As summer’s heat begins to ebb, the hiking trails on Catalina Island become even more appealing. Dramatic vistas, unique wildlife and rugged terrain make hiking on Catalina Island a challenging and rewarding activity. Here are nine things you should know about hiking on the island.
It’s all protected: Nearly 90 percent of the island is protected in perpetuity, thanks to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Formed in 1972, when the Wrigley family provided initial funding and deeded the bulk of the island to the nascent organization, the Catalina Island Conservancy’s purpose is conservation, education and recreation. Today the Catalina Island Conservancy maintains trails, protects the island’s fragile ecosystems and promotes education. Throughout the year, the organization hosts a number of programs, including naturalist training and volunteer vacations. Learn more about the Conservancy – and the island – by visiting the Trailhead, located just a short stroll from the Catalina Island ferry terminal; the Nature Center in Avalon Canyon; or the Interpretive Center at Catalina Island’s Airport in the Sky.
You’ll need a permit: If you’re planning on hiking in Catalina Island’s interior, you’ll need a free permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy. Permits – along with hiking maps – are available at the Trailhead in Avalon, at the Nature Center in Avalon Canyon, at the Airport in the Sky and at the Visitor Center in Two Harbors. Hiking permits are also available online.
Watch for wildlife: Hiking on Catalina Island provides a rare opportunity to see an array of wildlife, including native Island foxes, massive North American bison and soaring bald eagles, as well as glimpses of marine mammals like sea lions, dolphins and whales. While seeing these animals is a thrill, it’s best to keep your distance, particularly from bison, which can be unpredictable and dangerous. The island is also home to rattlesnakes; while encounters are very rare, they can be life-threatening.
You don’t have to go it alone: Whether you get trail advice from the Catalina Island Conservancy or hire a guide through Catalina Backcountry, you don’t need to explore on your own.
It takes a lifetime to discover: Once you take those first steps into Catalina Island’s wildlands, you’ll realize that the island has so much more to explore. The bustling seaside village of Avalon contrasts dramatically with the undeveloped wilderness protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, where hikers often find themselves the only humans in sight. There are more than 165 miles of trails and roads stretching across the island’s 42,000 acres.
Take what you need: Services in the interior of the island are few and far between and you’ll want to have what you need with you. Even on the coolest days you’ll want to have water with you as well as a snack and sunblock.
It can be challenging: Catalina Island’s interior is frequently described as rugged. Elevation changes are dramatic, taking hikers from sea level to nearly 2,000 feet above it. Hikers should also be aware that cell service is not available in all areas.
There’s something for everyone: Hiking on Catalina Island offers a variety of options, ranging from multi-day treks on the 32-mile Trans-Catalina Trail to days hikes like the Garden to Sky and short jaunts from the Avalon. A trail map will illustrate the variety hikes available and help you navigate Catalina Island trails and roads.
You’ll want to come back for more: Catalina Island provides a stark juxtaposition to the Southern California mainland, where few expanses of undeveloped land remain. Once you’ve started exploring Catalina Island’s hiking trails and wildlands it can be addicting. An annual membership to the Catalina Island Conservancy is a great way to continue exploring while supporting the important work of this non-profit.
Great rates on hotels: The Fall is not only the perfect time to hike, it's the perfect time to visit. Mid week rates in the Fall are some of the best all year. View our Catalina Island hotel rates.