Take Me Back to Catalina: Winter Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Let me Preface this with…

Writing doesn’t necessarily come easy to me. I linger on words and I stumble over what to say until I can actually get pen to paper. Or in this case, sit my ass down at my laptop and actually start writing. I’m not a write-in-the-moment type of blogger. I take pictures, draw at night, and journal as much as I can on trail. Unfortunately, as much as I try to document, it’s easy to get carried away in the hike and the environment. Hiking is my therapy and my fuel. I use it to slow myself down and enjoy the here and now. I want the full experience on trail, but also want to give my readers what they need. I’m really trying to figure out how to do both.

With that being said, the Trans-Catalina Trail happened all at once and was gone within what felt like seconds. It happened so quickly that I wasn’t prepared to write in the moment, as I didn’t want to miss anything this beautiful trail had to offer. So instead of writing while it was happening, I decided I would tell the story of this hike in parts after the fact. I wanted the readers to have the full experience and know what the trail has to offer, without glazing over what made the trail so special to me.

How did I get here?

Let’s take it back to Thanksgiving. I was two months off the Long Trail and I could not stop thinking about being on trail again. I had thrown myself back into work and was immediately craving a new adventure.

With the Colorado Trail on my mind, I was excited to be able to get on trail again, but 8 months just seemed far too long to wait. I needed to get back on trail and I needed it fast. Unfortunately, winter in New England doesn’t bode well for a thru-hike, especially for someone who runs cold. I love winter for skiing, snowshoeing, and the occasional day hike, however, I don’t think I have it in me to spend countless weeks living in my tent in the snow. But hey, I won’t count it out. With that being said, I needed to find something short enough for me to be able to fill the urge to hike, but also warm enough to enjoy in the winter months.

Then suddenly, it hit me. I remembered hearing about the Trans-Catalina Trail a while back while listening to Backpacker Radio. With the thought fresh in my mind, I went on my Spotify to recount the episode where Zach and Chaunce discussed their thru-hike of the TCT. After re-listening, I was instantly online researching the trail and looking at flights. I reached out to a friend that lives in LA to see if this time of year would be feasible for a thru hike. She assured me that while January-February is the “rainy” season, it still should be warm enough to enjoy the hike and spend a week outside. That was all the reassurance I needed to book the flight and make moves for my California adventure.

Trans-Catalina Trail, Avalon, CA

An Ode to Mountain Berry

Initially, I planned on doing this hike alone. Most of my friends aren’t backpackers and I tend to go on adventures like this by myself. However, after hiking the Long Trail, I made many new friends who also share the same love of adventure and backpacking as me. On the Long Trail, I met a spunky free-spirit, whose trail name is Mountain Berry. She also so happens to be from Massachusetts as well. We hit it off right away, laughing endlessly about anything you could possibly think of. She was such a bright light on the LT for me and we even ended up finishing the trail together.

We still talk all the time, and when I told her my plan for the TCT, she was excited to get on board. And if I’m being honest, I was excited to have a friend take the trip with me.

There is a comfort in knowing someone on the trail, especially when starting; something that I didn’t have on the Long Trail. There’s someone to share in the hardships as well as the joy. They make the days less lonely, the banter more fun, and there’s someone to carry the other half of the beers you packed out in the nearest town. I love having someone to pick me up when I’m down and keep me humble by telling me how much I smell. While I also love the freedom and unknowns of being on trail alone, I was so happy to have Mountain Berry join me on this adventure, and hopefully more to come!

Trans-Catalina Trail, Santa Catalina Island

Initial Preparations

We began prep in early December and planned to start the trail in late January. The Trans-Catalina Trail traverses 38.5 miles along Santa Catalina Island. There are 5 total campgrounds on the island designated for camping, no stealth sites are allowed. We planned to hike the trail in about 4 days, getting on trail late Monday and returning to the mainland on Friday morning. Mileage per day is mainly determined by your campsite reservations. Since we had a few days, the mileage was low per day and we generally were at camp before 2 or 3pm each day. This allowed us time to relax, swim, eat, and enjoy the nights by the beach.

Camping on the Island

You don’t need a permit to hike the TCT, but you do need campsite reservations, which serve as your permit for the trail. Campsites tend to fill up quickly during peak seasons, as there are only a limited number of campsites on the island. Since we were planning our trek for winter, however, it wasn’t really an issue.

For those looking to hike the trail, reservations open up on January 1st for the upcoming year. This also applies to anyone wishing to camp along the island, but not hike the whole trail. Because we were hiking in January, reservations for January hikers open up on December 1st, allowing thru hikers to have more prep time and obtain a campsite. We were able to book our campsites over the phone through the Catalina Island Conservancy, as well as order our propane, along with wood and water delivered to certain campsites. For thru hikers, this trail is a glamping dream.

Note: You can also book campsites online at https://www.bookyoursite.com/catalina-island-company/availability. The process was incredibly easy and the people at the Catalina Island Conservancy were very helpful. I highly recommend them for any questions you have!

Getting There

Santa Catalina Island is about 22 miles off the coast of California. Getting there by ferry boat from Los Angeles is relatively simple. If you have some money to spend, you can also take a helicopter or small plane over from the mainland. That’s if you aren’t completely terrified by the idea of it, like me.

There are a few different ferry boat options to get you to the island. We chose to take the Catalina Express ferry, which I believe to be the cheapest option. Choosing ferry ports and times is mostly determined by the way in which you traverse the trail. We were hiking from Avalon to Parson’s Landing back to Two-Harbors port. Based on departure times, we took our ferry from San Pedro to Avalon (which can only be done with a stopover in Two Harbors). Ferry boats departures are also offered from Long Beach and Dana Point.

With campsites, ferry, and flight booked, we were ready to go!

Catalina Express – San Pedro, Los Angeles

I will be sharing my day to day experiences in upcoming posts! Stay tuned for some comical stories about bison run-ins and raven attacks.


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