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Trans-Catalina Trail

Planning on hiking the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) on your next visit to Catalina Island?  Get great tips & hints on planning your journey.  Let the DC-3 Gifts & Grill help with your food supplies on the trail.  

We are a great stop along the way - the trail passes within a short walk of the Airport in the Sky - you can refill your water supply, stop in for a restroom break, and grab a hot breakfast or lunch along with food for your next camping stop.  

Below is a step-by-step process on how to go about preparing for the Trail and getting the most out of your Trans Catalina Trail Experience.


Tip #1:  Figure out how long it will take you hike the portion(s) of the Trail you want to complete.  You can view the full TCT Map online along with detailed maps of the East End (includes the town of Avalon and Hermit Gult Campground), Airport in the Sky (includes the Airport Loop Trail and Blackjack Campground), the Windward Beaches (includes Little Harbor Campground), and the West End (includes the village of Two Harbors, the Two Harbors Campground, and the Parsons Landing Campground).  The full TCT Map has a great Trail Elevation Profile that should help you understand the increases and decreases in elevation for each leg of the trail*.

*Safety Note:  Make sure you are physically up to the challenges the trail presents.  


Getting to Catalina Island

Tip #2:  Make a round-trip reservation for your transportation to and from Catalina.  This will give you a starting time and an ending time for your hike.  This will also ensure that you can actually get to the island and get home again.  This is a smart choice any time of year, but an absolute must if you are traveling between April and October (boats and helicopters have limited seating - they often sell out during the summer season and on busy event weekends).  Below are links to the cross-channel carriers that service Avalon and Two Harbors.

Catalina Express - With departure points in San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point the Catalina Express has the most varied number of departures per day.  Bonus:  If you travel on your actual birthday, they are offering free rides until the end of April 2013 to continue the celebration of their 30+ years of service. 

Catalina Flyer - Departs daily from Newport Beach at the Balboa Pavillion.  Keep an eye on their website for discounts during the off-season.

Marina Del Rey Flyer - Departs daily from Marina Del Rey at Fisherman's Village.  Join their facebook page for discounts.

Island Express Helicopters - Departs daily from Long Beach, with special schedules from San Pedro.  Check their website for the latest information and offerings.


Staying on Catalina Island

Tip #3 - Book your campsites and hotel stay(s).  

Once you've figured out your coming and going times, this should provide you with an easy roadmap on where you should plan to stay on the island.  If you are planning on coming over the day before your hike begins or staying overnight after you complete the trail, the Catalina Chamber of Commerce website offers a listing of hotels, bed & breakfasts, and inns along with their websites for easy booking.  

To book your campsite(s), vist the Santa Catalina Island Company's Camping Website - step-by-step instructions are located on the right side of each individual campsite's page. 

Tip #4 - Give yourself plenty of time to make your camping reservations - it may take a few minutes in between the map printing and visiting each campsite's page.  Do avoid calling in to make your reservations, as there is a $25 administrative fee charged for the call. 



Tip #5 - Pack appropriately for your trip.  Only you know what you'll need for the duration of the trip, but here are some helpful hints on items you do not want to forget - this comes directly from people that have hiked the trail.  (If there is something you found helpful that you would like us to add to this list, please email us.  info@catalinadc3.com)


  • Cash & Credit Cards - some places do not take credit cards or may have a minimum.
  • Comfortable hiking boots
  • Thick comfortable socks
  • Extra band-aids (heavy duty) or moleskin
  • Benadryl or allergy medication
  • Bathing Suit - there are beaches in Avalon, Little Harbor, Two Harbors and Parsons - during the summer a nice swim is a great relief after a good hike.
  • Hat - there are many stretches of the trail that do not afford any shade or coverage - helpful in the heat and in cool weather or rain - extra wide brims or flaps help, too.
  • Windbreaker (great for blocking wind & sun)
  • Sunscreen & chapstick
  • Sunglasses (polarized, if you've got them - lots of sunlight reflecting off water)
  • Walking Stick(s) - very helpful and apprecited on steeper inclines
  • Head lamp & extra batteries - the campsites outside of Avalon and Two Harbors do not have lights or outlets.
  • Camera - as mentioned on almost every site that talks about the TCT - this is a very scenic trail.  You will probably want to capture it on film.
  • Water - bring more than you think you will need.  See Tip #12 below.

Keep in mind if you wish to focus more on the hike and have someone take care of transporting your gear for you (many hikers have said this is what made the trail easier and more fun to experience for them), you can contact Catalina Backcountry for assistance.  They are also an amazing resource for planning your trip to Catalina, so if there are questions you have or aspects of your trip you need help coordinating, check in with them - they are happy to help.

On the Trail

Tip #6 - What switchbacks?  There is a lot of terrain that is up and down - coming into and out of the Airport in the Sky, especially.  The inclines and declines are not switchbacks - they are steep.  Walking sticks come in handy during these elevation changes.  Most hikers we see at the DC-3 Gifts & Grill claim this as their most challenging part of the trail - not the distance, but the direct elevation change.

Tip # 7 - Have a map - great resource, fabulous souvenir, occasional umbrella or shade structure - the $2 maps you can get from the Conservancy or our gift shop are nearly tear- and water-proof.

Tip #8 - Have friends - either hike with others or set up times to check in with family/friends so they know when and where you will be at each location.  Cell phone service is spotty at most of the campsites, but generally you will have reception in and around Avalon, the Airport & Two Harbors.  Verizon currently tends to have the best coverage, AT&T is a close second.  T-Mobile traditionally has extremly poor coverage on the island, in general. 

Tip #9 - Be prepared to hike through different parts of the island - some parts of the TCT will be literally out in the middle of nowhere.  You won't hear a car, a generator, or another human voice.  Some portions are right along the main road that cuts across the top of the island.  Locals and shuttle or tour bus drivers are generally friendly and will slow down when driving by you to avoid having dust/rocks pop up off the road.  If you need assistance, flag someone down.  Chances are they will be able to help you out.  Some hikers have suggested having a pair of tennis shoes so that if you choose to walk on the road instead of the trail, you will have shoes that are more suitable.

Tip #10 - Be smart & safe around animals! 

We have North American Plains Bison - they are big (up to 2,000 pounds), they are fast (up to 35 miles an hour), and they will protect their young.  If you keep clear of them, they will keep clear of you.  Someimes you do have to go off the trail a bit to get around a bison.  Do not run up to them, attempt to take pictures with them, try to pet or ride them, or do any other ridiculous thing with them, especially if there are calves with the herd. 

We have California Rattlesnakes -  It is a wise idea to wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots and thick socks), and keep your ears open.  You may run into them on cooler days when they come out of their snakehole to warm themselves on the sunny pavement or dirt.  Again, steer clear of them and they will steer clear of you.  If someone in your party sustains a rattlesnake bite, seek emergency assistance immediately and keep them calm.       

We have Catalina Island Foxes - these beautiful animals are about the size of a small house-cat.  They were on the endangered species list for quite some time, but have come back from the brink of extinction thanks to a program operated by the Catalina Island Conservancy - please make sure you do not feed them when you are on the trail or at the campgrounds.  These are wild animals and they do need to fend for themselves - feeding them does not help them. 

Tip # 11 - Leaves of three, let them be - keep an eye our for poison oak and sumac - it can run thick near some of the trail sections.  Should it become necessary to deviate from the main trail, be mindful of the plants in the area.

Tip #12 - Water, water, water - There is potable water available at Hermit Gultch Campground and in Avalon, at Haypress Reservoir, at Black Jack Campground, at the Airport in the Sky, at Little Harbor Campground, at Two Harbors Campground and in the village of Two Harbors.  Make sure if you are staying at Parson's you confirm water delivery for your campsite (it can be delivered along with firewood).  As a tip, most people tend to drink about 1.5 times as much water on this trail as they generally do.  Plan accordingly - you may want to bring a larger camelbak bladder or extra water canteen/bottle to fill at each stop along the way.  Especially during the summer months, have plenty of water on hand.  We will gladly refill your water bottles, camelbaks, or other water containers for free at the DC-3 Gifts & Grill.  Rangers on the main roads and at campsites usually will have water or gatorade for emergencies, but it is wise to be prepared.

Tip #13 - Take care of your feet before you hike - This might be common sense (or may be the info that saves your feet from unnecessary pain).  Trim your toenails before you hike.  Use the shoes you're going to wear on the TCT on a similar trail (uphills, downhills, quick elevation changes).  If you are prone to blisters, bring vaseline and apply it to your toes and heels before you start hiking each day.  This will hopefully stave off blisters or at least keep them from getting so severe.  Make sure your feet do not slide around too much in your shoes (in this instance, extra room is not better).


After Your Journey

Tip #14 - Contact us once your back home.  We would love to hear from you - how your hike went, what suggestions you have for people getting ready to go out on the trail, and any hints or tips that you wish you would have known in advance.  We would also like to hear how we as a restaurant can help provide food and services that make the trail more enjoyable.  We may post your suggestions and/or comments on our website or on our Facebook page. 


Helpful Sites

Hike Safely! 

Safety Advisories from the Catalina Conservancy

Camping Guidelines from the Santa Catalina Island Company


Helpful review sites for the Trans Catalina Trail

EveryTrail.com - Jeff Hester's 4-day version of the full trail provides some helpful directional hints, pictures, and suggestions.

Yelp.com - Check out some great reviews and hints about the trail, the terrain, and what to pack.

SoCal Hiker.com - Great shots of the trail and some more helpful hints.