll wish to deliver a big reservoir so you’ll be able to carry it again to your campsite.

Tent set up under palm tree in Little Harbor on Catalina Island
Shark Harbor on Catalina Island
Shark Harbor

Apparently, the snorkeling and fishing on this space are among the many greatest on the island. At a minimal, you need to strip off your boots and soak your ft within the sand and water.

This can be the final place you’ll have a sundown view on the TCT because it’s the final campsite that faces west.

Little Harbor Campground on Catalina Island cast in a golden glow from setting sun
Views from above Little Harbor

Day 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors Campground (5.3 miles)

  • Potable Water Availability: At Little Harbor Campground/ at Two Harbors Campground, you should buy a 2.5-gallon jug from the ranger (we had been informed the faucet water right here is mineral-rich and doesn’t style good)
  • Best Campsite at Two Harbors: 11, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • For Firewood at Two Harbors: Purchase if you examine in on the Two Harbors Visitors Center

After leaving Little Harbor, the hike to Two Harbors is not any joke — it’s a troublesome vertical climb, however you’ll be rewarded with among the greatest views of your complete journey.

two backpackers hiking up trail on Trans-Catalina route on Catalina Island with ocean and harbor behind them
The hike from Little Harbor to Two Harbors is simply 5.3 miles, but it surely’s difficult!

As you might be approaching Two Harbors you’ll be capable of stand on prime of the ridge and actually see each side of the ocean encompassing the western finish of the island. 

We additionally encountered a big herd of bison up on this ridge.

View out over mountainous island peninsula on Catalina Island in California

When you hit Two Harbors head to the lovable little grocery retailer for a reward deal with. Whether that’s hand-scooped ice cream or a granola bar, you’ll have loads of time to take a break right here and even seize lunch in order for you.

You’ll see the small pier that you just’ll return to 2 days later when you’re able to board the Catalina Express again to the mainland.

Checking in for the Two Harbors campground will be accomplished on the little constructing connected to the pier.

IMPORTANT: This can be the place you’ll want to verify your Parson’s Landing campsite and get your Parson’s storage key for water/firewood. As a reminder, there isn’t any potable water at Parson’s so that you must ensure you buy the suitable variety of keys on your group so that you have sufficient water for the remainder of the journey. Each locker comes with 1 bundle of wooden and a couple of gallons of water. Keys will not be a part of your Parson’s Landing tenting reservation, so you will want to buy one prematurely or if you get to the Two Harbors Visitor Center. It’s beneficial that you just plan for 1 gallon of water per day per particular person.

We had Site #11 at Two Harbors, which had a improbable view and felt pretty personal. It was a small website nonetheless with solely sufficient flat house for 1 small tent.

Coin-operated scorching showers can be found in Two Harbors in case you really feel such as you want a little bit of a clean-up! (There are chilly showers out there free of charge).

Tent set up in Two Harbors campground on Catalina Island
Site 11 at Two Harbors Campground
Two Harbors Campground // Plan a backpacking trip on the Trans-Catalina Trail on Catalina Island with this trail guide with tips on the best campsites, water availability, gear & more
Sites 1-4 at Two Harbors Campground

Day 4: Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing campground by way of the TCT (6.6 miles)

  • Potable Water Availability: For Parson’s Landing, you’ll have to buy a locker key at Two Harbors earlier than you begin the hike which comes with 2 gallons of water and 1 small bundle of firewood
  • Best Campsite at Parson’s Landing: 1, 2, 8

Leaving Two Harbors, you’ve two totally different choices. The first is to hike by Cat Harbor and proceed up and over the steep Silver Peak Trail, which is the official TCT route.

On this route, you’ll acquire 1800 ft of elevation in 3 miles after which drop proper again all the way down to sea stage the place you’ll attain Parson’s Landing.

Trail signs on ridge line on the Trans-Catalina Trail on Catalina Island in California

The different possibility is to take the cruisy route – 8 miles alongside a dust street that hugs the shoreline your complete approach. This is the route we selected in each instructions. It felt slightly like dishonest, but it surely meant we had extra time to chill out and revel in our wonderful campsite at Parson’s Landing. Plus, we heard the descent from the excessive route was a killer on the knees.

We hiked the street on a Thursday and solely encountered a few vehicles. Along the way in which, you’ll move a number of kids’s camps, however in any other case, it was fairly quiet in November with continuous views.

There are solely eight primitive beachfront campsites at Parson’s so you’ll really feel that you’re at a personal seaside.

We obtained fortunate with website 1 which had essentially the most safety from the wind and was very personal. It was additionally the shadiest, which is nice or dangerous, relying on the time of 12 months and the way a lot solar you need.

Text set up in secluded cove at Parson's Landing Campground on Catalina Island
Parson’s Landing Campground Site 1
Parson's Landing / Plan a backpacking trip on the Trans-Catalina Trail on Catalina Island with this trail guide with tips on the best campsites, water availability, gear & more
Parson’s Landing Sites 4-8

Optional Hike to Starlight Beach

From Parson’s, it’s 5 extra miles to Starlight Beach – 10 miles roundtrip. If you’re into bragging rights and you’ve got the vitality, you’ll be able to proceed on to the very far finish of Catalina Island.

We didn’t do that, however BFT Contributor Kim Vawter (who wrote the unique model of this path information) did. We talked to a few people on the path who made it to Starlight and stated it was good, however they weren’t certain it was value the additional 10 miles.

If you do determine to go, ensure you retailer your entire meals and water in your fox field at Parson’s earlier than you go and take a headlamp.

I’d additionally solely suggest this in the summertime months when the times are longer or in case you plan to spend two full nights at Parson’s.

Day 5: Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors by way of the street and Lion’s Head (7.7 miles)

You’ve formally accomplished the Trans Catalina Trail! Congratulations. Now you simply must hike the 7.7 miles again to Two Harbors to catch your ferry. One of the highlights of this part is passing the picturesque Emerald Bay.

Emerald Bay / Plan a backpacking trip on the Catalina Island Trans-Catalina Trail with this guide including the best campsites, gear, water, and more.
Emerald Bay on Catalina Island

Make certain you time this final leg of your journey proper so that you don’t miss your ferry in Two Harbors.

I extremely suggest arriving on the town with at the very least an hour’s buffer earlier than your ferry boarding so you’ll be able to take pleasure in a chilly beverage on the Harbor Reef Restaurant. Grab a seat outdoors on the patio bar and let all the strain in your muscle mass soften away.

If you’re feeling you want a while within the precise water you can too camp one other night at Two Harbors and lease snorkel gear or kayaks for the day.

Backpackers on the Trans-Catalina Trail with ocean in background

Leave No Trace on the Trans Catalina Trail

There are a number of necessary issues along with your typical Leave No Trace suggestions when backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail:

  • There is wildlife throughout Catalina Island, together with the island fox, bison, and a few pretty aggressive ravens. Never go away your meals unattended. Most of the campsites have fox bins (the identical as bear bins) the place you’ll be able to safely retailer your meals and water.
  • The bison are harmful! Don’t method them for photographs or every other purpose. They can run 35 mph and are totally able to taking you down. They are on the path and within the campgrounds, so keep alert and hold an eye fixed out for any aggressive conduct.
  • There are loos. Please use them! And if nature calls when you’re not close to a rest room, you should definitely comply with Leave No Trace tips for going to the toilet and pack out your rest room paper.

Trans Catalina Backpacking Gear

Start with this 3-day backpacking guidelines. Below I additionally suggest some particular items of drugs that can be useful in your TCT hike.

With the fox bins on the campsites, you don’t want a bear canister.

Note that in November, evenings had been very chilly. I used to be pleased to have a beanie, lengthy pants, and a heat jacket for the evenings.

Photo from inside tent out onto rocky beach on Catalina Island in California
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