Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail: Permits, Itineraries, Gear and More

Plan a backpacking trip on the Trans-Catalina Trail on Catalina Island with this guide to the best campsites, water availability, gear & more.

A woman smiles on the Trans Catalina Trail in California. She's wearing the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie and Oboz hiking boots

Located only 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is an inhabited island that offers amazing kelp forest diving, wildlife, and turns out…some pretty epic camping, hiking, and backpacking on the Trans Catalina Trail.

The Trans Catalina Trail is a 40-mile trail that traverses the entire island with amazing beachfront camping, some challenging climbs, non-stop views, solitude (in November when I hiked), and even a couple of restaurants along the way.

I grew up going to Catalina, so when I learned about the Trans Catalina Trail, I knew I had to do it. So I organized trip for Ryan, myself, and another friend, and we spent 5 days transversing the hillsides and coastlines of this California treasure.

It was a fantastic trip that I’d highly recommend for anyone who is looking for outdoor adventure in Southern California. Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail is also a trip you can do long after backpacking season is typically over in the mountains. In this post, I share everything you need to know about hiking the entire Trans Catalina Trail.

As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established rules. 

Trans Catalina Trail Stats & FAQs

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

  • Total Distance: 38.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain Loss: +/-7,940 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Days needed: 2-5 days
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes (except for Two Harbors Campground)
  • Advanced Reservations Required: Yes (see the next section)
  • Number of Recommended Nights: 4 nights / 5 days (minimum)
  • Cell Service: Sporadic

TransCatalina Trail Map

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

The full trail 38.5 miles. Hikers typically start in Avalon and end in Two Harbors after hiking a loop around the northwest peninsula of the island.

How many days does it take to hike the TCT?

Most people hike the Trans Catalina Trail in 3-5 days. See below for itinerary options.

How difficult is the Trans Catalina Trail?

the Trans Catalina Trail is no walk in the park — it is hard. Over the course of the trip, there is plenty of up, down, up, down – in total over 7,940 feet in elevation gain/loss.

There is also a lot of sun exposure and no shade along the trail, meaning it can get very hot in peak summer months so be sure to bring sun protection.

With that being said, this hike across Catalina Island takes you through an incredibly unique and beautiful ecosystem, and the experience was more than worth the challenge. There are also some alternative route options you can take if you want to avoid some of the elevation gain and loss or if you simply don’t have enough time for the entire route (I share some alternative itineraries below).

Is the Trans Catalina Trail remote?

This is not a traditional wilderness backpacking trip. Some of the hike is right on the road where you will encounter the occasional vehicle.

Also, at the Airport, you’ll find a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch and in Two Harbors, they have a full-blown general store, restaurant, and bar.

Is the Trans Catalina Trail well-marked?

Yes, the TCT is well-marked. However, I still recommend picking up a map at the Catalina Island Conservancy shop where you can purchase a detailed Trans Catalina Island Trail map.

What direction should I hike the Trans Catalina Trail?

This one-way trail can be traveled in either direction, but I recommend starting in the town of Avalon and ending your hike at Parson’s Landing (returning on the ferry via Two Harbors). In this direction, the views and solitude only improve as you hike.

Do I need a hiking permit for the TCT?

Your camping reservations will serve as your permit to hike the Trans Catalina Trail, so be sure to carry a copy with you. (See more about camping below)

You don’t need an additional permit unless you will be day hiking on the island, and in that case, you’ll need to request a free permit.

How long does it take to hike the Trans Catalina Trail

The most popular TCT backpacking itinerary is 5 days/4 nights. If you’re an experienced hiker, you could do it in 4 days. See more about planning your itinerary below.

What is the water availability?

There is no potable water on the trail in between the campgrounds, but water is available at Black Jack, Little Harbor, and Two Harbors campgrounds. For the last night at Parson’s, you’ll need to purchase a locker key that gives you access to a 2-gallon jug of water.

I recommend that when you hit the trail each morning, you have at least 3-4 liters of water for the day.

Best time of year to hike the TCT

Catalina Island typically sees more than 260 days of sun per year.

My recommendation is to hike between September through early November for the most comfortable temperatures and the highest likelihood of sunshine.

Graph of Catalina Island average temperatures and rainfall
Average temperatures and rainfall on Catalina Island
  • Spring: This is a beautifully vibrant time to hike with green hillsides and a trail full of wildflowers. Views may be obscured by fog.
  • Summer: With a lack of shade on the trail, the summer months can be very hot and dry. There is no water available between campgrounds on a majority of the trail, and the trail can feel much hotter than the temperature might indicate.
  • Fall: Comfortable temps and lots of sunshine. The only downside of the fall months is that the landscape is very brown.
  • Winter: Most of the rainfall on Catalina Island occurs between December and March, and when it rains in California, it can pour. These months are the riskiest for weather, but then again, you could luck out.

You may have heard the saying “May Gray, June Gloom” for California. During these months, there’s a good chance Catalina will be engulfed in fog. Hiking temperatures will be comfortable, but you may not get the sunny California views you are hoping for.

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

Planning your trip

Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail does take a good bit of planning between getting there, making campsite reservations, and packing all the necessary gear.

Below I dive into everything you need to know about planning your TCT trip.

Choosing an itinerary

The Trans Catalina Trail can be done in 3-5 days. A 3-day trek will be quite challenging with lots of elevation gain and longer days.

We wanted to take our time and enjoy the incredible scenery, so we chose a 5-day itinerary, which allowed us to move at a relaxed pace and really take in the experience.

Here are three different Trans Catalina trail 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 back 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 back 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 (consider neighboring Shark Harbor for more 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 via the TCT (6.7 miles/+1,773 ft)
  • Day 5: Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors via the road and Lion’s Head (6.9 miles/+516 ft)

Down below in the trip report, I go into detail about each day’s trek.

Backpacking hiking on ridge line trail on the Trans-Catalina Route
The TCT is very hilly with long, steep climbs. Choose an itinerary that suits your fitness and hiking experience

Crunched for time?

If you want to experience the Trans Catalina Trail but don’t have time to do the whole thing, here are a few alternative options:

  • Take the ferry directly to Two Harbors and hike the 5-mile stretch from Two Harbors to Little Harbor and back. My friends and I all agreed this was the most scenic section of the trail. Little Harbor is also rated “One of the Best Campgrounds in the West” by Sunset Magazine. This would be a simple 1-2 night getaway.
  • Another option would be to take the ferry directly to Two Harbors and hike to Parson’s Landing. This was my favorite campground of the trip and would make a great base camp for a couple of nights, with a day hike to Starlight Beach.

Making campsite reservations

There is no free/dispersed camping on Catalina Island, so you need to make campground reservations before you start your trip.

Campsites do book up during the busy summer months, so don’t delay in making your plans, especially if you are headed to Catalina on a weekend. Campsites can be booked up to a year in advance.

The five campsites along the Trans Catalina Trail are:

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

You can book your Catalina Island campsites online. Keep in mind that since you will be staying at a different campsite each night, you’ll need a separate reservation for each night.

You can also reserve all of your campsites over the phone. Before you call, browse the official website which has a ton of information about each campsite. When you know which sites you want, the reservation specialists can help set up your itinerary over the phone based on availability for your entire trip. To book a reservation over the phone, call (310) 510-4205. 

Campground Amenities: All of the campgrounds have chemical toilets and most have cold water showers. The only campground that doesn’t have potable water is Parson’s Landing. You can choose to purchase a key at Two Harbors Visitor’s Center which will give you access 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 available, but they all have chemical toilets and a fox box. Some have cold water showers, potable water (Parson’s is the only one that doesn’t have water), picnic tables, and fire rings.

Getting to Catalina Island

Getting to the island is an adventure in itself with the opportunity to encounter some big marine life like whales and dolphins during the 60-90 minute boat ride.

Be aware that the seas can get rough, so if you are prone to seasickness, plan ahead. I highly recommend taking ginger pills for seasickness and wearing Sea Bands.

There are two ferry operators that offer daily departures to Catalina Island:

  • Catalina Express offers daily departures to Avalon from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. However, they only provide service to San Pedro from Two Harbors for your return trip.
  • Catalina Flyer offers daily departures to Avalon from Newport Beach. They do not offer ferry service to/from Two Harbors.

Another option for getting to Catalina Island is a 15-minute helicopter ride from Long Beach to Avalon which runs up to $179 per person each way.

FERRY TIMINGS: There are a couple of options for timing your ferry rides to and from Catalina.

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

  • The first is to take the earliest ferry of the day so you get to the island as early as possible. The earliest ferry leaves Long Beach at 6:00 am. Ferries from and San Pedro and Dana Point are later in the morning. It’s roughly an hour’s ride to Avalon, so remember, you have an 11-mile day ahead of you so time is of the essence!
  • Alternatively, if can leave the night before and stay in a hotel if it’s in your budget. Avalon has a limited number of hotels to choose from. You can also camp for a night in the Hermit Gulch Campground which is just a short walk from Avalon.

Departure: The Catalina Express doesn’t run every day from Two Harbors to San Pedro, so be sure to check their schedule before planning your trip.

I recommend getting a late afternoon ferry from Two Harbors, so you can have a nice chill morning at Parson’s Landing campsite.

If you don’t want 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 ride to Catalina Island is part of the experience!

Navigating the trail

The TCT is pretty well-marked, but I still highly recommend stopping in the Catalina Island Conservancy shop to pick up a detailed Trans Catalina Island Trail map.

While most of the trail was well marked, there were a few areas where we got confused on the route, so having a hard copy of the map absolutely came in handy.

The map also indicates the location of water sources, bathrooms, food, and other amenities along the trail.

My TCT Trip Report

I hiked the Trans Catalina Trail in 5 days. Here’s my detailed trip 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 got to Avalon, our first stop was the Catalina Conservancy office (it’s on the way to the trailhead). There, we grabbed a map, learned a little bit about the wildlife and island, and asked our last-minute questions about the route. (Note that they don’t open till 8:00 am).

Next, we filled up water in town at one of several spigots. Also, if you need any last-minute forgotten items there is Vons Express right down the road from the ferry terminal. However, it’s not like a big grocery store on the mainland and it’s expensive, so you’ll want to bring most of what you plan on eating with you. Check out this post on Lightweight Vegan Backpacking Food Ideas for my favorite easy trail meals.

We took our time walking along the waterfront and grabbed breakfast, which meant we got a late start on the trail.

To shave off a little bit of mileage, we hiked up above Avalon along Stage Road and met up with the Trans Catalina Trail near Haypress Reservoir.

It was a steep ascent along a fairly well-traveled road. Once we finally connected with the trail, 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 part of the trail is the longest stretch you’ll go without seeing the ocean. It’s also very hot and dry. I was glad to have trekking poles, sun protection, and plenty of water.

We arrived at our campsite (Black Jack #1) right at sundown after 5 straight hours of hiking.

At the time of our visit, no campfires were allowed due to severe drought conditions. However, at other times of the year, you can pay for a locker full of firewood before you leave Avalon.

If campfires are allowed while you’re there and you decide to have one, be sure you understand safe 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 before your arrival and place an order. It’s $10 per small bundle (which burns for approximately 1.5 hours).

Rise and shine! One of the best parts of today’s hike is that you get a quick break after a short 2.25 miles when you arrive at the Catalina Island Airport.

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

Interior of the Airport in the Sky Restaurant on Catalina Island
Stop at the Airport in the Sky Restaurant for lunch or a treat

From the airport, it’s a little more than 5 miles to Little Harbor. Along the way, you’ll notice a VERY green patch of land, which is actually home to the Santa Catalina Island Vineyard. Don’t get too excited…they don’t offer tastings, but it is still a pretty unique sight to see.

You’ll also notice some very nice buildings which comprise the El Rancho Escondido – the former working Arabian Horse Ranch owned by the Wrigley family (as in the founder of Wrigley’s gum). The family that owns the vineyard and winery is working to restore the ranch.

Tip: If you are hurting or the trail is proving to be harder than you thought it would be, you do have the option to take a Catalina Island Conservancy Wildlands Express Shuttle from the airport to Little Harbor.

Once you start walking downhill, you’ll know you are getting close to Little Harbor which consists of two gorgeous tiny coves – Shark Harbor and Little Harbor – your home for night two.

We had campsite LH10, which was right on the beach. The best site, in my opinion, was LH12, which was beachfront and had more privacy.

For maximum solitude, snag one of the spots next door at Shark Harbor – LH Shark A, B, or C. I’m not sure what the water situation was over there, so you may want to bring a large reservoir so you can carry it back 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 in this area are among the best on the island. At a minimum, you should strip off your boots and soak your feet in the sand and water.

This is also the last place you’ll have a sunset view on the TCT since it’s the last 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 can purchase a 2.5-gallon jug from the ranger (we were told the tap water here is mineral-rich and doesn’t taste good)
  • Best Campsite at Two Harbors: 11, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • For Firewood at Two Harbors: Purchase when you check in at the Two Harbors Visitors Center

After leaving Little Harbor, the hike to Two Harbors is no joke — it is a difficult vertical climb, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the entire trip.

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 only 5.3 miles, but it’s challenging!

As you are approaching Two Harbors you’ll be able to stand on top of the ridge and literally see both sides of the ocean encompassing the western end of the island. 

We also encountered a large 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 cute little grocery store for a reward treat. Whether that’s hand-scooped ice cream or a granola bar, you’ll have plenty of time to take a break here and even grab lunch if you want.

You’ll see the small pier that you’ll return to two days later when you are ready to board the Catalina Express back to the mainland.

Checking in for the Two Harbors campground can be completed at the little building attached to the pier.

IMPORTANT: This is also where you will want to confirm your Parson’s Landing campsite and get your Parson’s storage key for water/firewood. As a reminder, there is no potable water at Parson’s so you need to make sure you purchase the appropriate number of keys for your group so you have enough water for the rest of the journey. Each locker comes with 1 bundle of wood and 2 gallons of water. Keys are not part of your Parson’s Landing camping reservation, so you will need to purchase one in advance or when you get to the Two Harbors Visitor Center. It’s recommended that you plan for 1 gallon of water per day per person.

We had Site #11 at Two Harbors, which had a fantastic view and felt fairly private. It was a small site however with only enough flat space for 1 small tent.

Coin-operated hot showers are available in Two Harbors if you feel like you need a bit of a clean-up! (There are cold showers available for free).

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 via the TCT (6.6 miles)

  • Potable Water Availability: For Parson’s Landing, you’ll need to purchase a locker key at Two Harbors before you start 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 have two different options. The first is to hike through Cat Harbor and continue up and over the steep Silver Peak Trail, which is the official TCT route.

On this route, you’ll gain 1800 feet of elevation in 3 miles and then drop right back down to sea level where you’ll reach Parson’s Landing.

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

The other option is to take the cruisy route – 8 miles along a dirt road that hugs the coastline the entire way. This is the route we chose in both directions. It felt a little like cheating, but it meant we had more time to relax and enjoy our amazing campsite at Parson’s Landing. Plus, we heard the descent from the high route was a killer on the knees.

We hiked the road on a Thursday and only encountered a couple of cars. Along the way, you’ll pass a few children’s camps, but otherwise, it was pretty quiet in November with non-stop views.

There are only eight primitive beachfront campsites at Parson’s so you are going to feel that you are at a private beach.

We got lucky with site 1 which had the most protection from the wind and was very private. It was also the shadiest, which is good or bad, depending on the time of year and how much sun you want.

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 is 5 more miles to Starlight Beach – 10 miles roundtrip. If you’re into bragging rights and you have the energy, you can continue on to the very far end of Catalina Island.

We didn’t do this, but BFT Contributor Kim Vawter (who wrote the original version of this trail guide) did. We talked to a couple of other folks on the trail who made it to Starlight and said it was nice, but they weren’t sure it was worth the extra 10 miles.

If you do decide to go, make sure you store all of your food and water in your fox box at Parson’s before you go and take a headlamp.

I’d also only recommend this in the summer months when the days are longer or if you plan to spend two full nights at Parson’s.

Day 5: Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors via the road and Lion’s Head (7.7 miles)

You’ve officially completed the Trans Catalina Trail! Congratulations. Now you just have to hike the 7.7 miles back to Two Harbors to catch your ferry. One of the highlights of this section 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 sure you time this last leg of your trip right so you don’t miss your ferry in Two Harbors.

I highly recommend arriving in town with at least an hour’s buffer before your ferry boarding so you can enjoy a cold beverage at the Harbor Reef Restaurant. Grab a seat outside on the patio bar and let all the tension in your muscles melt away.

If you are feeling you need some time in the actual water you can also camp another evening at Two Harbors and rent snorkel equipment 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 few important considerations in addition to your typical Leave No Trace recommendations when backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail:

  • There is wildlife all over Catalina Island, including the island fox, bison, and some fairly aggressive ravens. Never leave your food unattended. Most of the campsites have fox boxes (the same as bear bins) where you can safely store your food and water.
  • The bison are dangerous! Don’t approach them for photos or any other reason. They can run 35 mph and are fully capable of taking you down. They are on the trail and in the campgrounds, so stay alert and keep an eye out for any aggressive behavior.
  • There are bathrooms. Please use them! And if nature calls when you are not near a bathroom, be sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines for going to the bathroom and pack out your toilet paper.
Bison on Catalina Island
Tips for Catalina Island

Trans Catalina Backpacking Gear

Start with this 3-day backpacking checklist. Below I also recommend some specific pieces of gear that will be helpful on your TCT hike.

With the fox boxes at the campsites, you don’t need a bear canister.

Note that in November, evenings were very cold. I was happy to have a beanie, long pants, and a warm jacket for the evenings.

Photo from inside tent out onto rocky beach on Catalina Island in California
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Would you like to backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail? Share your comments, questions, and experiences below.

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  1. Having spent many of my summers lounging around on Catalina, the CTC has been on my bucket list for awhile. What a great write-up!
    Also happy to see you discovered Buffalo Milk – no trip to Two Harbors is complete without one (or two)!

    1. I like them when I’m backpacking. They help stabalize and distribute the weight and also help your knees on descents. For day hiking, I find them to be a nuisance unless the trail is really steep.

  2. Hi! This website/blog is so helpful!! I’m looking to hike the trans-catalina trail this summer with a friend. She and I are both in great shape. However, this is her first time backpacking, and I was wondering if there was any way to cut down the mileage for days 1 and 3 (the 15 mile days) and split it into two separate days? We don’t mind making the trip longer but I’d want to know if there were rules against pitching our tent off-trail somewhere. Thanks so much!

    1. You should call the rangers office to check, but I’m pretty sure they require that you camp in established campgrounds. This is also a good idea because I believe its the only place where there is water available. Have fun out there and come back and tell me about it!

  3. Thanks so much for all of the information. I hiked the trail last week for four days from Avalon to Starlight/Parsons. We lucked out with cloud cover most of the time, otherwise it would have been very hot. On the west side of the island, I ended up hiking the Silver Peak Trail all the way to starlight beach, then took the TCT trail back to Parson’s landing. The Silver Peak Trail cuts the miles down by one or two, you avoid the steep descent to Parsons, and you avoid doing 3.5 miles of the TCT twice. I missed about 2 miles of the actual TCT that descends to Parsons, but would highly recommend this approach as the scenery from the ridge was amazing.

  4. How did you handle the food and smellables when it was time to sleep? The last thing any backpacker would want is to have all their food stolen by cheeky small mammals and such.

  5. i just booked our campsites for October! I’m so excited, and now wondering if I should add in another night so we can enjoy the Harbor Reef or camp at Little Harbor!

  6. Hello and thanks for the great post!
    For the first 15 mile day one hike from Avalon, if you hike from town from the mile 7 marker instead of mile 0, does that mean the hike to the black jack would only be 8 miles. Only asking because we probably won’t be able to say our hike till about 11 am realistically. We’re heading down from San Francisco and will have about 4 nights/4.5 days and want to get as much of the trail in as we can.
    Thanks so much and hope the PCT rocked!

  7. Thx so much for the info! I will be doing the entire trail and staying a night at Little Harbor as reccomended. I have 2 questions. 1. Do I pick up my firewood key for little horbor in Avalon? 2. The HARDEST part of booking this entire trip is finding isoprophel fuel for my stove?? I cant find anyone in Avalon that sells it. Im flying into LAX so I cant carry it on the plane. thx!!

  8. Great post! Thanks for the info and beautiful pictures 🙂 I am considering doing this hike over Christmas/New Years, but cannot seem to find any precedent for it. In your opinion, would the campsites and trail provide a good time during December? Thanks!

    1. Khevin, from our trip there a few weeks ago I didn’t see any lockers at Little Harbor. They have a water spigot there and you can have your firewood delivered by a ranger and you can put that order in at Hermit Gulch in Avalon. Sometimes there is a resident ranger staying there and we actually got our firewood from him.
      The place where you check in for your locker is at Two Harbors for Parsons Landing. Happy and safe travels!

  9. Headed down in November and used this post for 95% of our info! Thanks so much!
    One thing I would add for budgeting purposes is that EACH site has a $9.50 service fee and at least for Thanksgiving week there’s a three day minimum at two harbors and the cabins and tent cabins all have “per person” fees making them almost $100 a night.

  10. We just got back! Thanks again for the guidelines for this trip!
    When we got to Two Harbors they refunded is the extra 2 nights they had required previously in the above comment. Originally when I called to reserve I mentioned I was hiking and they said it would still be a three night minimum but the awesome gentleman at the office refunded us for the two nights we weren’t planning to use. AWESOME!
    Also if you’re a beer person like me and take the San Pedro ferry hit up this beer garden on your way out of town.( just a few miles from the dock)

  11. My wife and I just got back as well! It was a FANTASTIC trip and we even got stuck in a thunderstorm on our 3rd day at Little Harbor! We got some absolutely gorgeous rain-washed views the next couple days!
    We’ll be doing a full write-up soon, but one word of WARNING, NO STORES IN AVALON SELL BUTANE fuel canisters, only propane. We were recommended to try the hardware store, but that closed at 6 pm. However, we completely lucked out in that the ranger at Hermit Gulch was 1. Incredibly nice and helpful, and 2. had butane canisters for sale. Thanks so much, Josh!
    The general store in Two Harbors sells butane, so you’re good to go if you’re starting from there. Suggestion: get your butane from the mainland. As long as it’s safely stored, it’ll be fine on the ferry. They don’t check your bags at all (shhh) Happy travels!

    1. Hello Caroline! I didn’t have a problem with wildlife at all since the island is fairly remote. I generally pack all of my food in one large ziploc bag. If you are concerned you could use a simple bear box or an Ursack bear bag.

  12. This is great info! Will be hiking this trail later this month and am getting all my research in! Quick question: Where were you able to buy the Catalina Trail patch?

  13. This has been very helpful. Thank you! My daughters, good friend and myself will be hiking this in June 2017. First backpacking trip with my girls.

    1. Heather, that is really awesome to hear! You are going to love the trip! Have a Buffalo Milk for me at the end. Congrats on your upcoming hike. -Kim

  14. Hey! I am backpacking Catalina Island in a little less than a week, and I am so excited! Thanks for your post it was super helpful in planning… I have one logistical questions… did you park your car at the San Pedro Ferry Terminal parking lot for the duration of your trip? I am wondering how safe the parking lot it, and if I should plan to leave my car there, or figure out another way.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hello Aimee, I did indeed park my car at the San Pedro Ferry Terminal and it was perfectly fine. I think there are so many people there everyday for day trips to Catalina that it was completely safe.

  15. I love this! Thank you. Im planning on the trail for thanksgiving break, is that a good time of year to go? Also, where did you get the trail patch?! Definitely need that when I complete the trail!

    1. Hello! Thanksgiving break is an awesome time to go! So exciting to hear you are spending your break outdoors exploring. I got the patch in Two Harbors at the little general store–I love it as well!

  16. Thanks for this awesome guide, it’s been my bible in planning my upcoming trip in late-October.
    Did you have any problems with bugs? No sure if we should waste the weight of repellent or not.

    1. Hi Carina, so great to hear the guide has been helpful! We’d love to hear post trip how your experience went. We did not have any problems with bugs at all. You could bring a really small container as a back-up just to be safe as island conditions can change based on numerous factors.

  17. Thank you for sharing your experience, this has been very helpful. I am doing the hike with my aunt in March 2018 – so excited! I’m curious to know what I can do to train for this considering the climate and elevation change from CO to CA. I’m hoping the dry Colorado air and higher elevation will help me train better for the trip, but I’m no expert. What are your thoughts?

    1. Hello! I think you are going to do great coming from Colorado. I’d find some short hikes with high elevation gain for training. Also, do you enjoy yoga at all? It is really helpful for strengthening your joints. Don’t forget to train a bit on some hikes with your backpack on and fully loaded, start with flat hikes then add elevation.

  18. My sister did this hike a few months ago, it looks beautiful! I haven’t been to Catalina since 6th grade camp and tend to forget about it as a hiking destination but it’s such a great option for getting away in Southern California. I’d love to get back out there one of these days!

  19. I just completed this hike yesterday. Very challenging, but fun! The big thing to note is that about 3 weeks ago (roughly end of Sept) the official trail changed routes. I only accidentally found this out when I got there. But the route changes were enough that it altered my campground choices for the last couple of nights. Get an updated map from the Conservancy!

    1. Thanks, Marc! This is so helpful to learn. We will get on that right away! So glad to hear you enjoyed the trek.

    2. Hey Marc! I just took a look at the updated map. It looks like they adjusted the start to be just from town and not farther East up the canyon. It also looks like they adjusted the end into Parson’s Landing to be a loop. We actually did the loop when I hiked it. We hiked in on the South side mountain trail (best views) and out on the zig-zag road. Can you elaborate on how this altered your campground choices? Thanks for the heads-up on the new map!

  20. If you are reaching out to foreigners to get them to visit your island you really should use metric. Even here in Canada only old people understand Emperial anymore. Think of it like writing everything in some foreign language. It’s not going to get through to your visitors at all. Of course maybe you are trying to get Liberia and Myanmar Nationals to come visit. Temperatures, Weights, Distances…

  21. Hi -We are thinking of doing this hike over Memorial Day ..hopefully it won’t be too hot! About how long did it take you to do the 15 miles? Trying to get a rough estimate of how long each day will take us on the actual trail. Thanks and Aloha!

    1. Aloha Misha, you should be okay around Memorial Day! Hopefully, there be some good cloud coverage (for shade) & also a breeze. I’d estimate 6-7 hours for 15 miles. Generally, my hiking pace is a 20-minute mile when I have a pack on but with the elevation and the heat allow plenty of time to stretch & take breaks. Remember you’re on an island so if you get to your destination early you can jump in the water & play!

  22. Hi Kim ! Thanks for your very informative post 🙂 my two friends I will be backpacking this Late June and wanted to know two things: is the weather going to be extremely hot? And how should prepare for the wild boar we may encounter? Haha thanks in advance

    1. Hey Leona, luckily California gets a bit of June gloom so temperatures most likely will be close to low 70’s. Don’t forget your sunscreen but I wouldn’t be super nervous about insane heat in June. In terms of the wild boar, I assume you mean buffalo. Just be aware of their presence and make noise as you are hiking and keep your distance from them as you would with any other wildlife.

  23. Where did you get that Catalina Trail patch…? I love it! I’m going next month and your post was full of helpful information I appreciate it. My daypack is covered in patches from my trips and I have to get a Catalina one!

    1. Hey James! So great to hear you are heading to Catalina. I got it at the General Store in Two Harbors.

  24. Where did you purchase your Catalina Trail patch?! My friends and I just completed the TCT and the patches at the Two Harbors gift shop were not nearly that cute—I would love to buy the one in your photo!

    1. Hi Cleo! I got mine at the Two Harbors grocery store—maybe they changed the patches? I love it! How did you enjoy the trail? I’m thinking about re-hiking it maybe this summer, it really is a great trail, isn’t it?

      1. I’m doing the Revers Route this August solo. Sites are all booked and if you want to join hit me up. I’m a little worried about arriving at Two Harbors a little late to start the trek and leaving around 10:30 AM. I’m planing on taking Silver Peak Trail all the way to Starlight Beach then to Parson’s Landing. My Pack weight is currently 35 pounds (with 5 Liters of water). Has anyone done the CTC with a 35 + pound Pack, and how was it?

  25. For a 3 night/ 4 day or 4 night/5 day trip along the TCT, what backpack capacity would you recommend: 50L or 65L?

    1. Honestly, I would recommend a 50L because it is going to keep you from overpacking. In my opinion, 65L is really big and is more for backpacking multiple nights in bear country–for the Trans-Cat I would try to keep things light since you’re going to be needing to carry a good deal of water as well. Go with a 50L.

  26. We are planning to hike the trans Catalina trail for Christmas! Thank you so much for your blog! It’s super helpful:)

  27. According to the map and other sources. The TCT from Avalon to Starlight Beach and back to Two Harbors is about 49 miles and not the 45 miles you wrote in the description. Even your 4 day breakdown shows it to be 49miles. You should revise it.

    1. Hi there! Thanks so much for reaching out. The trail mileage changes frequently, the year I hiked the trail it was about 45 miles. I did hear recently that they are restoring a small section and that caused it to lengthen a bit. Thank you for the information.

  28. Hi!! I was wondering if you have hiked Havasupai and if you could compare the difficulty of the two trails. I’d appreciate any info!

    1. Hi Molly, I haven’t unfortunately hiked Havasupai but Kristen has and I can chat with her to see compare the level of difficulty! Stay tuned 😉

  29. I want to Thank YOU for providing all of this information.
    If you ever need a good soak, I recommend Epsom Salt.
    Please read the package details.

    1. Hi Andrea! Thanks for your comment—we included our love for a good foot soak in our post on taking care of your feet for hikers & preventing blisters. I love nothing more than a nice warm foot soak post hiking.

  30. Great write up! I did the trail last spring and loved it but definitely thought it was challenging. I would agree that I would’ve liked to have stayed in Little Harbor Campground, it looked great! I’m also jealous you got to try the Buffalo Milk drink, my ferry came too early and they weren’t open yet. Gives me a reason to go back, right?!

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this report. If I would have done a report, this is the way I would have done it with the water sources and best campsite. I love it!
    I don’t have to plan, you’ve done the work for me! Thank you!

    1. Glad to hear that, Sonia. That’s our goal, to simplify plans for our community so you can spend more time adventuring. Happy trails!

  32. Thanks for this great post. Helped me plan my trip!
    Here’s some additional info for those in search of camping fuel in Avalon. I was flying into LAX so I couldn’t bring my own. Only one plac seems to carry it Chet’s hardware. It’s on the expensive side, but they had dozens of MRS canisters. So no worries there! I cansay I was VERY happy to find some after lucking out at Vons (they only carry the big coleman propane stuff).

  33. Hi, Kristen – I just finished a wonderful 5 days of backpacking the TCT. Your guide was immensely helpful for planning the trip. I decided on a leisurely 5 nights beginning with Hermit Gulch and ending with Two Harbors. One of the best pieces of advice you gave was to buy the TCT map from the Catalina Conservancy Office. There were a few spots on the trail when it really came in handy. Also, for those who travel from out of state, the office sells propane canisters which was a bit of an issue for me because I came in from Seattle via airplane and couldn’t carry it on board. Thanks again for writing such a useful guide.

  34. I am a huge world traveler and outdoor backpacker. This is by far the best travel/trip-prep article I have ever read! The article was super concise and all the key information you need for this trip was touched on with links to provide more information. Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing. I am looking forward to my Catalina adventures!

    1. Thanks so much for that feedback, Katie! We really appreciate it. Have fun when you do make it out to Catalina!

  35. This guide is amazing! Would you recommend special sand stakes for tents, or are normal stakes fine?

    1. We had normal stakes and they worked fine. You might need to place rocks on top of the stakes if the ground is extra soft.

    1. Dogs are allowed on the Trans-Catalina Trail (although not at Hermit Gulch or Two Harbors Campgrounds). A few things to keep in mind are: there is very little to no water availability between campgrounds, so you would need to bring extra water for your dog; shade is hard to come by; dogs are expected to be kept on leashes; buffalo and other wildlife can be easily spooked by dogs.