Trans-Catalina Trail, 48 miles, 9,000 ft ascent, May 6-8, 2019.

I walk the length of Catalina island, augmenting the recommended route of the Trans-Catalina Trail at both ends and adding several diversions in the middle. There is water at each nightly stop, so I enjoy a feather-light pack.

Trans-Catalina Trail aerial.jpg

The trip starts at the San Pedro Harbor where my Catalina Express boat is dwarfed by one of the holiday cruise boats. I leave Sunday at 5:00 PM to spend the night in Avalon in order to get an early start on Monday. There are three people on my boat. It is remarkable how close Catalina is to Los Angeles and how few people venture there.

The Catalina hills come into view.

San Fran style cioppino and stiff margaritas are an excellent way to commence a hike adventure.

DAY 1- Avalon to Black Jack campground- 17 miles, 3,568 ft ascent

The next morning I walk through the town in search of espresso and admire the Catalina Hotel, one of the more charming old-fashioned buildings.

Avalon harbor. The round building is the old casino.

The worldwide scourge of small harbors.

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To commence I choose a partially off-trail route that follows a ridgeline hitting some peaks and benchmarks, several miles longer than the boring road route up from Avalon.

Many of the highest points feature ribbons of fire-trails.

I sweep around to get my first glimpse of the western face of the island.

The warning sign about bison is convincing; an 1800 lb animal running at 35 mph is impressive.

The one-mile Lone Tree lookout is a worthwhile diversion.

There is a Pynchon-like strangeness to remote scientific equipment positioned in the wilderness.

To my surprise I encounter a few reservoirs filled with water, and some small flowing streams, evidence that we did indeed have a wet winter.

Bison in the path. I end up walking around several, which is not terribly difficult but still unpleasant as my trail runners suck up weed darts, forcing me my to remove shoes many times.

Bison hair.

Day 1 stats from the GAIAGPS app.

Day 2- 18 miles, 2,773 ft ascent.

The hike from the Black Jack campground continues in the heart of the island, circles the airport, descends to Little Harbor campground, and then follows perhaps the most scenic path of the trip along the western ridge to Two Harbors.

I climb Black Jack and Mt. Orizaba.

More strange scientific reporting equipment on Mt Orizaba.

The airport is especially nice with a small cafe and a didactic display about the history of the island.

Of course the Spanish herded the indians off the island so they could become slave workers for the missions.

The mainland is visible, with Palos Verdes (known as “PV” to some) in the foreground.

I arrive midday at Little Harbor, nice spot. Margi has taken the Safari Bus to here and we will walk back together to Two Harbors.

Curious strands of strange blue rock, too extensive and embedded to be dropped paint.

The second half of this day and this path is the most visually natural of the trip, with little visible road or power infrastructure.

Trip totals up to the end of the second day.


I stay at the Banning House Inn at Two Harbors. It is very rustic, quiet, and enjoys great views of the Isthmus.

DAY 3- 13 miles, 2,634 ft.

I start very late at 9 am with a plan to triage my hike at the end if I run out of time to meet the boat I have arranged to pick me up at 6 pm at Emerald Bay. The eastern side of Two harbors is the developed harbor, but it is still very simple and has not changed much in 60 years.

This view shows the third-day hike with the conclusion at Emerald Bay. With another 90 minutes I could go to the extreme end of the island and back, and a common trip plan is to stay at Parson’s Landing for the night, but I choose to take a boat back to my hotel room at Two Harbors.

Southward-looking view of the Two Harbors isthmus.

I enjoy the ribbons of trail seen from above.

There are many Painted Lady butterflies, and caterpillars in the trail.

The only peak register I found on the island was totally jammed with entry books, a total chaos.

Silver Peak, 1,652’, is shrouded in fog all day.

I wonder if these pea-like pods are edible.

I drop into Emerald Bay where there is a large Boy Scout camp.

My chartered boat takes me back to Two Harbors, saving me the last two hours of hiking on the very boring road.

Back at the Banning House, a few foxes are unafraid of humans and are sneaking around. They are sort of half-cat half-dog, but definitely lacking any emphathetic human connection.

I enjoyed the trip. The scenery does not vary much but there are many remarkable views. The hiking is easy, with potable water available almost every half-day. Although it was overcast and cool, I was aware of more humidity than on the mainland and would not want to do this hike on hot summer days.