For this hike, we chose to come into the less populated side of Catalina at Two Harbors from San Pedro. Growing up in Orange County I had been to Catalina several times, but my experience of the island ended with Avalon. For this reason, I never really felt a love for the Island, but coming into Two Harbors changed that. There is so much more to Catalina Island than just Avalon!
However, the reasons for coming into Two Harbors from San Pedro are far more technical considering this hike will place you at both sides of the Island no matter what. One thing that makes this so difficult is that you have a very precise window for when you can get a ferry into Catalina and when you can get a ferry out.
The fastest ferry route to Catalina Island, and therefore the fastest way to start your hike will be from San Pedro to Two Harbors. Furthermore, San Pedro will be the only port that offers ferry rides to and from both sides of the island (Two Harbors and Avalon), and Avalon will have later available return ferries, opening your hiking window even more. Click here to check out the Catalina Express’s schedule and fares.
A round trip adult ferry ticket will make this hike a little more pricy than an average hike, but if you can be so lucky as the plan this trip around your birthday then you can get two adult ferry tickets for the price of one. This deal can even be applied for longer backpacking, diving, or camping trips. You must depart on your actual birthday, but you can make your return trip as late as 30 days after your departure date (so long as the two of you are coming back together).
Particular off seasons for traveling to Catalina will make this hike impossible to do in a day, but in our current season (Sep 5th – Oct 23rd) as well as warmer seasons you will have enough time to take the 1hr 15min ride to Catalina Saturday mornings at 8:00 am to Two Harbors and leave that night from Avalon at 7:00 pm. This is the exact same time schedule that worked for us.
First things first, once you get on the Island you’re going to have to get your hiking permit. Coming into Two Harbors this can be done by going to the Visitor Center. The permit is free but necessary for anyone hiking into the interior. For more information call (310) 510-2595 ext. 100.
The full Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) is 37 miles, but although Avalon is on one end of the trail, Two Harbors isn’t. Unless you plan on coming into Avalon and swimming back home, you’re going to have to add another 11 miles to account for the doubling back you’d have to do on the north side. This is a great distance for a backpacking trip, but in this post, we’re talking specifically about crossing the island in a day.
(click here for a better look at the map)
If you can run 48 miles on a steep trail and not miss your ferry home then honestly you’re my hero. As for the rest of us, you have a couple of other options.
#1 Take the TCT from Two Harbors to Avalon. This hike alone could make for a great backpacking trip. 26 miles of exhausting ups and downs is no walk in the park. We originally had planned to take this route, but we underestimated the heat and the difficulty of the trail and ended up changing our plan in fear of missing the ferry back from Avalon.
#2 Take the TCT from Two Harbors to the Airport then hike along the Airport Road into Avalon. All in all this route will be around 21 miles and the Airport Road actually parallels the TCT for much of the time. Since it is a paved road and is much flatter than the TCT we ended up making it into Avalon about 2 hours faster than we projected which gave us plenty of time to hang out in Avalon and wait for the ferry. Just make sure you pay attention to street directions and don’t get lost once you get into Avalon!
In each of these options your eventual goal will be to get to the Catalina Express Port in Pebble Beach, Avalon.
(^ Don’t worry, the paved road is really pretty as well)
Regardless of the route you choose, they both hit the Catalina Airport! The “Airport in the Sky” is located 10 miles from Two Harbors, just off of the TCT, making it an amazing location for a much-needed break and a heck of a photo-op. Grab a nice cool Gatorade, get out of the sun, and maybe even grab a quick bite.
If you’re looking for a longer stay you can even try out the famous DC-3 restaurant for one of Catalina’s famous buffalo burgers, or if you’re one who loves history don’t forget to take advantage of the outdoor exhibits at the airport’s nature center.
This hike was one of the most difficult and definitely one of the most memorable hikes I’ve ever done. The view of the island and the surrounding water is surreal. I am yet to be anywhere like this hike. The dry California vegetation of the mountains matched with the bright blue endless background of the oceans is something I will never forget.
However, despite this beauty, there was another view that followed home from the island. At certain high spots on the trail, you get an eye-opening view of the California coast. I always enjoy seeing places I’ve been from a different perspective. Yet, one of the most what struck me this time was the places that I wasn’t able to see.
The coast that I grew up on was completely covered with a thick haze of smog. The only places to break through were the high peaks of the San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and Saddleback mountain ranges. It broke my heart.
I spent much of my life on the peaks of mountains pointing out the faraway Catalina Island. When I turned around on Catalina to see our home, it was the first time I realized what we had done to the place.
We need to do everything we can to protect the beautiful world we live in from the worst parts of ourselves. Yet despite everything we’ve done, those mountains continue to stand above it all. Don’t forget to enjoy the gifts we already have.
Here’s the last picture I took of a sunset while waiting in line to board the ferry from Avalon back home.