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Catalina Island Hiking

Day Hikes to the Find Essence of Catalina Island

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Catalina Island Harbor

Catalina Island Harbor

© Betsy Malloy 2001
If you're up to it, there's no better way to get to know Catalina than on a walk or a hike.

Planning for the Hike

You don't need a permit to walk around town, but if you're going anywhere else, you do. Day hike permits are free and available from the Catalina Conservancy at 125 Claressa Avenue, where they also sell trail maps. They're also available at the interpretive center on the way to the botanical garden and at the airport.

You probably already know the admonition to take plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks on any hike, but we can say from experience that you'll likely need more of all three than you think.

Walks Around Town: An Hour or More

Start at the Casino Building. It's the big, round white one that you can see from everywhere. Follow the water's edge through town and past the ferry terminal to Lover's Rock. Keep going past Lover's Cove to Pebbly Beach. At the first right turn after the big rock, walk up Wrigley Road, which leads to the island's most beautiful view. NOTE: What was supposed to be a "temporary" closure had been in effect for more than a year when we last visited. If the road is still closed, get a map, detour through town to go up the hill, then come down the same way.

When the road returns to town, go left on Clemente Avenue, right on Tremont Street. Turn right on any street to go back to town or continue to the Botanical Garden.

To reach the Botanical Garden, turn left onto Avalon Canyon Road. You'll pass the golf course and abandoned aviary on the way. The garden has a nice collection of plants, but the view from the Wrigley Memorial is its most outstanding feature. If you're up to it, the steep uphill trail that starts near the memorial leads to the island's backbone, with expansive views in all directions. Go back down the way you came or if you have a hiking map and a permit, check the trails that lead in either direction for a variety of ways to get back to town. A good wander is fun here, and it's hard to get lost in a town as small as Avalon.

For one more side trip on the way back to town, go left onto Country Club Drive, following the road to East Whittley Avenue. Turn left, the road's name will change to Camino del Monte, which leads up to the Zane Grey Pueblo and another lovely view. A right on Vieudelou and a left onto Marilla Avenue will lead you back to your starting point.

Airport in the Sky to Avalon: 9 Miles

Our favorite Catalina Island hike goes from the Airport in the Sky to downtown Avalon, about nine miles in total, or 11 miles with a detour. The paved road descends from the island's crest (1,600 feet) into Avalon, rising and falling over tawny hills, past Mt. Blackjack and cliffs plunging into the ocean. It's easier to go downhill than up, so call 310-510-0143 one day ahead to reserve a space on the airport shuttle, let them do the climbing and hike back to town.

You can get a cup of coffee or breakfast at the Airport in the Sky and then browse the natural history exhibits outside before starting your hike.

The route is easy. Just follow the paved road back toward town. You're likely to find some of the island's resident bison along the road. Descended from balky ancestors who refused to get back on the boat after appearing in a 1920s film, the shaggy beasts snort and grunt around muddy water holes, eyeing visitors as they pass, their tails flicking. Don't forget that they're wild creatures who could hurt you if alarmed.

Every turn presents a new vista, alternating between grassy hills and coastal panoramas. The paved road makes it easy to walk without worrying about footing, and there's plenty of time to daydream. White-rimmed waves lap on Willow Cove's sandy beaches and breakers splash on Frog Rock, and with no traffic, people or electrical hum, your ears adjust to nature's sounds: bird calls and rustling grass.

For a longer hike, turn right just past the Wrigley Reservoir and follow the ridge line. In about two miles, you'll reach a trail that descends into the Botanical Garden. This detour will add a little more than 2 miles to your trip.

Otherwise, continue on the paved road toward town. Civilization's hubbub returns when the road reaches Zane Grey's Pueblo at Avalon's edge.

Trans-Catalina Trail

For hardy hiker and bicyclers only, the 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail opened in 2009. It follows the backbone of the island from end to end.

Guided Catalina Hikes

The first Saturday of every month, you can take a guided hike with Catalina Conservancy. They call it The Summer HIKE and it's especially good for anyone who wants to learn more about the island's ecology.

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