Trans Catalina Trail

Trans Catalina Trail

I’d like to hike the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) in May 2022!

Interested?

The Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) on Santa Catalina Island

The Walk

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. And I’ve seen a few who 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, 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.

The ascents and descents are not as steep as they look in this graphic! To be accurate, you’d have to stretch the horizontal axis way out. But this gives you an idea of the ascents and descents along the trail.

Transportation

  • Catalina Express, one-way ticket, San Pedro to Avalon
  • Lots of walking and camping
  • Catalina Express, one-way ticket, Two Harbors to San Pedro
  • Parking at San Pedro, Berth 95, is $20/day. Expect a big parking fee when you leave! Or carpool or have someone drop you off.

The Campgrounds

Photograph of a deer standing and looking at the camera at Hermit Gulch on Catalina Island
Welcome to the Hermit Gulch Campground!

Hermit Gulch

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.

Blackjack

9.2 miles past Hermit Gulch is the only campground not at sea level, Blackjack. The hike begins with an ascent to about 1,600 feet, but we camp at altitude and you 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. We can’t camp there, but we could stop for rest, lunch, etc. Haypress has restrooms, picnic tables, shade, and water.
Setting up my tent at Little Harbor Campground, Catalina Island

Little Harbor

8.2 miles past Blackjack is idyllic Little Harbor and neighboring Shark Harbor. There’s a 1,600-foot descent into Little Harbor. But, at least we won’t have to do much climbing today.

Glenn Zucman reclining in a tent at the campground at Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island
Two Harbors Campground, Catalina Island

Two Harbors

The walk from Little Harbor to Two Harbors is only 5.3 miles. But we do have 1,200 feet of ascent and descent. And some correspondingly 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”).
  • We stay in Two Harbors twice. After Two Harbors we hike to Parsons Landing, stay there for the night, and then finish the TCT by taking a different (easier) route back to Two Harbors and our boat ride home.
View of tents on the beach at Parsons Landing on the West End of Santa Catalina Island
Parsons Landing Campground, Catalina Island

Parsons Landing

It’s 6.6 miles from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing, including a 1,700-foot ascent and descent. When we walk back to Two Harbors the next day, it’s 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 will give us 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 give us 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.

Food

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 times at Two Harbors you can have someone cook for you if you like (I like!) 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 we eat whatever we bring (or have someone haul in) and prepare.

Dogs

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.

Gear

I will carry gear very similar to this: https://lighterpack.com/r/h6lave

Ultralight

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 fortune 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. If we had 12, 50-pound items, it’d be just $120 per item to haul it 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 crazy expensive)

Catalina Visitor Services, 310-510-4205, can also move gear and sell us firewood. The downside is that they don’t service all the campgrounds, so it doesn’t really work for things that need to go everywhere. But they can be handy for getting firewood at 3 of the 5 sites (Two Harbors, Little Harbor & Parson’s Landing)

We could 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.

Kayak

If you’d like to do some kayaking, there are rentals for Hermit Gulch/Avalon, Little Harbor, and Two Harbors.

Night Hiking

  • 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

Camping reservations for 2022 open up on January 1st!

Total Cost

  • 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 the 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.

Links

What Else!?

LMK in the comments below, or by message, if there’s other info I can provide.

Glenn Zucman hiking along the Trans-Catalina Trail on Santa Catalina Island
On the TCT

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