Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail: All You Need To Know

Backpacking Trans Catalina Trail Catalina Island California

With rolling green hills, blue water, hidden beach coves & jagged ocean cliffs, the Trans-Catalina Trail is one of the most scenic backpacking hikes that you can possibly do in Southern California.

This year we finally decided to check this trail off our California hiking bucket list. However, planning a trip to Catalina Island & hiking the Trans-Catalina trail can be a bit tricky, especially if you are new to backpacking.

You’ll need to consider how much time you can spend on this hike, what campsites are available, what ferry to take, and what to bring along on this adventure.

To help you plan and make the most of this hike, here is our detailed guide covering all you need to know for backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail!

If you’re looking for specific answers, check out the sections below to help you find answers quickly.

Quick Trail Facts

Before we dive into the details, here are a few Trans-Catalina Trail facts to give you an overall idea of the hike:

  • Length: 38.5 miles
  • Days needed: 3-5
  • Trail difficulty: moderate to hard
  • Elevation gain: 1600 ft at the highest point
  • Arriving Location: Avalon
  • Departing Location: Two Harbors

Trail Description

The Trans-Catalina Trail is one of the best hikes to do in California, whether you’re new to hiking or a seasoned backpacker. You have the option to do the entire trail at 38.5 miles or just do portions of it depending on how much time you have available, your fitness level, and your hiking expertise.

Although 38.5 miles can sound pretty intimidating (especially for first-time backpackers) you really have nothing to worry about. You’re never super far from civilization, most of the island has cell service and if you can’t make it to the next campsite, you have the option to hop on a shuttle to take you there.

Plus the weather in Southern California is pretty mild so you’re almost guaranteed sunshine, clear skies, and pretty views – all year long.

Map of the Trans-Catalina Trail:

Ideally, you want to spend 5 days hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail at a comfortable speed but most people can’t take that much time off work.

Most people do this trek in 4 days breaking up the camping options as follows:

  • Day 1. Avalon to Black Jack – 10.7 miles
  • Day 2. Black Jack to Two Harbors – 13.5 miles
  • Day 3. Two Harbors To Parson’s Landing – 7.7 miles
  • Day 4. Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors – 6.6 miles

Another popular 4-day option is:

  • Day 1. Avalon to Black Jack – 10.7 miles
  • Day 2. Black Jack to Little Harbor – 8.2 miles
  • Day 3. Little Harbor to Parson’s Landing – 13 miles
  • Day 4. Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors – 6.6 miles

Personally, we could only spare 3 days for this adventure so we really pushed ourselves and hiked a lot each day in order to complete this trek in time. But the beauty of this trail is that it’s pretty flexible and can be easily adjustable to your needs.

Here is our 3-day breakdown:

  • Day 1. Avalon to Black Jack – 10.7 miles
  • Day 2. Black Jack to Two Harbors – 13.5 miles
  • Day 3. Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing & back to Two Harbors – 14.3 miles

The only part of the Trans-Catalina Trail that can’t really be broken up is the Avalon to Black Jack portion– this section is 10.7 miles long and has to be done in one day.

If you have the option, adding a night at the Little Harbor is well worth it. It’s the most scenic campsite on the island and is claimed to be one of the best sunset spots in Southern California. But this campsite is very popular and often gets booked up early.

If you’re short on time, you have the option to skip Parson’s Landing completely – this is an additional loop and not part of the section that goes across the island. OR you can just do the Parson’s Landing section from Two Harbors if you want to do an overnight backpacking trip instead of hiking the entire Catalina island.

Some people also do the hike in reverse and start at Two Harbors and end in Avalon since Avalon offers more boat options and times for getting back to the mainland.

One of the things to keep in mind as you plan your campsites and trail breakdown is the elevation gain. The trail starts and ends at sea level but has a few steep sections gaining over 1600 feet in elevation.

If, for one reason or another, you find yourself not being able to do it, just grab a shuttle to the next campsite and get some rest before heading on.


As you start planning your Trans-Catalina Trek, one of the first things you’ll want to book is the campsites. There are limited spots available at the campsites and often they get booked up well in advance, especially on the weekends.

Here are the Trans-Catalina Trail campsite options:

  • Hermit Gulch (Avalon)
  • Black Jack
  • Little Harbor
  • Two Harbors
  • Parson’s Landing

You can check out the Catalina Island campsite locations and reserve them through here!

The campsites on Catalina Island, with the exception of Hermit Gulch & Two Harbors, are managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy Group. If you become a member of the Catalina Island Conservancy, you can get a 50% discount on the Catalina Conservancy campsites.

Once you have your campsites booked, you don’t need to get any additional permits to do the hike. Your campsites serve as hiking permits on the Trans-Catalina Trail.

Read Next: 15 Best Campgrounds In California For a Memorable Camping Trip


After you have all the camping sites planned out, next you’ll want to book a ferry out to Catalina Island, and back.

Most people start the hike in Avalon and depending on your departing city, you have the option to take the Catalina Express or the Catalina Flyer boat (note: the Catalina Flyer does not allow pets in case you plan to bring your furry friend along).

The Catalina Express departs from:

  • San Pedro
  • Long Beach
  • Dana Point

The Catalina Flyer departs from:

  • Newport

We decided to depart on the 8:15 am Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach to Avalon which seemed to be a popular choice. A lot of people also depart from San Pedro which is the better option if you plan to leave your car at the port terminal.

Most people end the hike in Two Harbors and from there the only return option for going back directly to the mainland is the Catalina Express ferry to the San Pedro terminal.

If you would like to go back to Avalon from Two Harbors after completing the hike, you can catch a ride on the Safari Bus or the Cyclone Speed Boat. Make sure to call and double-check that these options are available during your visit – they only run during the busy seasons and sometimes only on the weekends.


We were quite shocked when we added up all the costs of how much we spent on this trip. All in all, this was one of the most expensive backpacking trips that we’ve ever gone on. Some campsites, like Two Harbor, alone cost $35/person per night. But we just had to remind ourselves that backpacking options in Southern California are limited and those pretty views that we love to see here don’t come for cheap.

During our 3-day backpacking trip, we spent a total of $459.77 for two people. Here’s a detailed breakdown of what we spent:

  • Camping: $127.26
  • Ferry: $149.00
  • Groceries: $33.33
  • Food on Catalina: $150.18

What To Bring

We’ve been on quite a few backpacking trips through the years, but from having conversations with others along the Trans-Catalina Trail, it seems that for the majority this was their first backpacking experience.

One of the most common things that we heard from talking to people on the trail was that they just didn’t know what to bring along.

If you’re new to backpacking too – don’t worry. The Trans-Catalina Trail is one of the best hikes to do as a new backpacker. The campsites are well-maintained, there’s plenty of reception on Catalina Island and there are even a few restaurants & shops along the trail where you can stock up on some basics in case you forgot anything.

If you’re wondering what you should bring on the Trans-Catalina Trail, here is our packing list for the trip.

Hiking Boots. For a multi-day backpacking trip having a good pair of hiking boots is essential. There is nothing worse than a pair of boots that are too small, rub your feet or cause blisters. I highly recommend getting a pair of over-the-ankle boots like these Vasque ones to prevent your ankles from rolling when your feet become super tired. If you get a new pair of boots, make sure to wear them in before a multi-day hike on shorter day hikes or just around town. If there are any issues with your new hiking boots it’s best to find out before a long backpacking trip than a few miles into a 38-mile hike.

Vasque Breeze III Mid GTX Hiking Boots

Backpacking Pack.  For a multi-day trek, you want to keep everything as light as possible, especially your pack. You want to go for a backpacking pack with a good solid frame but one that is lightweight. This 65 Liter Osprey backpack from REI has more than enough room for all of your gear, it is lightweight and has very comfortable padding.

Osprey Aura AG 65 Liter Pack

Tent. While a lot of people spend a ton of money on a 4-season tent, the weather in California doesn’t get very cold so you don’t need to get a super fancy tent for a trip like this. We just went with a basic 3-season tent like this one that is lightweight and doesn’t take up too much space.

Sleeping Bag. Women and men have different body shapes so you want to get a sleeping bag made specifically for men or women. For women, I recommend going with a sleeping bag like this one from REI. It’s made of goose down so it’s very warm and compresses super small which is perfect for backpacking trips. For men, I recommend going with the same REI sleeping bag, just the men’s version. These bags are very versatile and are useful in all types of conditions from beach camping trips to high alpine hikes.

REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Pad. For extra comfort, we put a blow-up sleeping pad underneath our sleeping bags to add some cushion between us and the ground (you can even get one with a pillow for extra comfort). These foldable sleeping pads are also good for backpacking but after switching to a blow-up pad we realized how much of a difference it makes. Not only the blow-up pad is smaller in size but it’s a lot more comfortable than the basic foldable sleeping pad.

Cooking. You’ll need a small camping stove with a burner and gas to cook your food. Although some of the campsites offer firewood pits, we felt too tired to even think about making a fire and mostly just went to sleep after making dinner. Note that you’ll need to buy the gas separately but you can get that at any outdoor store like Big 5. If your camping stove set doesn’t come with utensils, you’ll also need to bring those (or grab a set of forks and spoons from a takeout restaurant).

Water bottle. Most of the campgrounds, have faucets for drinkable water so you don’t need to stock up on water for the entire hike, just bring a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at the campsites. Keep in mind that some of the distances between the campgrounds are pretty long so bring either one big water bottle or two medium-sized ones. We brought two water bottles per person and that was more than enough. The water at the Black Jack campsite tasted like chlorine but you can get a water bottle with a filter to eliminate the chlorine taste.

Clothing. When it comes to clothing, we brought the bare minimum needed for this 3-day trip. You’ll be pretty stinky by the last day but there are a few cold shower options at the campsites. Here’s what we brought along clothing-wise:

  • Leggings or shorts. I wore one pair of long leggings the whole time while Joel wore shorts. I was fine in leggings but I did wish I had brought a pair of shorts for the hot mid-day hiking parts. I saw that a lot of guys wore shorts during the day and put on thermal leggings underneath at night.
  • 2-3 tank tops or t-shirts. We were both sweating quite a bit but if you get quick dry shirts, you can rinse them off at the campsites and set them out to dry.
  • Hiking socks. You want to get a good pair of hiking socks that won’t rub blisters on your feet and won’t make your feet sweat.
  • Thermal shirt, rain jacket or windbreaker. The mornings and nights on Catalina can be a bit chilly especially as soon as the sun goes down. It was raining on and off quite a bit during our first day of hiking so I brought along a rain jacket that I also used at night when it got colder.
  • Bathing suit. You’ll get a chance to jump into the ocean at the Little Harbor campsite. There are also cold showers at the campsites but they are public and in the middle of the campsite so you’ll need a bathing suit if you want to rinse off.
  • Flip flops. To let your feet rest after wearing heavy boots all day.
  • Sports bra & extra underwear.
  • Hat & sunglasses for sun protection.

Hiking Poles. For those that are new to hiking, hiking poles can offer a lot of assistance on the trail. There were quite a few steep sections going up and down and hiking poles can help you stay balanced so you don’t trip or fall.

Sunscreen. This trail is super-hot and exposed to the sun offering little to no shade so a strong sunscreen is a must.


  • Wipes to clean off dust and dirt at the end of the day since hot showers are not available until the end of the hike.
  • Toilet paper. I did see toilet paper at most of the bathrooms but I usually bring some along just in case.
  • Travel toothbrush & toothpaste set.
  • Deodorant.


  • Headlamp for when it gets dark.
  • First aid kit for emergencies & blisters.
  • Ibuprofen or aspirin in case you start feeling pain from the long hike.
  • Small trash bag. There are trash cans at the campsites but we always bring one along to leave no trace in case we have any trash from snacks or meals.
  • Battery charger. There is nowhere to charge your phone at the campsites so you’ll want to bring a battery charger to keep your phone charged for emergencies.

What You Don’t Need:

  • Shovel. This is something that you typically want to bring along on backcountry hikes for when you need to go to the bathroom, but on the Trans-Catalina hike, there are plenty of bathroom options that bringing a shovel was not necessary.
  • Bug spray. We had no issues with mosquitos or bugs on the Trans-Catalina hike so you don’t need to worry about bringing a bug spray.

What To Eat

One of the hardest things for a backpacking trip can be figuring out what to bring along to eat. You’ll want to stick to foods that don’t need to be cold, that are not heavy, and that don’t take up too much room. Thankfully Catalina has a few restaurant options along the trail so you don’t need to pack tons of food on this trip.

Here is a breakdown of what we ate day by day.

Day 1:

  • Breakfast: burrito & coffee at the Catalina Express terminal
  • Lunch: tuna & crackers
  • Dinner: instant coconut jasmine rice, canned chicken (tip: drain it and place it in a zip-lock bag for less weight), and jackfruit meal with coconut, veggies & Thai green sauce

Day 2:

  • Breakfast: burrito, burger & coffee at the Airport In The Sky restaurant
  • Lunch: instant mushroom brown rice & canned chicken
  • Dinner: Fish tacos, burgers & beers at the Harbor Reef restaurant in Two Harbors

Day 3:

  • Breakfast: instant oatmeal & instant coffee
  • Lunch: at the West End Gallery cafe in Two Harbors

Snacks: cookies, crackers, protein bars, bananas & apples

We bought all of our groceries at our local Vons store but REI also offers some really awesome backpacking meals like Beef Stroganoff or Thai Curry.

Safety Tips

Here are some tips and things to keep in mind to have a safe backpacking trip:

  • The 120+ buffalos that reside on Catalina Island are one of the biggest attractions for tourists and visitors. But please keep in mind that the buffalos are wild animals and only observe them from the distance. A few years back my college friend ended up in a hospital with a hole in his stomach punctured by a horn after trying to take a selfie near one of the buffalos. These buffalos weigh up to 1800 pounds, can run up to 35 mph, and jump as high as 6 feet. They are very unpredictable so keep a safe distance at all times.
  • The island is full of rattlesnakes that are life-threatening to humans and animals. If you see one on the trail, keep a safe distance and throw something in the snake’s general direction until it leaves. If you get bitten by a rattlesnake, seek immediate medical attention.
  • California weather is super dry and we’re all familiar with the wildfires that start happening in the dry summer seasons. Fires are only allowed in the designated fire pits at the campsites so please do not make any fires outside of the camping areas.
  • The only drinking water sources on the island are located at the campsites and restaurants. Make sure to bring enough water for the longer hiking sections, especially on hot days.

When To Go

Overall the weather in California is mild throughout the year but the most popular camping season is from spring to late summer. If you plan to go on the Trans-Catalina Trail anytime between May to September, make sure to book your campsites well ahead of time as they could get sold out months in advance, especially on the weekends.

Personally, I think that early spring is the most beautiful time in California. This is when all the rolling hills turn green and bloom with flowers. We went on the Trans-Catalina trek in May and the grass was already starting to change color.

Keep in mind that California summers are very hot and sunny so plan accordingly by bringing lighter clothing, drinking more water, and applying sunscreen more frequently.

Water Sources

We already covered this a little bit in the “What To Bring” section but we had a hard time finding info on water sources before the trek so this was a major concern for us.

Most of the campsites on Catalina, with the exception of Parson’s Landing, have faucets with unlimited drinking water so you don’t need to carry water for the entire trek. Make sure to fill up on water before leaving Avalon & each campsite and be familiar with the distances between the campsites so you can plan accordingly.

  • Avalon – Black Jack: 10.7 miles
  • Black Jack – Little Harbor: 8.2 miles
  • Little Harbor – Two Harbors: 5.3 miles
  • Two Harbor – Parson’s Landing: 7.7 miles (no water)
  • Parson’s Landing – Two Harbor: 6.6 miles

We brought along two water bottles per person and that was more than enough for us.

Are Dogs Allowed

As a general rule, dogs are allowed on the Trans-Catalina Trail if they are on a leash. The Trans-Catalina trail mostly consists of sand and dirt so the terrain is not too tough on the dog’s paws, but there are a few things to keep in mind before bringing your dog on the ferry and the Trans-Catalina Trail.

  • The Catalina ferry only allows one dog per person on board and your dog will be required to wear a muzzle during the entire ferry ride to ensure the safety of other passengers. According to the ferry guidelines, the muzzle must be a multip-strap, pouch, or cage design. A single-strap muzzle is not acceptable. Read more about the Catalina Express dog policy on their FAQ page here.
  • Not all campsites accept dogs. Technically only the Catalina Conservancy campsites like Black Jack, Little Harbor, and Parson’s Landing allow dogs but private campsites like Hermit’s Gulch & Two Harbors do not. We did, however, see a few dogs at the Two Harbors campsite – there was nobody monitoring the campsite during our stay.
  • One of the biggest concerns for bringing your dog on this trail is heat and exhaustion. The Trans-Catalina trail is very hot and offers little shade. Make sure to bring extra water for your furry friend since there are no water sources in between the campsites.
  • Another huge danger for pets (and people too) on Catalina are the rattlesnakes. We saw one 5 minutes into the hike and spotted a few more through the trail. If your dog likes to run ahead or is super curious, it might be a good idea to keep him or her on a tight leash, especially during the narrow, bushy parts of the hike. 

Photography Tips

Photography is my full-time job (and obsession) so I usually try to include a few photography tips for those who are interested.

On the Trans-Catalina Trail I brought along my newest baby– the Sony a7II camera but truth be told I wish I hadn’t. It added so much weight and was total overkill for a backpacking trip. If I had to pick a more hiking-friendly camera (especially for beginners), I always suggest going with the Sony a5100 or the Sony a6000 camera.

I used the Sony a5100 camera for years before upgrading to a full-frame camera and for things like social media or personal use, you won’t see much of a difference. Plus the Sony a5100 & Sony a6000 cameras are super lightweight and small which is perfect for backpacking trips.

My biggest advice for shooting photos with ocean or water is to get a polarizing filter. This will take out any sun glare from the water and enhance the natural color of the landscape.

We also brought along our DJI Mavic drone to get some aerial shots of the landscape. We were expecting to see a lot more scenery with jagged cliffs and ocean views but the hike mostly went inland through rolling hills. Again, our drone is something that we probably should have left at home because we didn’t really get the photos that we imagined, and instead we should have saved that room for extra snacks!

Read more on my favorite beginner camera gear here.

Our Hike

The Trans-Catalina Trail is 38.5 miles long and ideally, you want to spend around 4-5 days to do the trek comfortably. Due to our work schedule, we could only spare 3 days on this adventure so we broke down the Trans-Catalina trail as follows:

  • Day 1. Avalon to Black Jack
  • Day 2. Black Jack to Two Harbors
  • Day 3. Two Harbors, Parson’s Landing & ferry back

Here is the detailed breakdown of our Trans-Catalina hike for those wondering what the trail is like, more info on the campsites & a few of the “must” see stops along the trail.

Avalon To Black Jack Campsite

Our plan was to start the Trans-Catalina hike from Avalon on a Friday morning so we picked to depart on the 8:15 am Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach. There was also a 6:00 am ferry leaving from Long Beach but we felt that the 8:15 am ferry was the better option for us timewise.  

Thankfully both of our parents live in Long Beach so we didn’t have to worry about parking our car. Logistically if you plan to leave your car at the port it makes more sense to depart from the San Pedro terminal. Returning ferries from Two Harbors only go to San Pedro so it wouldn’t make too much sense to leave from Long Beach or any other terminal.

The ferry ride is about an hour long and drops off at the Avalon boat dock. The Catalina Express ferry is quite big and overall the ride was pretty smooth. If you are worried about getting seasick consider taking some Dramamine ahead of time. 

From the dock, we walked down and spotted the Catalina Island Conservancy Center on the left. Here you can purchase a map of the island or ask any last-minute questions you may have. If you already have booked all the campsite reservations, you don’t need to get any additional permits for the hike.

If you need to stock up on anything like food or snacks before you go, Avalon is your last chance. There is one Vons store in Avalon but recently it moved locations. Our map led us to the old location on Metropole Ave but now the Vons store is located on Sumner Ave & Beacon St.

Some people also choose to get a hotel in Avalon the day before the trek. Avalon has a charming downtown area with restaurants, shops, and tons of cute outdoor patios.

Pavilion Hotel in Avalon

The Trans-Catalina trail starts on top of a hill behind Avalon. We used to navigate to the trail starting point and followed signs for the Scenic Route. The trailhead starts right behind the Hermit Gulch campground, just look for a wooden Trans-Catalina Trail sign.

The first part of the trail climbs up a steep hill for about 2 hours up to an overlook where it flattens out a bit. From here you’ll get some pretty sweet views overlooking Catalina and Avalon in the distance.

Follow the signs for a few hours and make a left turn towards the Haypress Reservoir. You’ll be hiking through rolling hills and may even spot some buffalos – just remember to keep a safe distance from these wild beasts.

The next section of the Trans-Catalina trail will weave through the mountains and back onto the main road quite a bit. This part of the trail mostly goes inland and doesn’t offer too many ocean views.

The last 4 miles were especially tough as we were starting to feel pretty tired. There is one last push up a steep hill before we reached the Black Jack campsite where we set up our tent, cooked dinner, and rested.

We made it to the Black Jack campsite around 5 pm while taking frequent stops along the way. Although the Black Jack campsite is set up like one giant open space, it has personal camping areas with picnic tables and fire pits that can be used to make fire or grill.

For being a backpacking campsite, Black Jack is pretty well taken care of. It has bathrooms stocked with toilet paper, trashcans, a cold shower, a faucet for water, and lockers to store away food from animals like the wild Catalina fox that like to scavenge the campsites.

The only downside is that there are no viewpoints or anything to do around the Black Jack campsite. After cooking dinner we were tucked into our sleeping bags by 7 pm. If you want something to keep you entertained, I recommend downloading some Netflix shows, podcasts or bringing a Kindle to read.

Black Jack To Two Harbors Campsite

On the second day, we woke up pretty early at around 7 am, and started breaking down our tent. We had the plan to grab breakfast at the Airport In The Sky restaurant DC-3 which is located around 2.5 miles away from the Black Jack campsite. We had a long day ahead of us but we were looking forward to some coffee and delicious breakfast to start off our hiking day.

Hiking so early on Catalina felt pretty surreal as we watched moody fog clouds cover parts of the green rolling hills. We couldn’t really complain about the views as we warmed up our sore legs for the day.

We got to the airport at around 9 am for breakfast. The DC-3 restaurant sells some really good breakfast options like the breakfast burrito but it also offers a lunch menu including the famous buffalo burger. We felt a bit weird to order anything with buffalo meat since the buffalo residing on Catalina island are protected but the server reassured us that the buffalo meat used in their meals is imported from mainland USA.

After eating breakfast we went on to tackle the next 5 miles to the Little Harbor campsite. Although we couldn’t get reservations to stay at the Little Harbor campsite that night, it’s a popular halfway spot to have lunch before heading on to Two Harbors campsite.

From the Airport, we followed the Trans-Catalina trail but at some point, we missed a turn and almost ended up at Empire Landing. We ran into a ranger who told us that this happens quite a bit since the turnoff sign is not very obvious. Unfortunately, this mistake added an extra mile to our already long day.

Once we backtracked onto the Trans-Catalina trail, we passed through some beautiful hills before starting a long and steep descent down towards Little Harbor. This section is especially tough on knees and toes since you’re pretty much going from 1200 feet elevation back down to zero.

Due to our little mistake, we lost some time and had just enough time at Little Harbor to make lunch and refill our water bottles before heading back out on the trail.

Little Harbor is one of the best campsites on Catalina Island and we highly recommend staying here if it’s available. The camping spots are located in a cove that’s right next to the ocean with a nice breeze and giant palm trees providing shade.

Before you leave, make sure to check out a cool viewpoint of Little Harbor and Shark Harbor from a cliff overlook 5 minutes to the left of the camp.

The Trans-Catalina Trail picks back up on a hill to the right of Little Harbor and here you’ll start another hard push back up a steep hill towards Two Harbors by gaining back the 1200 feet in elevation that you just descended. I call it “The Hill Of Torture” but at least the views are pretty incredible from this section.

As soon as you get to the top, you pretty much start the next descent down towards Two Harbors. At this point, we had done over 20 miles and our legs were starting to really feel it. But we set our minds into “beast mode” and pushed through the last section – cold beers were waiting for us at Two Harbors.

Once you get to Two Harbors, you can head to the campsite or grab food at the Harbor Reef restaurant in the little downtown area.  The hours of the restaurant vary but it was open until 10 pm during our visit.

Two Harbors also has a general store that is open until 8 pm with some snacks and little things in case you need anything.

The Two Harbors campsite is located on top of a hill to the right of the downtown area. Some spots are located more clustered together but thankfully we scored one of the more secluded spots on the outskirts of the camp. By far this was one of the loudest campsites on Catalina. A lot of the people staying at this camp just come for the weekend to party & hang out at Two Harbors.

Two Harbors & Parson’s Landing

Once you’ve made it to Two Harbors, you have a few options. Depending on how much time you have for this adventure, you can book a ferry back to the mainland from Two Harbors or keep hiking out to Parson’s Landing that’s located near the tip of the island.

Parson’s Landing is not a part of the one-way trail that leads across the island. This is an additional loop that you can either skip or do at the end of the trip.

If you have the time (and energy), parts of this loop offer post-card perfect views, especially on the section that follows near the ocean. This part of the trail is pretty flat so you could even just hike this section one way to Parson’s Landing and back. If you want more of a challenge and your legs are still holding up, follow the loop through the hills that go inland to finish up the entire official Trans-Catalina Trail.

It’s possible to do the section to Parson’s Landing in one day, but make sure to get an early head start in order to make it back in time for your departing ferry. Plus leave yourself some time to grab food at West End Gallery in Two Harbors that’s open from 8 am – 3 pm.

From Two Harbors you can get a ferry back to San Pedro or catch a Cyclone powerboat to Avalon. Cyclone is a new transportation option that was recently added and currently runs on the weekends. So far it has been super successful and the boat operators told us that after Memorial Day it will potentially start running daily as well.

This adds more choices for the ferry options back to the mainland from Avalon since the only ferry option from Two Harbors currently is to San Pedro. Now hikers will also have the option to catch the Cyclone to Avalon and from there take one of the other ferries back to Long Beach, Newport, or Dana Point.

Backpacking the Trans-Catalina trail is truly an unforgettable and rewarding experience from the moment you set your first step on the trail.

We hope you are ready to take on the Trans-Catalina trail but if you have any unanswered questions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section below!

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links which helps support this blog!

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11 thoughts on “Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail: All You Need To Know”

  1. This is a great find! I really didn’t know what Catalina is about and what I would do if I decided to go. Thanks for sharing! Your post is nicely organized!

    1. You’re very welcome! I’ve been to Catalina a few times and every time I find something fun and exciting to do there! Glad this post helped you discover something new : )


  2. This such an awesome post. I have yet to find a post with so much information! There is so much useful information, it’s taking me a while to get through it all! Thank You and Great job!

  3. Your information on the Trans Catalina Trail Hike is really well put together! I just found your site and will be checking out the Oregon instead of Iceland article.

    Coastwalk California has re-added this hike to our 2020 Coastwalk Season and we are hoping that folks who may not want to go it alone will sign up with us as we have made the reservations and we have a gear haul, that being said it’s still a back packing trip so folks will still need their own food.

  4. We’re planning on doing the same route you took in September; which leg would you say was your hardest? Trying to mentally prepare myself ;)

    1. Hey Shauna,

      How exciting! I’d say for me the second day was the toughest one going from Black Jack to Two Harbor campsite. It was a challenging hiking day with lots of inclines and declines and at one point we got lost adding a few extra miles to the already long route. But overall Trans-Catalina is a great backpacking trail and we really enjoyed hiking all of it : )


  5. Hey guys! I just wanted to thank you for such detailed information throughout this post. My husband and I are going to spend two days in Catalina Island after thanksgiving.
    I appreciate your time and dedication on this post. It’s helping a lot :)
    Have a blessed day and happy thanksgiving ?

  6. Hi! Thanks for sharing, I am currently planning a trip and hope to go mid-May. Do you recommend going earlier for greener landscape?

    1. Hi Jamie,

      We hiked the Trans-Catalina trail in May and really enjoyed the scenery and weather. March to May is typically the greenest time in Southern California, but it also depends on other factors like rainfall. As the temperatures start rising toward the dry summer months, the landscape turns to shades of tan and brown.

      Hope you enjoy your trip! Cheers!

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