7 - 8
FATMAP difficulty grade
The Trans-Catalina Trail is a thru-hike of Santa Catalina Island–the mountain in the sea that’s visible from so many beaches in Southern California.
This is the second half of the trail if starting from Avalon.
It falls on day 2 and 3 for most hikers going in this direction, but can be completed in one long day.
See [Trans-Catalina Trail: Avalon to Little Harbor](https://fatmap.com/routeid/508348/trans-catalina-trail:-avalon-to-little-harbor) for the other half of the trail and more information about thru-hiking. After Little Harbor comes what is perhaps the most scenic section of the Trans-Catalina, but also one of the most difficult.
It’s a long climb to more than 1000 feet above sea level.
From the oceanfront campground at Little Harbor, the trail zigzags onto the neighboring ridge, then continues ever upward along the spine.
The trail surface is washed out and rocky in some places, and it’s all very exposed to the sun on clear days.
Vegetation is nothing more than coastal sage and prickly pear cactus, so the views are wide open and only get better as you go up (if not shrouded in clouds).
You’ll look over steep slopes tumbling to the sea in the west, and mountaintops of the island rolling away to the east.
You may also see bison grazing at these heights.
From the summit near a set of radio towers, you’ll look ahead to Two Harbors and see sparkling ocean surrounding both sides of the island. Then the trail, which is now a dirt road, descends all the way back to sea level on the other side of the mountain.
Along the way, you’ll pass through a bison fence, where you must be sure to close the gate behind you.
Once at Two Harbors, you’ll be standing on the narrow isthmus of the island, where the sea is just a stone’s throw on either side.
Here sits a tiny town with planted palm trees and a dusty outpost feel.
It’s sometimes bustling and other times nearly deserted, depending on the season and weather.
Getting to the campground requires entering town, stopping at the visitor center to check-in for your campsite, then hooking onto another dirt road that backtracks a quarter mile to the east.
There you’ll have a site with easy access to a small beach and nice views, plus amenities like fire pits, drinking water, toilets, and cold showers.
In town, you’ll find additional services like hot showers, laundry, groceries, restaurants, and bars.
If not camping at Two Harbors, you can simply grab whatever supplies you need in the village, then continue across the isthmus to continue the trail, but not before checking in at the visitor center if you will camp at Parsons Landing. Parsons Landing is at the western terminus of the trail, and it’s very remote.
Unlike the other campgrounds, it has no running water.
You can purchase water by reserving supplies along with your campsite.
You’ll then get access to a locker that contains 2.5 gallons of water and a bundle of firewood, delivered in advance.
You must pick up your key to this locker in Two Harbors, however, so don’t forget to stop there. The next portion of the trail is another difficult one.
It climbs over another mountain exceeding 1000 feet, and in fact exceeding 1500 feet, in only a few miles.
It’s a wide and well-maintained dirt path, but very steep.
Views are once again epic, of course, if free of fog.
You’ll cross over the windswept spine of Silver Peak, then go down the other side.
If you thought the ascent was steep, the descent will really surprise you.
It returns all the way to sea level in only about 2 miles, and though it’s a dirt road, some sections are uneven and loose. Soon enough, you’ll reach the peaceful beach at Parsons Landing, where campsites are tucked into rocky alcoves.
Parsons is very secluded, and camping here is a real privilege.
There are only eight sites, and they are typically in high demand with backpackers and sea kayakers.
You should reserve far in advance if you want to camp here. From Parsons Landing, the way to finish the trail is an additional 8 miles on the dirt road that wraps around the northeast side of the island, returning to Two Harbors and bringing the total Trans-Catalina distance to 38.5 miles.
From Parsons back to Two Harbors makes day 4 or 5 for most thru-hikers, but it’s an easy day.
You will need to time it right to catch a boat from Two Harbors to Avalon, then the ferry from Avalon to the mainland.
For more information about logistics of the trail, including ferries, permits, and campsite reservations, see the [Catalina Island Conservancy](https://www.catalinaconservancy.org/index.php?s=visit&p=hike_the_trans_catalina_trail). Sources: https://www.catalinaconservancy.org/index.php?s=visit&p=hike_the_trans_catalina_trail https://bearfoottheory.com/backpacking-the-trans-catalina-trail/ https://www.reserveamerica.com/explore/parson-landing-campground/CTLN/940022/overview