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Trans-Catalina Trail

Planning on hiking the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) on your next visit to Catalina Island?  Here are some great tips on planning your adventure.

And remember to let the DC-3 Gifts & Grill help you fill up or re-fuel for the trail.  

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:  To figure out how long it will take you hike the portion(s) of the Trail you want to complete, view the full TCT Map online along with detailed maps of the East End (includes the town of Avalon and Hermit Gulch 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 insure that you can get to the island and home again.  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.   www.catalinaexpress.com

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

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/or hotel stay(s).  

Once you have confirmed your arrival and departure times, decide where you will stay on the island.  If you are planning on arriving 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), visit the Catalina Island Company's Camping Website - step-by-step instructions are located on the right side of each individual campsite's page. 

Tip #4 - Make camping reservations online, well in advance.



Tip #5 - Pack appropriately for your trip.  Only you know what you'll want for the duration of your hike, but here are some helpful hints on items you should not 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 at  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 swim is refreshing after your hike.
  • Hat - there are many stretches of the trail that do not have any shade or coverage.  An extra wide brims or flaps help in the heat and for cool weather or rain
  • Windbreaker (great for blocking wind & sun)
  • Sunscreen & chapstick
  • Sunglasses (polarized, if you've got them - for sunlight reflecting off water)
  • Walking Stick(s) - very helpful and appreciated 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  (many hikers have said this is what made the trail easier and more fun), 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  you need help coordinating aspects of your trip, 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.  The inclines and declines are not switchbacks but 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 $5 maps you can get from the Conservancy or our gift shop are nearly tear- and water-proof.

Tip #8 - Have friends with you - 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 all 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 and Sprint traditionally have 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 vans 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! 

North American Plains Bison, (weighing up to 2,000 pounds), are fast (may run 35 miles an hour), and unpredictable.  If you keep clear of them, they will keep clear of you.  Sometimes you have to go off the trail a bit to get around a bison.  Do not run up to them, attempt to take selfies with them, try to pet or ride them, or do any other ridiculous thing. They can be dangerous.

We have California Rattlesnakes -  It is a wise idea to wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots and thick socks), and to keep your ears open.  You may run into them on cooler days when they come out of their snake hole 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.       

Catalina Island Foxes are beautiful animals 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.  They are wild animals and they do bite, no matter how tame they appear to be.

Tip # 11 - Leaves of three, let them be - keep an eye out 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 Gulch 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 more water on the trail than they generally do.  Plan accordingly - you may want to bring a larger camel pak 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, camel paks, or other water containers for free at the DC-3 Gifts & Grill.  Rangers on the main roads and at campsites will  usually have water or Gatorade for emergencies. For your safety be prepared to carry plenty of water.

Tip #13 - Take care of your feet before you hike - This is common sense (but it will save 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 reduce 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 you are back home.  We would love to hear 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

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 from Jeff Hester.