Long Weekend on the California Catalina Islands- Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Adventure Is Calling

Escape the busy city life of Southern California for a long weekend getaway that will feel like you have been transported to rustic, tropical paradise as you hike the Trans-Catalina Trail on Catalina Island.

Meet the Author!

Lynne Anderson

Guide At a Glance

- Price Range:
- Physical Difficulty:
- Time Required:

Your Next Quest

What you need to know before you go!

Escape the city for a peaceful and challenging through hike on the Trans-Catalina trail that will immerse you in southern california’s natural beauty. Perfect for intermediate and avid backpackers who need a quick escape into nature from Los Angeles and surrounding cities.

To get even more information, please visit the Catalina Island Conservancy Website.

How do you go hiking in coastal So-Cal?

Catalina Island, located off the coast of Southern California, is home to native wildlife, breathtaking cape views, and bison. The trail follows the Ridgeline and offers countless ocean views in a rustic backpacking setting.

Along the 38.5 mile long Trans-Catalina trail backpackers can expect a challenging hike that offers varying elevation gain and hike in camping along the trail.

This backpacking trip takes an average of 3-4 days to complete and is perfect or intermediate backpackers or individuals who only have a long weekend to devote to a backpacking trip. Throughout the trip individuals will hike up and down peaks while they take in the expansive views of the pacific ocean and camp on the beach in Parson’s landing.

If you are overwhelmed by the hustle culture of the city, escape to Catalina to challenge yourself and recharge in nature.

Teach me your ways!

  • Pack for all types of weather. Things like sunscreen and rain gear are both equally important and deserve a space in your pack.
  • Speaking of weather, check the radar and average temperatures prior to your trip. Make sure you plan to have enough clothing that is light and efficient for all types of climates
  • Always check in at the trailhead and let friends and family know when and where you will be. Cell phone service can be spotty in areas while you are backpacking, so having a portable battery to recharge your phone is a great idea in case of an emergency.
  • Bugs love nature too! Since you will be deep in the wilderness, bring plenty of bug spray to keep the bugs under control.
  • Listen to your body. Even the most experienced hikers can slip on a rock and roll their ankle, or succumb to heat stroke. Take breaks often and be aware of your body’s aches and rest when you are feeling too hot to continue.
  • Carrying a pack is heavy. When hiking up steep sections, try to minimize your load by packing only the necessities. Your tired legs will thank you.
  • Make sure to adjust your backpack straps so it disperses the weight properly on your back. Getting a properly fitted bag is essential to the success of your trip. When you have a bag that fits properly, you will be able to hike for longer and your body will get tired at a slower rate.
  • Electrolytes tablets are a wonderful addition to your pack. These tablets go into a water bottle and give you the electrolytes you need to feel your best throughout your trip.
  • Bring water. Bring too much water. Bring way more water than your think you will ever need! You can never have too much water, especially when hiking and staying in areas that do not offer water fill ups.

Need some inspiration?

Still undecided?




Where and When to Go?


The landscape on Catalina Island can be full of drastic changes. You will hike a mountainous terrain with both canyon and ocean views while also passing small towns and a 2,000 year old soapstone quarry. As you continue along the hike, you will also hike down to beaches and harbors. Throughout the hike you’ll be able to see beautiful examples of local animals and plants as you explore untouched nature. Since much of the island is explored only on foot, bike, or golf cart, you will be able to witness the untouched beauty that is Catalina Island.


This trip can be taken year-round, but the best time to hike is in the late summer to early fall since the weather will be cooler than the hot summer months.


Trans-Catalina Trail

The Trans-Catalina trail travels from the southern point of Avalon Bay to the northern point of Parsons Landing. Throughout the trip backpackers summit at Airport in the Sky and stay at the secluded campsites of Little Harbor Campground and Parsons Campground. Hikers then follow the coastline to end in Two Harbors.

Essential Outdoor Skills

What outdoor and survival skills should I master before embarking?

  • Carrying gear while hiking and walking.
  • Pitching a tent
  • Building a fire
  • Reading a map
  • Preparing food and cooking with a canister stove
  • Basic first aid knowledge in case of emergency.

Numbers to remember

0 m
is the total length of the trail!
0 days
is the recommended time for the thru-hike.
American bison live on Catalina Island!

Safety & Risk

Is this adventure for you?

Backpacking is a challenging endeavor and is one that takes a good amount of preparation. Be sure that you feel confident in your ability to hike while carrying a pack full of your essential gear. Be aware of your physical strengths and weaknesses before starting the trip and always be sure to do research about the place in which you are hiking before you begin your trip.

While there is a lot to prepare, backpacking can be one of the most rewarding trips you can take. Pushing your physical limits and accomplishing the undertaking of packing in and packing out all of your gear can be a truly rewarding experience. Plus, backpacking allows you to access more remote areas of nature which allows you to immerse yourself in beautiful untouched environments.




What animals can I expect to encounter?

Hikers can expect to see a range of animals while on the trail, including bison. Bison were brought to the island in the 1920’s for a movie and a small herd we left on the island. If you encounter a bison while hiking, keep at lease 150 feet away to ensure your safety.

  • Bald Eagles
  • Bison
  • Catalina Island Fox
  • Rattlesnakes

Fitness & Training

What is the recommended level of fitness?

You must be able to hike long distances for three to four consecutive days while carrying a backpack that can weigh up to 30 pounds.

You must be able to navigate a variety of trails that vary in elevation gain

Training and preparation exercise regimen

  • Prior to this trip, take multiple longer day hikes with a heavy pack on your back. This will give you direct weight training. Start with a smaller pack and add more weight to it for each additional hike.
  • Lunges- doing lunges, even just the length of your driveway multiple times a week will help you build up the muscles you need in your thighs to hike the 38.5 miles successfully on this trip.
  • Calf Raises- this exercise helps to strengthen the bottom half of your leg and can aid in stability while navigating rocky trails on the mountainside.

With balanced muscle strength in your calf and thigh muscles, you will be able to carry more weight in your backpack for longer periods of time.

Gear Guide

What gear do I need for this trip?

Required Gear

  • Backpack
  • Hiking boots
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove and fuel
  • Water-treatment supplies
  • Plenty of water
  • Kitchen supplies
  • Food

Supporting Gear

  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Warm hat for cold nights
  • Sunscreen

Accessories & Apps

  • Printed out map
  • Digital GPS system or digital map

Finances & Budget

What are the costs associated with this adventure?

Gear & Products



For individuals with no prior gear, backpacking gear can cost anywhere from $1000-$5000. Yet, much of the gear you need can be bought used for a cheaper price.

Food & Nutrition



Plan for 3 meals per day plus snacks averaging about $10 per day.
When choosing freeze-dried boil-in-bag meals, the cost is about $5 per meal for an average of $15 per day.




The ferry to Catalina Island is $76 round trip.




Camping costs $29 in the summer and $27 I the winter with holiday costs at $30 per night.




Hiking permit is free.

Savings Tips

Becoming a conservancy member gives you 50% off your camping on the island.

Insider Tips

Here's what most people don't know!

  • Catalina Island is 22 miles from the coast of California.
  • The Airport in the Sky is an actual working airport that was created by leveling off two mountain tops.
  • Little Harbor Campground is considered one of the most beautiful campgrounds in California.

What does no one tell you?

If you’re new to thru-hiking, you might hate the hike halfway through. But you can’t wait to go back!


Yes! You can bring anyone that would enjoy backpacking. It is a more strenuous activity, so definitely keep that in mind while inviting friends to join you.

People of all ages can enjoy this trip.

There are bathrooms located on the Trans-Catalina trail map and throughout the hike.

See Notes on transportation in the Finances & Budget section.

See notes in the “Where and When to Go?” section.

There are no guided tours for the entire hike, but some may be available for the day hikes on the island.