Trans Catalina Trail is a definitely a bucket list trail. It meets plenty of check boxes. It has beautiful scenery, easily accessible, and short at 40 miles. For me, it was a perfect summer trip because I live 10 minutes from the boat that takes you there. This trip is logistically difficult because you have to plan your boat trip there(and back), reserve campsites, and book a trip from Two Harbors to Avalon. Regardless, I started planning about 48 hours before I left for the trip and with just a little luck I was able to pull it off.
As it was summer in Southern California it was pretty hot(lows at 60F). I decided I was going to push my gear to the limit and see if I could pull off a 3lb base weight. Hindsight is 20/20 and this was a poor idea. Even though it was 60F, add in wind and dampness from sleeping near the ocean and it still felt pretty cold. Before I get into the gear and what I would have done differently I’ll go through the logistics in detail of doing the Trans Catalina Trail.
Logistics of the Trans Catalina Trail
This was probably the most logically annoying trip I have done. Before you start planning, look at the campsites and decide how many days you would like to do it in. For me, I ended up doing Avalon to Two Harbors then the rest the second day. I would suggest splitting it up a little longer than that to enjoy it. Once you decide what campsites you think you would like, check that you can actually get to the island those dates from the Catalina Express or other boat. Check the availability then call and reserve your campsites. If you get lucky and get all the campsites you would like then go ahead and reserve your boat ticket. I may have fit it in one paragraph, but on short notice it was rather difficult to get any availability.
The second logistic issue, is getting back from Two Harbors to Avalon so you can go home. There is a new boat option called the Cyclone that is $15 which is likely the best option, it is both cheaper and faster than the bus method. Call them and get that booked. Once you have all of that booked, you should be good. You will want to buy a guidebook or download the GPS data for the hike. It is well marked but it is nice to have the additional data in case you get off trail. You will have the airport at mile 15(ish) to get a meal as well as restaurants and stores(limited) in Two Harbors. This means you don’t have to carry much food. Water is available at the campgrounds throughout. The only section with a long water carry is the last day out of Two Harbors if you don’t spend the night at the campground.
Plan some time between your Cyclone ride and the boat back to mainland to enjoy Avalon a bit, it’s a pretty cool place.
Note: You will stand out because most people will not be backpacking!
There is my gear list for the trip. The first thing you probably notice is that out of my big 3, I hardly have 3. My insulation is nonexistant as I didn’t bring my quilt, I opted for an emergency poncho and Mylar blanket. I kept my usual sleeping pad (8 sections of a Z-lite). Instead of a real backpacking backpack, I just used my daypack. I didn’t bring really much else as my list states. I had my heavy headlamp, too large of a container of sunscreen, and a battery bank. Couldn’t really have saved much other weight without buying new gear. Needless to say, 3lbs for a base weight felt perfect for hiking all day, then night came.
The night was pretty miserable, no way to sugar coat it. I would sleep for 45 min then wake up sweaty and cold, rinse and repeat until the sun came up. On top of this, the animals at the Two Harbors campsite are just out looking for food so little foxes and mice running around everywhere. Using a Mylar blanket for sleeping is a terrible idea except for maybe an emergency. It is incredibly loud, and all around a bad idea. I felt terrible for the second day, my body wasn’t that sore from hiking but I was extremely tired due to the poor nights rest. Carrying less did not let me do more. Adding a quilt or even puffy plus leggings would have made the night comfortable. Not having a shelter was totally fine except for the animals.