A Trans-Catalina Trail Quick Guide

The Trans-Catalina Trail is a lot different than other trails I have hiked. I wouldn’t look at the trail as “easy” in any sense. Its difficult climbs and intense weather changes made for a challenging hike. What I would say about the trail is that it offers conveniences that many other long trails don’t. There are shorter food carries between towns, ample amounts of potable water at each campsite, real bathrooms, and a well-marked trail system.

We had a sense of ease on our hike, knowing we were never really that far away from anything on the island. If it’s a very remote and solitary experience you are looking for, this probably isn’t that hike. However, we hiked in the off-season. Because of this, we probably saw less people than most, yet we never really felt alone.

Quick Guide:

Varying based on the season you choose, if you are planning on hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, here are a few things to remember on your adventure:

  • Book Ahead – While shorter than most thru-hikes, this trail takes a little more preparation to hike. All campsites need to be booked ahead of time online or through the Catalina Island Conservancy. It is a fairly simple process, but make sure you have your sites booked before planning your trip for a specific date, especially during peak seasons. *This also goes for ferry tickets.
  • Bring a Hat and Sunscreen – Even in the very temperate conditions of late January, you can get a sunburn here. It wasn’t anything super bad, but slightly uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what the sun is like in the middle of summer, but I would recommend lots of sun protection.
  • Bring layers – I am not sure if this is as applicable during peak season, but during the winter months I definitely recommend having warm layers to take off or add. Mornings were generally cool in the upper 40s-low 50s and I generally would wear my Melanzana Hoodie until the day started to warm up. Mid day was beautiful, generally in the mid 50s- 60s and I was very content in my shorts and light Mountain Hardware longsleeve. Nights were COLD. I mean, I am from New England and I know cold, and while it is not as bad as a New England winter, the nights on the beach tended to run fairly cold. I think we were between mid 30s and low 40s every night with the breeze off of the ocean making it feel very cold. I had a 30 degree rated bag and definitely would have been more comfortable in a 15 degree rated bag. I do run cold at night, so I can’t say this is the best option for everybody, but it would have been better for me. With that being said, we were here in the colder months, so I would say spring/summer/fall would be much more temperate at night.
  • Pack light – With the exception of layers for the winter season, this is a trail you can easily get away with packing less, especially food. Each day has a pass through some area of the island where it is easy to resupply, whether it be at the airport or in one of the two major towns. Note: Because it is an island, prices tend to be much higher than mainland pricing. This is something to consider when planning your food prep.
  • Beware of the ravens – They will open the zippers on your backpack and they will individually unwrap all of your jolly ranchers while you are swimming in the ocean. They take no mercy.
  • Stop at the picnic tables – On other trails, it has been about making miles. If there is a trail to stop and enjoy the view, it’s this one. There are 360 degree stunning views this entire trail and its hard to not take note. If you have a few days to complete this trail, there is plenty of time in the day to stop and take in everything the island has to offer. We specifically made heavy use of the covered picnic tables along the trail to stop have a snack, look around, and maybe drink a Twisted Tea at 9:00 a.m. (who’s judging?)
  • Stop in at the airport– One of my favorite parts of the trip was stopping in at Catalina’s Airport in the Sky. It is about an hour hike out of Blackjack Campground and they are more than happy to serve thru-hikers beers at 9:00 in the morning. Some of the friendliest people we met were the guys working at the airport and we had a blast hanging out, eating, shopping and taking in the views. They also allowed us to use their outlets to charge our phones, chill our water and Twisted teas in their fridge, and dry our shoes out on the patio. Highly recommend stopping in here!!
  • Be cautious around the Bison – You inevitably will run into a bison (or 22 at once) on your thru-hike of the TCT. They are beautiful creatures to look at and watch from afar, but it is recommended to keep your distance. The bison are very large and they can become aggressive if they feel threatened. Luckily, we only had good encounters with them as we did some bushwhacking around them to keep our distance. Big Jim got a little too close for comfort as we were taking our morning stretches at Little Harbor, but he wanted nothing more than to say hi and be on his way.
  • Go Swimming in the Pacific Ocean – Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Little Harbor, Santa Catalina Island

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Comments 2

  • Robert : Jun 23rd

    Liked reading about the Trans Catalina experience. I hiked many of the Channel Islands when I lived in Ventura, California but somehow never trekked yo Santa Catalina. Definitely a trip back there is in the works! Thanks for penning it for all to enjoy….


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