Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail: Everything You Need to Know

Planning to hike the Trans Catalina Trail? Do you dream of walking the rolling hills of California, with 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean, falling asleep to a warm campfire, vibrant sunsets, and the sound of crashing waves?

I solo hike the Trans Catalina Trail in March 2024 after years of hearing about it as a native Californian. While it’s a tough trail with steep ups and downs and lots of logistical hurdles to jump through, hiking the Trans Catalina Trail is absolutely-worth it!

If you’d like to experience this unique mini thru-hike for yourself, I’ve put together this helpful guide to plan your hike from start to finish! This guide includes information on when and how to book campground reservations, navigating the island’s ferry system, insider tips on the best places to stay and eat – essentially everything you need!

Disclosure: This page may contain sponsored content or affiliate links, including Amazon links, where I earn a small commission from any purchase – at no extra cost to you. This commission helps keep Brooke In Boots up and running. As always, all opinions are 100% honest and my own!

TCT Mile 17 from Little Harbor to Two Harbors

What is the Trans Catalina Trail? Basic Info & FAQs

The Trans Catalina Trail, or TCT as it is commonly called, is a 38.5 mile hiking trail that runs the length of Santa Catalina Island, just off the coast of Southern California.

The trail meanders South to North, starting at the island’s only real city of Avalon, through the rolling hills and canyons of the island’s interior, and along the rugged coast, ending at the quaint town of Two Harbors.

The Trans Catalina Trail is known for sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged coastline of the largest of California’s Channel Islands, quaint island towns, and beautiful beachfront camping.

Walking the TCT is a glimpse into what coastal California would have looked like thousands of years ago.

Is the TCT Beginner Friendly?

At just over 38 miles, the Trans Catalina trail is perfect for experienced and beginner backpackers.

The robust infrastructure and well marked trails, plus easy resupply and water points makes this an ideal trail for your first extended backpacking trip. Just make sure you’re in good physical condition and carry a light pack! Check out tips for planning your first backpacking trip, here.

What about going solo?

Solo hikers will love the TCT. I hiked the trail as a solo woman, and would absolutely recommend this trail if you’re looking to adventure on your own for the first time!

Why? You’re never so far from civilization that you feel truly “out in it” and all of the campgrounds book up and require reservations, which means you’ll always be surrounded by others – usually families and other solo hikers. In fact, I saw several other solo female hikers on the TCT – even more than men!

The TCT is a perfect trail for solo female hikers, beginners, and even experienced backpackers!

Avalon to Two Harbors vs Two Harbors to Avalon

Hiking South (Avalon) to North (Two Harbors) is the most popular option, as it is generally easier due to elevation gain and trail conditions.

The Catalina Island Conservancy, who manages the trail, officially recommends first-time hikers walk in this direction, and mile-markers along the trail are marked accordingly.

Avalon to Two Harbors is the direction I hiked this trail. This guide assumes you’ll be following this traditional route, but of course, it is possible to do it in reverse (Two Harbors to Avalon) as well. 

Do I need a permit or reservation to hike the TCT?

A permit is not required to hike the TCT, but you must obtain advanced reservations for all the campgrounds you plan on using. There is no dispersed camping on Catalina.

Campsites are booked far in advance during peak season. Information on each of the campsites (and my own tips for how I easily scored reservations) can be found further down.

Cost to Hike the Trans Catalina Trail

The Trans Catalina is a great hike for beginning and advanced backpackers, or anyone looking to try out solo backpacking for the first time.

What it’s not, however, is cheap.

Between ferry tickets, which cost around $94 round trip, and campsite, which cost $30 per person per night, I would budget about $200 per person for the TCT, excluding gear, food, and any additional hotel stays.  

mile 2 marker on the Trans Catalina Trail

Trans Catalina Trail Map and Elevation Profile

The Trans Catalina Trail is generally well-signed, and hikers traveling South to North should not have a problem with finding their route. However, you should always bring a GPS or paper map for any trek.

Paper maps are available in Avalon in the Catalina Island Conservancy Store (located near the ferry port). I suggest downloading a GPS map from AllTrails, or purchase the FarOutGuides digital map. I used the FarOut app, as I often do for backpacking trips, and I found it to be accurate and helpful.

In addition to helping navigate, I’m a glutton for punishment (and a control freak), who likes to know exactly how much further I have to go up this damn climb. GPS apps like FarOut and AllTrails are great for that.

You can use this map to get a general sense of the major landmarks and campgrounds along the TCT. We’ll talk about each of these stops in more detail, below.

The TCT is generally broken up into 5 major segments:

  1. Segment 1: Avalon to Blackjack (10.8 Miles) [Red] – The first few miles wind through oak and chaparral scrub forests, before you emerge on the top of a ridge, with 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Avalon, below. This segment winds through canyons, valleys, and oak forests before ending at Blackjack Campground.
  2. Segment 2: Blackjack to Little Harbor (8 Miles) [Yellow] – Continue through the interior of the island, making a stop at Airport in the Sky, before descending to the rugged west shore of the island.
  3. Segment 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors (5.4 Miles) [Green] – The shortest segment packs a punch: as you traverse the ridge of the island, you’ll have the best views of the entire trail, as well as some of the steepest climb and descents.
  4. Segment 4: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing (6.6 Miles) [Blue] – The steepest and highest climbs of the trail take you from town to Parson’s Landing, on the exposed northwestern end of the island. Optional to skip this segment in favor of the longer, but flat, Segment 5.
  5. Segment 5: Parsons Landing to Two Harbors (7.7 Miles) [Purple] – The trail concludes with a long, flat, road walk along a seldom used dirt road, winding along the eastern edge of the island, before officially concluding back in the town of Two Harbors.

TCT Elevation Profile

Looking at the elevation profile for the Trans-Catalina Trail can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re not used to hiking in steep terrain.

You’ll gain and loose a couple thousand feet of elevation almost every day on this trail, for a total gain and loss of around 8,400 feet. 

You can use this elevation profile to get a sense of the kinds of gains and losses you can expect on each segment of the Trans Catalina Trail.

For a more detailed look at the TCT elevation profile, check it out on AllTrails, here.

When to Hike the Trans Catalina Trail 

The Trans Catalina Trail is best hiked in the spring and fall, when the temperatures are mild and there is less chance of rain.

In spring (March – early May) you’ll see the island at its best, with mile of rolling green hills, wildflowers, and mild temperatures. I hike the TCT in late March and thought it was the absolutely perfect time to experience the trail.

Spring is also the peak season for hiking the TCT, and reservations are booked well in advance. Make sure to plan ahead if you want to hike during this peak time.

The island can get very hot during the summer months, like dangerously hot. Temperatures on the island can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid hiking from late May through early October.

In winter (December – February), heavy rains can make the trail difficult to navigate, storms can delay ferry sailings, and temperatures can fall into the 30s at night. During periods of heavy rain, the Conservancy may close the trail entirely. Looking for a good winter backpacking trip in SoCal? Check out the Boy Scout Trail and California Hiking & Riding Trail in Joshua Tree.

green hills of Catalina from the Trans Catalina Trail
Hiking the TCT in spring means you can enjoy mild temps and green hills like these.

Campgrounds and Permits on the Trans Catalina Trail

 You won’t need a hiking permit on the TCT, but you do need campground reservations, and this is where it gets tricky.

There is no dispersed camping, which means you MUST stay in one of the 5 campgrounds every night.

Reservations for all Catalina campgrounds go on sale at midnight on January 1 for that calendar year. If you want to hike the TCT, I suggest logging in sometime on New Years Day, and you should have pretty good luck grabbing the exact dates you want.

Reservations are issued through the Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages the trail – you’ll book these online at visitcatalinaisland.com.  As of 2024, tent camping spots on the island cost $30 – $33 per person per night at all campgrounds.

Trans Catalina Trail Campgrounds

There are 5 campgrounds spaced out fairly evenly along the Trans Catalina. Picnic tables, pit toilets, bear boxes (for foxes) and drinking water are available at every campground.

Fire pits are located at the beach campsites at Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing. Beach showers are located at Little Harbor.

Hermit Gulch Campground

Trail Mile: 1.8 Miles

Hermit Gulch is located in Avalon Canyon, 1.8 miles from the harbor in Avalon. Here the official trail section of the TCT begins, making it a convenient jumping off point for an early morning start on the TCT.

There are 40 tent camping spots at Hermit Gulch, as well as tent cabins available for reservation. Note that during some months, Hermit Gulch is only open on weekends.

I opted to skip Hermit Gulch, mostly because I hiked mid-week and the campground was closed. Instead I stayed at a budget hotel in Avalon itself the night before my hike. If you have the budget, I suggest saying at the hotel in Avalon, you’ll have easy access to good food, stroll through the charming town, and enjoy a comfortable bed before 3-4 nights on trail.

Setting up camp at Blackjack Campground

Blackjack Campground

Trail Mile: 10.8 Mile

Blackjack Campground is located 10.8 miles from the harbor in Avalon, and is a popular first-night spot for hikers on the Trans Catalina Trail. This is the only other campground located in the interior on the island. Blackjack is located in a wooded area, surrounded by oak trees, with views of the rolling hillsides.

The campsite is at 1,600′ in elevation, and I found it to be much chillier at night than other camps located at sea level.

There are 10 tent sites here, with pit toilets, water taps, bear boxes, and picnic tables. No campfires are allowed due to fire restrictions.

Idyllic beachfront camping at Little Harbor – Shark Harbor Site B

Little Harbor Campground

Trail Mile: 18.8

Little Harbor is a delightful campground on Catalina’s “backside” aka western, Pacific-facing side of the island. There are 26 tent sites here, with 23 located at the main Little Harbor Campground, and 3 hidden sites located at Shark Harbor, a short walk away (more on those in a second).

You can find a map with locations of individual campsites, here.

Little Harbor campsites are mostly located on a large, grassy hillside, with picnic tables, restrooms, firepits, and shade pavilions.

Beach access and beach showers are located at the bottom of the hill, perfect for enjoying the sand and surf on warm days, or enjoying a beautiful sunset.

If you can, book one of the 3 secluded campsites labeled “Shark Harbor A, B, C”. These sites are located a 10 minute walk from the main campground, hidden in small cove. At these spots you’ll have peace, quiet, and camp directly on the sand!

I stayed at Shark Harbor B during my trip, and it was my favorite campsite of the trail! I fell asleep to the sound of the waves, watched the sunset over the ocean from my campfire, and woke up to magnificent foggy views of the Pacific.

Two Harbors

Trail Mile: 24.2 / 38.5

Two Harbors has a large campground, located on a bluff a short distance from town. Two Harbors is a convenient option if you want to break up the long (and steep) hike between Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing, or extend your stay for a night before returning to the mainland.

There are 47 tent sites, and 13 tent cabins. All tent cabins have ocean views, but not all tent site have views. You can check out more about the Two Harbors layout and view the map, here.

I skipped Two Harbors campground and opted to hike directly to Parson’s Landing on my trip. Another hike told me that the campground is located a short distance outside of town, and does involve a walk up a steep hillside.

Parson’s Landing tent site – note the rock wall to help protect from the fierce winds here!

Parson’s Landing

Trail Mile: 30.8

Parson’s is the most remote hike-in campground on Catalina, and the smallest campground on the TCT. It’s also the only spot where you’re guaranteed to a beach-front tent site! All 8 tent sites are located on the rocky beach.

There is no running water at Parson’s so you’ll have to reserve gallon water jugs, along with your firewood, to be delivered to lockers at the campground on the day of your reservation. Before leaving Two Harbors, make sure to check in with the Conservancy booth, located on the pier, to obtain your locker key.

Along with beachfront views, each site has bear lockers, picnic tables, fire pits, and little rock walls to help protect your tent from the strong winds that can punish this far end of the island.

There are two ways to hike to Parson’s from Two Harbors. The official TCT route takes you over a strenuous Silver Peak Trail on Segment 4, and returns you to Two Habors via the flat dirt West End Road, which follows the coast.

water and firewood lockers at Parson's Landing
Make sure to pre-order firewood at water for Parson’s Landing – you’ll pick them up at the campground here.

Water Sources on the TCT

One of the things that makes the Trans Catalina trail so perfect for beginning backpackers is the easy access to water and food sources along the trail.

Water sources are difficult to come by in the arid Southern California desert ecosystems. There are no natural water sources along the Trans Catalina Trail, so you can leave your filter at home.

Instead, the island maintains water sources at every campground and at various points along the trail. Make sure to reserve water at Parson’s Landing.

I carried two 2L Smartwater bottles on the trip, which was plenty for staying hydrated on stretches between camp and water sources.

the grocery resupply at the Two Harbors General Store
Two Harbors General Store has an impressive backpacker-friendly food selection.

Food on the Trans Catalina Trail

One of the most common mistakes on the Trans Catalina Trail is carrying too much food. There are ample spots to resupply for food along the trail, including Day 1 in Avalon, Day 2 at the Airport in the Sky (enjoy breakfast/lunch, and grab some snacks to-go), and Day 3 at Two Harbors.

In Avalon: There are small grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops in town. Fuel canisters are not permitted on the ferries. You can purchase all common fuel canisters at the Catalina Island Conservancy “Trailhead” store, located just pasty the ferry drop-off at Avalon, as well as at the Two Harbors General Store.

A few of the popular food options in Avalon include:

  • Avalon Grille – $$ / casual-upscale American fare like pork chops, pasta, and burgers, located across from the beach and pier.
  • Original Jack’s Country Kitchen – $$ / classic diner fare, a good spot for a hearty breakfast before the trail.
  • Catalina Island Brew House – $$ / the island’s only microbrewery, offering beers, sandwiches, and pizzas in the afternoon, and coffee, pastries and breakfast sandwiches in the AM. I stopped by here on the morning of my trek and had a delightful coffee and sandwich.

At Airport in the Sky: Catalina’s Airport is an iconic stop on the TCT, which runs directly to the airport. Don’t miss grabbing their famous Bison Burgers and homemade cookies for lunch, or enjoying a very hearty breakfast burrito, like I did. You can also grab cold drinks and some snacks like cookies and chips here.

a breakfast burrito and cookie at Airport in the Sky
Airport in the Sky – a favorite food stop on the Trans Catalina Trail

In Two Harbors: Stop the by the Harbor Reef Restaurant (hours vary by season) for a full meal, or enjoy a drink at their outdoor bar and patio.

The specialty here is a boozy milkshake cocktail called “Buffalo Milk.” Its best described as a egg-nog meets pina colada. But however you describe it, just trust me it’s delicious.

It’s possible to do a full food resupply at the Two Harbors General Store, located in the center of town. They have hot pizza, cold beers and drinks, backpacker meals, and camp-friendly food like ramen and instant potatoes.

What to Expect on a Thru Hike of the Trans Catalina Trail: 4 Days / 3 Nights Itinerary

In March 2024 I hiked the Trans Catalina trail using this “traditional” 4 Day / 3 Night itinerary. This schedule is the most popular trip itinerary for hiking the TCT. If you have more or less time, I’ve included some shorter and longer itineraries, further on.

While each hike’s adventure is unique, here’s a look at what I experienced hiking the TCT, and what you can expect to look forward to!

Avalon harbor on Catalina Island
entering Avalon harbor on the Catalina Express ferry

Day 0: Travel to Catalina / Avalon

Many hikers will arrive on the island of Catalina the day before their hike and take some time to explore the touristy town of Avalon, the only incorporated city on Catalina.

Be warned that the ferry to Catalina is notoriously bumpy, and getting seasick is not uncommon.

I, personally, am horribly susceptible to motion sickness, and I knew I was in for a rough trip when the Captain warned us about rough seas before we even left port in Dana Point. I suggest bringing dramamine, seasick bands, and ginger chews.

waves from the ferry departing from Avalon on Catalina Island at sunset
the crossing from Avalon on the Catalina Express ferry

The ferry disembarks a few blocks from the center of town. There is one main street that runs along the waterfront in Avalon, and here you will find most of the shops, restaurants, and activity rentals.

Now is also a good time to stop by “Trailhead” the Catalina Island Conservancy store and visitor center. Here you can get updates about trail conditions, and more importantly, purchase your fuel canister, as well as any last minute camping supplies you forgot.

One touristy afternoon in Avalon is plenty for most hikers. Head to bed and get a good night’s sleep in one of Avalon’s hotels – I stayed at the lovely, budget-friendly Catalina Island Inn.

the Catalina Island Conservancy Trailhead visitor center
Pick up fuel, stickers, and last minute supplies at the Island Conservancy store in Avalon

Day 1: Avalon to Blackjack 

Distance: 10.8 Miles

Elevation Gain / Loss: 3,200′ Gain / 1,500′ Loss

The first day on the TCT is the least exciting, in terms of views at least.

But don’t fret, the adrenaline rush of starting your trip, plus the heart-pounding climb out of Avalon will be more than enough to fuel your adrenaline. 

the city of Avalon, with a cruise ship moored in the distance
Hard earned views of Avalon after the first long climb of the Trans Catalina Trail

The trail begins with a steep climb out of Avalon and onto the ridge that runs along the island. Once on the ridge, you will pass through a mix of low-lying shrubs and oak trees. As you gain elevation, you get to look back at stunning views of Avalon harbor before turning inland towards Blackjack Campground.

There are several pit toilets and water faucets on this stretch of trail.

This is the section where I encountered Catalina’s famous Bison – yes, bison! This herd is not native to the island, but was left here after a movie production in the 1920s. Today the herd roams freely through the island, is a major tourist attraction, and is managed by the Conservancy. Make sure to give these guys plenty of space (50 feet) when you see them.

bison graze from the Trans Catalina Trail
Bison on the Trans Catalina Trail

Day 2: Blackjack to Little Harbor

Distance: 8 Miles

Elevation Gain / Loss: 1,000′ Gain / 2,400′ Loss

You can skip breakfast at camp this AM, because you’re about 2 short miles from Airport in the Sky. The Airport is Catalina’s only airfield, and is built on the leveled peaks of 2 high hilltops, the only flat area big enough to support a small airfield.

Catalina Island Airport in the Sky
Catalina’s Airport in the Sky, a welcome break, restaurant, and water supply on the TCT

At Airport in the Sky, you can grab a delicious breakfast – the breakfast burrito with bison was chef’s kiss at the DC-3 Gifts & Grill restaurant before continuing on your journey. Pack out a cookie, some cold drinks, or a bison burger-to-go before heading 5ish miles towards Little Harbor.

This is also a great place to stop and refill on water.

The trail from Blackjack to Little Harbor offers stunning views of the rugged coastline and ocean below. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as bison, foxes, and deer that roam freely on the island.

Clear and cold water at Little Harbor Campground

Once you arrive at Little Harbor Campground, take some time to relax on the beautiful beach and cool off in the frigid Pacific Ocean. I’ve heard of experienced snorkelers packing out their gear, as the snorkeling is apparently pretty good.

Day 3: Little Harbor to Parsons Landing

Distance: 12 Miles via Silver Peak Trail (Official Route)

Elevation Gain / Loss: 3,600′ Gain / 3,600′ Loss

West End Road Alternate: 13 Miles / 2400′ Gain and Loss

The stretch of trail from Little Harbor to Two Harbors features some pretty intense climbs and descents (and not a switchback in sight, you’ve been warned) but it’s also easily the most gorgeous stretch of the entire hike. Hiking this section, in my opinion, makes the entire TCT worthwhile.

Hiking out from Little Harbor to Parson’s Landing

From Little Harbor, the trail begins to climb up reaching an elevation of 1,200′ in under 2 miles. Along the way, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the ocean and coastline.

Along the ridge, you can catch your breath and enjoy snacks at the shaded picnic tables placed along the route.

a wooden shade structure and picnic table on a ridge summit on the Trans Catalina Trail
welcome shade structures are placed along this section of the TCT.

Take plenty of pictures before making the steep descent, which involves some uninteresting dirt road walks and through eucalyptus groves towards Two Harbors.

If you’ve arrived by mid-afternoon, indulge in a bite at the Harbor Reef Restaurant, grab a drink at the bar, or grab a slice of pizza and pick up any resupply at the Two Harbors General Store. Don’t forget to pick up your locker key for drinking water and firewood at Parson’ Landing.

Two Harbors on Catalina Island
Hikers relaxing and resupplying at Two Harbors General Store

At this point you have a choice to make: the official TCT route takes you 7ish miles over the Silver Peak Trail, on Segement 4, a climb of about 2,000 feet in 3 miles, and equally steep descent into Parson’s Landing.

If, like me and most other hikers I met out there, that kind of summit is not in the cards for you today, you can opt to take the West End Road to Parson’s Landing (Segment 5). The West End Road alternate is 8 miles with about 800′ of gain. Whatever you decide – you get to hike your own hike!

sunset at Parson's Landing on the Trans Catalina Trail
Sunset at Parson’s Landing

Either way, you’ll be exhausted as you stroll into beautiful Parson’s Landing. Each spot is on the beach here, and the sunsets are a magnificent treat for your final night on trail.

Day 4: Parsons Landing to Two Harbors

Distance: 7.7 Miles

Elevation Gain: / Loss: 800′ Gain and Loss

The final day of your Trans-Catalina Trail journey takes you along the rugged coastline from Parson’s Landing back to Two Harbors.

As you leave Parson’s Landing, you’ll make a short climb before winding, seemingly endlessly, along the curves of West End Road towards Two Harbors. Along the way, you’ll pass several private campgrounds and Boy Scout camps that dot the coat.

You might get lucky and spot Island Foxes (an adorable endemic creature that is on the endangered species list), dolphins, whales, or seals in the water below.

wild Island Foxes on the Trans Catalina Trail
Catalina Island Foxes!

Keep an eye and ear out for cars traveling along the road. There are very few vehicles allowed on Catalina, so you will only pass the occasional Conservancy worker, tour group, or other commercial trucks.

The trail officially ends without much fanfare back in Two Harbors. There is no official “terminus” or finish line that I could find – but I figured this sign at the Two Harbors intersection would serve as my emotional finish line.

You did it! If you’re like me, head directly to the bar in town and celebrate your accomplishment with a Buffalo Milk – the island’s signature drink invented in this quaint town.

Chat with locals and fellow hikers at the bar, before embarking on the afternoon ferry, which stops briefly at Avalon before returning to port in Los Angeles.

the rocky coast of Catalina from the Trans Catalina Trail
coastal Catalina from the end of the Trans Catalina Trail

More Trans-Catalina Trail Itineraries 

Depending on your schedule, you can, of course, opt to hike part or all of the Trans Catalina Trail, or extend your hike with an additional day in Two Harbors. Here are som quick itineraries for 2 Night and 4 Night TCT thru-hikes:

  • 3 Days / 2 Nights Itinerary: Hike from Avalon to Blackjack (night 1) then Blackjack to Two Harbors (night 2). On Day 3, slack pack from Two Harbors out to Parson”s and back before catching a late afternoon ferry.
  • 5 Days / 4 Night Itinerary: Avalon to Blackjack (night 1) then Blackjack to Little Harbor (night 2). Hike from Little Harbor and spend the night at Two Harbors (night 3) before hiking to Parson’s Landing (night 4) and back.
  • If you want a break from roughing it, you can make reservations at Two Harbor’s only hotel, Banning House. Breakfast is included.

Getting To Catalina: Ferries and Transportation 

Catalina is an island – which means getting there requires some advanced planning.

Catalina Ferry

The most common way to get to Catalina is by ferry from San Pedro or Long Beach. The ride takes approximately 1 hour and costs around $90 roundtrip.

The Catalina Express departs daily to Avalon from ports around Southern California, including: Dana Point (Orange County), San Pedro, and Long Beach.

There is only one return route from Two Harbors to the mainland. The Catalina Express only runs from Two Harbors to San Pedro (Port of Los Angeles). If you departed and parked your car at another location, you’ll need to get a ride or an Uber/Lyft.

There is daily ferry service to Avalon, but not daily service from Two Harbors. Make sure the ferry is running from Two Harbors on the day of your planned return before booking campground reservations.

You can book tickets in advance through Catalina Express, here.

the TCT stretching from Little Harbor in the distance
Hiking the ridge between Little Harbor and Two Harbors

Transportation on Catalina

Cars are not allowed on Catalina, except by permit, which means its one of the only areas of Los Angeles that is blissfully traffic-free.

If you want to skip hiking some sections and arrange a pick up or drop off at the campgrounds, you can arrange transportation ahead of time.

You can also arrange for baggage service, and have your bags and camping equipment dropped off at each of the campgrounds. Personally, I don’t see the fun in that, but it’s an option!

A backpacker standing on the ridgeline above Catalina island and the Pacific ocean on the Trans-Catalina Trail
The right gear can make or break your TCT journey.

Trans-Catalina Trail: What Gear Do I Need?

After hiking the TCT myself, I’m convinced that packing light is key to an enjoyable experience on the Trans-Catalina Trail.

Not only will you save your knees on the intense ups, and downs, of the trail, you’ll cover miles even faster, leaving more time to enjoy the waves at the beach. 

For the same reasons, trekking poles are a must on this trip. Even if you aren’t a convert to using trekking poles while backpacking (and you should be, I’m sorry) the steep descents on days 2 and 3 of the TCT make these a real must have. 

Choosing the right backpacking gear is highly personal. But if you’re looking for suggestions, here’s a peak inside my pack for what I carried on the TCT. Overall I was very satisfied with this setup, and would recommend (and use again) all of this gear: 

Want to take this list to-go? Download my Backpacking Gear for Beginners guide, and get this entire list sent straight to your inbox!

Tips for Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail 

The Trans Catalina Trail is a challenging and rewarding hiking experience, but planning and hiking the TCT is not without challenges. Here are some hard-earned tips I learned while hiking the TCT:

Check the ferry schedule BEFORE booking your campsites: Not all ferry routes run every day, and some ferry services offer only one or two sailings per day. The Two Harbors ferry, in particular, does not run every day in winter and spring, so plan accordingly.

Bring plenty of sun protection: I know I keep harping on the sun, but seriously, after day one, there is almost zero shade on this trail. Some hikers opt to bring sun umbrellas, but I happily used the hood on my top with a ball cap and lots of sunscreen, reapplied at every break. Oh and don’t forget to sunscreen the back of your legs like I did! 😂

Hike light: The lighter your pack, the better your trip on the TCT. I managed a baseweight (before water or food) of around 16lbs, and I still wish I had ditched some food to make those climbs and descents even easier on the knees.

trans catalina trail sign at Hermit Gulch campground


Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail solo was a complete bucket list experience for me, and I think it more than lived up to the hype! Remember to hike safe, leave no trace – and let me know how your own TCT adventures go!