Trans Catalina Trail Trip Planning Guide

Update: As of 2017 the trail head and terminus have been rerouted. There is now a trail head building in Avalon and the official TCT takes the Hermit Gultch trail instead of the East End Road. Starlight Beach is no longer part of the official route and several amenities like bathrooms were added throughout the trail as well as food storage boxes at each campsite in all campgrounds. The new TCT is 38.5 miles long with a total elevation gain of 17,230 feet.

Trail Sections

  • Avalon to Black Jack Campground – (originally 15 miles now 10.7 miles) 1328 ft elevation gain
  • Black Jack to Little Harbor (7.15 miles) 1586 ft elevation gain/loss
  • Little Harbor to Two Harbors (5.6 miles) 3,525 ft elevation gain/loss
  • Two Harbor to Parsons Landing (6.57 miles) 1728 ft elevation gain/loss
  • Parsons Landing to Starlight Beach (4.62 miles each way) 2,279 ft elevation gain/loss No longer part of TCT- official route now loops back to Two Harbors via the main road (8 miles, mostly flat.)

Set dates and book campsites.  Avoid the hot summer months if possible this trail offers little to no shade. Remember to pre-order your firewood  for each campsite and a locker with water for Parsons Landing. (Order fire starters or bring your own.)

Get a hiking permit.

Book boat tickets. The boat out of Long Beach leaves the earliest (6:15am) and gives you the most time on Leg 1 where time is of the essence.

Don’t try to pack fuel on the Catalina Express – they have started enforcing the USCG Regulation and will take your fuel.

Fuel can be found on the island in:

AVALON- Chet’s Hardware on Catalina Avenue has big and small canisters available for purchase in the far left aisle when you walk in.

The Trailhead building also has fuel on a merchandise display in the center of the store.

TWO HARBORS- The General Store has fuel in various sizes available for purchase.

PRO-TIP: at Chet’s Hardware in Avalon and at the General Store in Two Harbors, they sometimes have fuel canisters that other hikers have left behind, so be sure to ask if you know you don’t need a full canister for your trip.

LEAVING THE ISLAND VIA FERRY? If you want to leave your fuel before the folks at the ferry collect it, you can drop it off at Chet’s Hardware in Avalon or the General Store in Two Harbors to pay it forward to other backpackers.

If starting in Avalon

Stop at Trailhead Visitor Center (708 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704) forĀ a map, fuel, and any last min questions.

Have at least 3L of water with you before leaving Avalon. Only water between Avalon and Black Jack Campground is at the playground in the middle of nowhere 3/4 of the way to Black Jack. Potable water is available at all campgrounds except Parsons Landing.

When leaving Black Jack you only need enough water to hold you over to the Airport in the sky. They have cold gallons for sale there so save yourself the weight.

Factor in places to eat when meal planning. There is the Airport in the sky 2.25 miles past Black Jack. There is a restaurant and a grocery store with hand dip ice cream in Two Harbors. You can pack only what you need for a few days and resupply in Two Harbors. (disclaimer: the grocery store is small and limited. Don’t expect to find dehydrated backpacking meals available there.)

Get some odor proof bags to keep all food and scented items in. There are few places to hang food and critters will gladly rip through equipment to get at anything with a fragrance. UPDATE with the new addition of food storage lockers these are only needed for Two Harbors campsites that lack trees to bear hang food and scented items.

When hiking from Little Harbor to Two Harbors and Two Harbors to Parsons Landing start early! Eat a big breakfast and be ready for the hardest parts of the trail. It is treacherous and trekking poles may actually save your life.

When arriving in Two Harbors check in for the campground at the little building attached to the pier and confirm your Parsons Landing campsite as well. REMEMBER TO GET YOUR LOCKER KEY for Parsons Landing before leaving Two Harbors. It’s easiest to just pick it up when you check in.

Coin operated showers at Two Harbors are open 24/7 and only $3. Laundry room available and the bar has outlets to charge your devices.

When returning from Parsons Landing take the main road instead of the TCT. It’s only 7.5 miles, it’s level with intermittent shade, and the ocean views are amazing. Plus you already did that section of the TCT. Why kill yourself? UPDATE: this is now officially part of the trail route.

Plan extra time to get drinks in Two Harbors before catching your boat back home. Use that time to contemplate the astounding journey you just undertook and all the ways it blessed you. If you don’t want to return to San Pedro there is a Safari Bus that will take you back to Avalon which services the other ports (but Uber on the mainland is way cheaper.)

Remember to keep your eyes up for rattle snakes and bison. Consult map often. Trail markers are ambiguous at times. While you are out there, take time to look around and take it all in.

Happy trails

Want more trail details? Check out an in-depth account of my 2016 TCT hike 

Need gear for your own trip? Check out


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