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Day Hike across Catalina: Two Harbors to Avalon

Two Harbors, California



21 miles

Route Type



Added by Cameron Catanzano

Most hikers come to Catalina for backpacking, but if you're looking for a much tougher challenge, this is the adventure for you.

This hike was one of the most difficult and definitely one of the most memorable hikes I’ve ever done. The view of the island and the surrounding water is surreal and I am yet to be anywhere like this hike. The dry California vegetation of the mountains matched with the bright blue endless background of the oceans is something I will never forget.

If you spent the night before this adventure on the island, you could just wake up and start hiking early in the morning, but for the sake of this adventure, I'm going to map things out as if you had spent the night before in Mainland Southern California.

The Ferry:

One thing that makes this so difficult is that you have a very precise window for when you can get a ferry into Catalina and when you can get a ferry out. We took the earliest ferry out (8am from San Pedro) and the last ferry in (7am from Avalon).

If you're spending the night before in Orange or LA County, the fastest ferry route to Catalina Island, and therefore the fastest way to start your hike will be the Catalina Express from San Pedro to Two Harbors. Furthermore, San Pedro will be the only port that offers ferry rides to and from both sides of the island (Two Harbors and Avalon), and Avalon will have later available return ferries, opening your hiking window even more.

A round trip adult ferry ticket will make this hike a little more pricy than an average hike, but if you can be so lucky as the plan this trip around your birthday then you can get two adult ferry tickets for the price of one. This deal can even be applied for longer backpacking, diving, or camping trips. You must depart on your actual birthday, but you can make your return trip as late as 30 days after your departure date (so long as the two of you are coming back together).

Click here to check out the Catalina Express’s schedule and fares.

The Hike:

Once you get on the Island, you’re going to have to get your hiking permit. Coming into Two Harbors this can be done by going to the Visitor Center. The permit is free but necessary for anyone hiking into the interior. For more information call (310) 510-2595 ext. 100.

The full Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) is 37 miles, but although Avalon is on one end of the trail, Two Harbors isn’t. Unless you plan on coming into Avalon and swimming back home, you’re going to have to add another 11 miles to account for the doubling back you’d have to do on the north side. This is a great distance for a backpacking trip, but in this post, we’re talking specifically about crossing the island in single a day.

Two Options:

#1 Take the TCT from Two Harbors to Avalon. This hike alone could make for a great backpacking trip. 26 miles of exhausting ups and downs is no walk in the park. We originally had planned to take this route, but we underestimated the heat and the difficulty of the trail and ended up changing our plan in fear of missing the ferry back from Avalon.

#2 Take the TCT from Two Harbors to the Airport then hike along the Airport Road into Avalon. All in all this route will be around 21 miles and the Airport Road actually parallels the TCT for much of the time. Since it is a paved road and is much flatter than the TCT we ended up making it into Avalon about 2 hours faster than we projected which gave us plenty of time to hang out in Avalon and wait for the ferry. Just make sure you pay attention and don’t get lost once you get into Avalon!

In retrospect, we probably could have stuck to option #1 and made our ferry, but it would have been close. In the end, option #2 was still one of the hardest hikes I've ever completed, so don't feel bad if you decide to play it safe with the slightly shorter route.

Click here for digital map of Catalina and all its trails/roads.

The Airport:

Regardless of the route you choose, they both hit the Catalina Airport! The “Airport in the Sky” is located 10 miles from Two Harbors, just off of the TCT, making it an amazing location for a much-needed break and a heck of a photo-op. Grab a nice cool Gatorade, get out of the sun, and maybe even grab a quick bite.

If you’re looking for a longer stay you can even try out their DC-3 restaurant for one of Catalina’s famous buffalo burgers, or if you’re one who loves history don’t forget to take advantage of the outdoor exhibits at the airport’s nature center.

For a little more information on this adventure, as well as some of my personal reflections on the trip, check out this blog post I wrote about the hike a while back.

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