Trans Catalina Trail
I’m hiking the 38 miles of the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) in Late April 2022!
Will also do bits of the TCT once a month from April thru October.
The Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) is a 38.5-mile dramatic walk across the length of Santa Catalina Island. From beaches at sea level to “The Airport in the Sky” to a peak at 1,712 feet, it features many inspiring views and experiences.
Camping is only allowed at official campgrounds. There’s a campground every 5-9 miles across the TCT, so the daily distance isn’t bad. However, the ascents and descents could be challenging. There are 3 ascents from Sea Level to 1,200, 1,600, and 1,700 feet. And 3 corresponding descents. Across the entire walk, there is a total of 7,000 feet of ascent and 7,000 feet of descent.
For me, the ascents are work, but doable. More challenging for me are the descents. I can get by with trekking poles – I wouldn’t want to have to do the descents without poles! However, I have seen people do the walk without poles.
Some peeps run the trail!
Running makes sense if you remember your college physics – potential energy – gravity wants you to go down, so… run with it! It seems to work and is efficient for the peeps I’ve seen do it. Going with gravity, taking advantage of free potential energy, and not wasting stress and strain trying to do a slow, controlled descent is better – for the peeps who do it well! For someone old and uncoordinated like me, and carrying a heavy pack, I fear there would be cuts and scrapes and potentially broken bones. So I do it the slow, resisting gravity way.
The Catalina Island Conservancy rates the trails on the island as Easy, Moderate, or Strenuous. They rate the TCT as Strenuous.
- Start: Catalina Express, one-way ticket, San Pedro to Avalon
- then do the TCT, or whatever part of it you like…
- Finish: Catalina Express, one-way ticket, Two Harbors to San Pedro
- Parking: San Pedro, Berth 95, $20/day. Expect a big parking fee when you leave! Or carpool or have someone drop you off.
The 1st campground, just 1.5 miles from the beaches of Avalon, is Hermit Gulch.
- No Wood Fires
- Can cook with synthetic logs or charcoal
- currently no sleeping in hammocks due to drought-caused tree weakness
- can’t guarantee this bit, but last time I was there a bunch of deer would migrate through the campground each evening after sunset.
9.2 miles past Hermit Gulch. The only campground not at sea level: Blackjack. The hike begins with an ascent to about 1,600 feet, but you camp at altitude and don’t have to do a big descent the same day.
- I’ve never been, so can’t say too much about it.
- About 1/2 way to Blackjack is the Haypress Recreation Area. You can’t camp there, but you can stop for rest, lunch, etc. Haypress has restrooms, picnic tables, shade, and water.
8.2 miles past Blackjack is idyllic Little Harbor and neighboring Shark Harbor. There’s a 1,600-foot descent into Little Harbor. But not much climbing on this leg.
- 2 miles in on this walk is the Airport in the Sky. I’ve never been, but it sounds like a great place for breakfast!
- Breakfast at DC3 at Airport in the Sky
The walk from Little Harbor to Two Harbors is 5.3 miles. 1,200 feet of ascent and 1,200 feet of descent. Great views. Besides Avalon, Two Harbors is the only other town on Catalina. It’s much smaller than Avalon. One restaurant, one bar, and one store. I like the casual quality of Two Harbors vis-a-vis the intensely tourist Avalon. Although there are a lot more ice cream shops in Avalon!
- Catalina Island is 21 miles long and 8 miles wide at it’s widest point. The isthmus of Catalina is just a 1/2 mile wide! It’s a sweet, 10-minute walk from Two Harbors across to Catalina Harbor (“Cat Harbor”).
It’s 6.6 miles from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing, including a 1,700-foot ascent and descent. The walk from Parsons back to Two Harbors is a longer, but flat, 8.5-mile walk along the NE coast of the island. Parsons Landing is the smallest, most remote of the campgrounds. Just a string of campsites on the beach.
- No water or showers here
- Two Harbors Visitor Services, 310-510-4205 offers a locker at PL with water and firewood for $20.
- Pit toilets
Water, Showers & Toilets
- 4 of the 5 campgrounds have potable water. Parsons Landing does not. For $20 Two Harbors Visitor Services will provide a locker at Parsons Landing with water and firewood.
- 4 of the 5 campgrounds also have free cold showers. Two campgrounds, Hermit Gulch & Two Harbors, also have hot showers that you feed quarters to.
- All 5 campgrounds have pit toilets.
I am the wrong person to ask about food! I’d probably just bring a lot of mixed nuts and a few apples. You might want campfire fresh coffee and eggs in the morning, etc.
At Avalon and both stops in Two Harbors you can eat in a restaurant or buy food from a store. There might be food service at Airport in the Sky on the way from Blackjack to Little Harbor.
At Blackjack, Little Harbor, and Parsons Landing you eat whatever you bring (or have someone haul in) and prepare.
3 of the campgrounds do allow dogs: Blackjack, Little Harbor & Parsons Landing. Unfortunately, 2 of the campgrounds do not allow dogs: Hermit Gulch & Two Harbors. Also, the Catalina peeps recommend not bringing dogs because they say some die every summer on the TCT.
I will carry gear very similar to this: https://lighterpack.com/r/h6lave
There are a couple of ways to go with gear for the TCT. If you have “ultralight” gear, you can throw everything on your back and you’re done. If you want to buy ultralight or other gear, I’d be happy to go to REI with you and help you spend lots of money. It’s nice gear to have, but it can be expensive.
Gear Haul – Full Route (expensive)
Alternatively, there is a service, Catalina Backcountry, that will hall your gear, ice chests, etc, from campsite to campsite leaving you to just hike with a daypack. For the full TCT, they charge a whopping $1,440 to haul up to 12 items (bags, packs, ice chests, inflatable kayaks, bicycles, etc) to every campsite on the TCT. It’s a lot for one person and one person could buy a complete set of ultralight gear for around that price. But if there were several people with some things to move, it could be quite reasonable. Twelve 50-pound items would be just $120 per item to haul all around the island to 6 different spots. Two things this does for you is let you use any non-ultralight gear you already have, plus they could move things like ice chests or food or bicycles for you.
Gear Haul – Partial Route (not so expensive)
Catalina Visitor Services, 310-510-4205, can also move your gear and sell you firewood. They do not service all the campgrounds. But they can be handy for getting firewood at 3 of the 5 sites (Two Harbors, Little Harbor & Parson’s Landing)
You can also use a combination of Catalina Visitor Services & Catalina Backcounty to move things around and, I think, save some money. Unfortunately, more than half of that $1,440 is just to get your gear in and out of Parsons Landing, so that’s still a bit of a hitch.
If you’d like to do some kayaking, there are rentals for Hermit Gulch/Avalon, Little Harbor, and Two Harbors.
- The Catalina Island Conservancy does not allow night hiking on the TCT.
- However, you can take some really cool night-sky photos from your campsite!
Camping reservations for each year open on January 1st!
- GEAR: If you already have gear, then $0. If you buy complete ultralight gear, then maybe $1,500. If you have peeps haul your non-ultralight gear around the island, then various prices as listed above.
- BOAT: $38 each way = $76. Less for kids and seniors. $7 roundtrip for a bike or surfboard.
- CAMPING: around $25/person/night, about $160 for a week.
- PARKING: 7 days in the San Pedro lot, about $140
- FOOD: who knows! Maybe $100
If you don’t include gear purchases and do leave your car in the lot for a week, then your total might be something like $476 for the week.
- Catalina Island Conservancy
- Catalina Island Conservancy / TCT
- DC3 Restaurant at Airport in the Sky
- Catalina Backcountry
- Blue Line Baggage (Avalon delivery service)
LMK in the comments below, or by message, if there’s other info I can provide.