Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Trans- Catalina Trail

If you’re planning on hiking the Trans Catalina Trail,I will share everything you need to know to help you plan your trip. 

I’m going to cover 

  • Gear/ what to bring
  • Transportation
  • Itinerary
  • useful, need to know information like, what to do if you or someone in your group can’t keep going.


The TCT  is 38.5 miles but if you decide to hike to Starlight Beach, which marks the western terminus of the Trans-Catalina Trail backpacking route will add roughly 10 miles to your hike. 

If you’ve never backpacked before and want to see if it’s something you’d enjoy, the Trans-Catalina Trail is a great place to start. There are bathrooms at every campsite which means you won’t need to cathole. You’ll also find potable water and won’t need to find sources of water to filter. Lastly, you always have access to civilization so if you decide you’ve had enough and backpacking isn’t for you, you’ll be able to arrange transportation to get picked up.

Gear/ what should you bring

I highly recommend keeping your pack under 30 pounds, the lighter the better-- especially if you’re new to backpacking.

  • Tent/ or a hammock (bringing a hammock instead of a tent will help cut down the weight) 
  • Sleeping pad if using a tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Portable stove
  • Gas ( although propane gas is not allowed on the ferry) but you can buy at the local store on the island
  • Lighter
  • Spork
  • Cup
  • Bowl
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • sunglasses
  • Comfortable hiking shoes
  • Socks
  • Change of clothes
  • Long sleeve, breathable uv shirt
  • Bathing suit
  • Food
  • Enough water to you to your first campsite

You might not need as much food as you think because you’ll be able to get food in Avalon at the start of your hike, at D3 cafe at the airport, and at two harbors.

If you want to hike and camp the TCT but don’t want to carry your gear, there’s services that will lug your gear from campground to campground on the TCT for a fee--means you get to experience the TCT without the added weight. The service fee is per leg of the trip rather than weight.

As for water, no need to filter or treat. All cmapsites with the exception of Parson's Landing have water on tap.

Getting to the island 

The most common and affordable way to reach the island is via ferry. There are four ports, Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach. My recommendation is to book your campsite first, then book your ferry ride. 

Ferry price- $37.25 each way ($74.50 round trip per person)

Another option is to book a helicopter ride, this will run roughly $150 per person each direction.


I recommend making this a 4 or 5 day trip, allowing you enough time to enjoy the island without being exhausted daily. 

The first thing is decided on where you’ll be starting, Avalon or Two Harbors? The trailhead technically starts in Avalon, but where you start might be dependent on when campsites are available. 

Day 1- Avalon to Black Jack campground; 11 miles, 

This is going to be one of the more difficult sections because of the elevation and distance. When I did the TCT (Earth Day, April 22), the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too hot and it was overcast and being you have complete sun exposure on the entire trai it was refreshing not getting beat down by the sun. If you do the Trans-Catalina Trail during summer, be prepared,bring sun protection and plenty of water.

We arrived in Avalon at 10:45 am, started hiking at 11:15am and arrived at Black Jack at 4:45pm

Blackjack campground is The highest campground on the island at  (1,600’) there’s sweeping views of rolling hills and rugged canyons. 

Amenities: 10 sites, potable water, cold outdoor showers, chemical toilets. No ranger on site. Restaurant available two miles up the trail at Airport-in-the-Sky.

Day 2- Black Jack to Little Harbors; 8 miles.

From Black Jack Campground, you'll head to Little Harbors. On your way to little harbors you’ll pass by the airport which is just two miles from Black Jack Campground. 

As you approach the Airport, you'll pass a 2,000-year-old soapstone quarry with bowls  which were excavated by Catalina’s first residents, the Tongva, still visible. 

At the airport there’s DC-3 Gifts and Grill. The perfect place to stop and have a delicious meal.

Additionally, at the airport you’re able to catch the Catalina Island Shuttle. The reason why that’s important is because Day 1 is exhausting, and getting a campsite at Little Harbors is difficult. If you’re  unable to book a campsite at Little Harbors, you’ll have a 14 mile day ahead of you from Black Jack Campground to Two Harbors. From the airport you’re able to take the shuttle to Little Harbors and hike from Little Harbors to Two Harbors, this will cut your hike down from 14 to 6 miles. You might be wondering, “ if I'm tired and taking the shuttle, why wouldn’t I  take the shuttle to Two Harbors and not hike at all?” That's because the shuttle doesn’t go to Two Harbors, it stops at Little Harbors which means you have to hike the rest of the way to get to Two Harbors.

Shuttle fee $17.00

Little Harbor is overlooking the ocean on the “backside” of Catalina.

Amenities: 26 sites, beach access, potable water, cold showers, chemical toilets, some shade structures. Ranger on site. Fires permitted in designated fire rings. Firewood available from Visitor Services.

Day 3- Little Harbor to Two Harbor; 6 miles.

In my opinion, the hike from Little Harbor to two harbor is the prettiest section of the TCT, the coastline views are breathtaking

Two Harbor Amenities: 47 tent sites, beach access, potable water, cold water outdoor showers, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, BBQs, and sunshades. Tent cabins (12) with 2-burner propane stoves, lanterns, fire pits, and picnic tables are also available at Two Harbors campground. 

Catalina Cabins (21 - available seasonally) are located in the village of Two Harbors and offer electricity, heaters, refrigerators, twin bunk beds or a 1 full-size bed, and communal kitchen. Coin-op hot showers and restrooms are also located in town and are available to all visitors. 

There’s a restaurant/bar and a general store where you can find pretty much anything you need.

Day 4- Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing; 6.8 miles

Secluded beachfront campground accessible only on foot or by kayak. Amenities:  8 sites, beach access, chemical toilets. No water available. No ranger on site. Fires permitted in designated fire rings. 

In order to get water and firewood, you’ll need to purchase it through Visitor Services. The water and firewood will be delivered to a locker at Parsons landing and in order to access the locker you’ll need to pick up the locker key at Two Harbors.