Hiking Catalina Island, Part 1

Hermit Gulch Hike

Usually when we visit Catalina, we moor at Avalon or Two Harbors for a few days and our activities are water-related, because usually it’s summer. This April we sailed to Avalon for Easter weekend and weren’t sure what to expect as far as crowds or weather. It was relatively quiet at the boat moorings compared to the main season, but businesses and streets onshore were crazy full of families on spring break and couples visiting for the holiday weekend.

I have seriously never seen so many people eating ice cream all at once in my entire life.

So it was with great happiness that we followed through on our plan to check out hiking trails. Away from the chaos of ice cream cone central in town.

Our favorite day was a short hike we did on Hermit Gulch trail, with a loop that leads to a ridge on part of the Trans Catalina Trail where you can see to both sides of the island, and back down through the Botanical Gardens. The pics in this post are all from that hike.

Shaded TrailWe plan to hike other parts of the island later this summer, and I’m still hoping to get in a backpacking trip to hike the length of the island early in the fall. That’s why this post is titled “Part 1.” I researched general hiking info about the island a couple weeks before our April trip and most everything pointed to the Catalina Island Conservancy for hiking info and permits. They have lots of island info online, downloadable trail guides and a trail app that looks like it would be cool, but which I never managed to get properly working.

If you haven’t been to Catalina, they have a good set-up right as you come in from the ferry pier for visitor info and tickets for tours like the zip-lines (which we did a couple years ago and highly recommend). There are also spots to immediately buy ice cream, in case you can’t wait until you walk the next hundred feet to shore.

The woman at the visitor booth directed us to the nearby Catalina Island Conservancy office for the info we wanted on day hikes and the whole Trans Catalina Trail. At the conservancy office the desk was unfortunately staffed by someone who was either brand new, had never set foot on a trail on the island, generally didn’t like to talk with people, or all of the above. We left with pretty minimal info and a feeling of “whatever – we’ll figure it out on our own.”

From our experience, if you want good info, head up to the Botanical Garden entrance or the nature center, both a mile or so up the hill on Avalon Canyon Rd. The staff at both places were super duper helpful, full of knowledge they were willing to share in conversation and we even bought a membership to support the conservancy. All of which could have happened the day before with just a tiny bit of customer service effort at the actual conservancy office (do you sense my slight aggravation?)

Catalina Hike MapAnyway, it’s a nice hiking loop that took us a couple of hours with lots of photo stops and a lunch break at a kiosk on the trail. The loop is somewhere around 3 miles, with the height of the ridge being about 1,500 ft., so it’s enough of a climb to get your heart pumping. Bring lots of water as most of it is in the sun.

You can start from a trail at the top end of Hermit Gulch Campground on Avalon Canyon Rd and end the loop by coming down through the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. You can also begin at the entrance to the botanic garden, but you do need to pay an admission fee if you do it from that direction (you don’t pay admission if you start at the campground side).

I would guess it’s a mile to mile and a half walk up the road from Avalon to get to the trailhead. And I’ll be honest – after the first day of walking up the road and sharing it with a non-stop parade of loud rental golf carts that seemed endless – we took a cab on our second day to the trailhead. If it was a quieter tourist weekend I imagine the golf cart thing would not be so out of control, but it drove us nuts. It was soooooo nice to get on a trail and immediately feel away from the crowds.

We love Avalon, but now that we’ve discovered how easy it is to get to peaceful, breathtakingly beautiful parts of the island, we’ll be doing a lot more exploring. Fortunately there are lots of good post-hiking beverage spots back in town (that will have to be a whole other post).



Avalon Day Hike Trail Looking Down


Hike With BlimpOh, yeah… and the blimp was there. (??!!)  I tried to think of some philosophical essay to write about going for a hike on an island and having the blimp along, but I came up blank.

Blimp Really on a hike


Hermit Gulch Hike 2