Camping and Hiking on Catalina Island, USA

Boats by the shore with hills behind
Two Harbours on Catalina Island. Source: Flickr by Chrissy Olson
If you ever happen to be in Los Angeles and need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, an outdoor sanctuary is close at hand: only 22 miles off the coast is Catalina Island. This small island is 22 miles in length and 8 miles across at its widest point. Mostly undeveloped and with a year round mild climate, it offers excellent opportunities for camping, hiking, cycling and sailing.

Up until 1975 Catalina Island was largely owned by the Wrigley chewing gum family, before they deeded their ownership to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which has stewardship of 88 percent of the island. Most areas of the island are protected from development.

Access to the island is by the relatively inexpensive ferry that docks at Avalon, which is the main town on Catalina.

Camping and Hiking on Catalina

There are five good quality campsites on Catalina Island, catering for a variety of campers from families to backpackers and boaters. Situated close to Avalon, Hermit’s Gulch campsite is near the start of several hiking trails, as well as being close to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens. Another favourite campsite for backpackers is Blackjack campground. Nestled among pine and eucalyptus trees on the slopes of Mount Orizaba, Blackjack is perhaps the most scenic campsite on the island. At 639 m, Mount Orizaba is the highest point on the island, and with Blackjack campsite at 488m there is not too much uphill hiking!

Trekking around Catalina is the best way to see the island and its flora and fauna. One thing to bear in mind about hiking in the USA is that you often need to obtain a hiking permit. On Catalina, hiking permits are free and can be obtained from Conservancy House in Avalon, the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, Nature Center at Avalon Canyon, the Airport in the Sky, and the Visitor’s Center at Two Harbors. Hiking permits and fairly detailed maps can be downloaded as pdf files from the Conservancy’s website.

Trans-Catalina Trail

There are quite a few dirt roads and trails on the island that are suitable for hiking. The longest way marked walking route on the island is the 37.2 mile long Trans-Catalina Trail (CTC). Spectacular views can be seen across the Interior Nature Reserve as it traverses along valleys and up hills. The CTC runs from the Renton Mine Trailhead on the East End to Starlight Beach on the West End. It is possible to hike the entire length or shorter sections. Parts of the CTC are steep and exposed. Water is only available at four places along the route and it can become hot in the summer.

The main town on Catalina Island is Avalon
Avalon, the main town on Catalina Isalnd. Source: Flickr by J Brew

Flora and Fauna on Catalina

There are seven unique species of plant that occur only on Catalina Island with a further 26 that occur on two or more of Southern and Baja California’s offshore islands but not on the mainland USA. One of the rarest is the Catalina Island mountain mahogany, of which there are only 8 individuals in the wild.

Catalina is an excellent place for bird watching with almost 50 different species which either reside there or visit, including Catalina California Quail, Orange Crowned Warbler, Allen’s Hummingbird, Bald Eagle, Bewicks’s Wren and Island Loggerhead Shrike. Other types of animal include salamanders, lizards, snakes, the Santa Catalina Island Shrew, California Sea Lions, eight species of bats and the Santa Catalina Island Fox.

Rattlesnakes are native to the Island. Depending on the temperature, they may reside under or on top of warm rocks, or be found curled up by the side of the road. Avoid them.

There are also 150 Bison on Catalina. Originally fourteen were brought over to film a movie during the 1920’s and when filming finished the Bison were left to fend for themselves. Apparently their scene was not included in the film in the end!


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