As I hiked up a steep pitch on the west end of Santa Catalina Island, the straps of my 30-pound pack dug into my shoulders, no matter how many times I cinched the waist belt to balance the load. There are no switchbacks on this part of the Trans-Catalina Trail, just a dirt path that points upward. I didn’t enjoy this but plodded on.
I have hiked on Catalina for decades but had never pieced together its routes until I hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail, or TCT, in mid-April. It’s a 38.5-mile route of extreme ups and downs that leads from the resort town of Avalon, on the east side of the island, to the less-visited northwestern beach of Parsons Landing, its farthest point, and the trail’s end at Two Harbors.
“You never walk on flat ground,” said Tony Budrovich, chief executive of the Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages the trail and open space that make up 88% of the island. “You’re either going uphill or downhill. That is highly challenging for a hiker, but the payoff views when you get to the top of the ridges and the beauty of going into the crevices and valleys make you feel like you’ve really gone somewhere exotic.”
Budrovich is right. The allure of the TCT makes you forget its grueling parts and leaves you awestruck at the sparkling ocean views and beach-side campgrounds, so unexpected and remote for a place an hour’s boat ride from L.A.
Since the trail opened six years ago, it has boosted tourism to the lesser-known west side of Catalina. The TCT also has become a dream destination for hikers and backpackers who can complete it in either direction. Each year about 8,000 trekkers hit the trail, making competition stiff for permits to reserve the four campgrounds along the way.
One mystery: How did the conservancy come up with a 38.5-mile trail on an island that’s only 22 miles long? From Avalon, the TCT crosses the interior of the island to Two Harbors, continues on the high inland route to Parsons Landing, then curves back along the lower coastal road, making a small loop in the final miles. The lone restaurant at Two Harbors hosts many impromptu TCT victory parties.
The Trans-Catalina Trail crosses the length …….