Catalina Island Hiking

Take a Day Hike to the Find Essence of Catalina Island

Views on a Catalina Hike
••• Views on a Catalina Hike. ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

If you want to get into Catalina Island, hiking or walking is the way to do it. You can take a walk around town, a day hike or even a multi-day trip on the Trans-Catalina Trail

Planning for a Catalina Island 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. You can get a trail map there, at the interpretive center on the way to the botanical garden or at the airport.

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

Day Hikes Around Town: An Hour or More

This hike is my favorite route through town. You can follow it using a map or your mobile device.

Before you Get Started:  What was supposed to be a "temporary" closure banning pedestrians past Lover's Rock had been in effect for years when I last visited. If the road is still closed, take a detour through town to get to the Inn on Mt. Ada. Then go back to town on the same route.

  1. Start at the Casino Building. 
  2. Follow the water's edge through town.
  3. Walk past the ferry terminal toward Lover's Rock.
  4. If the road is open, continue beside the water past Lover's Cove to Pebbly Beach. At the first right turn, walk up Wrigley Road, which leads to the island's most beautiful view.
  1. Walk past the Inn on Mt. Ada and continue downhill on Wrigley Road to town.
  2. If the road is closed, walk to the Inn through town, taking Wrigley Road up the hill and back down again.
  3. Back in town, go back toward the waterfront.
  4. Alternatively, extend your walk to the Botanical Garden on Avalon Canyon Road. You'll pass the golf course and abandoned aviary on the way. Tour the garden and take in the view from the Wrigley Memorial.
  1. If you have the energy and fitness level, walk up the steep uphill trail that starts near the memorial. It leads to the island's backbone, with expansive views in all directions. Go back down the way you came.
  2. Take a side trip to the Zane Grey Pueblo on Chimes Tower Road. The writer's home was a hotel for many years but it not currently open to the public. You can see it from the outside and enjoy the island's second-best view before walking back down into town.

Hiking Catalina from the Airport in the Sky to Avalon: 9 Miles

My favorite Catalina Island hike goes from the Airport in the Sky to downtown Avalon. It's about nine miles via the most direct route or 11 miles with a detour. The paved road descends from the island's crest (1,600 feet) into Avalon. It rises and falls over tawny hills, past Mt. Blackjack and cliffs plunging into the ocean. It's easier to go downhill than up, so do what I do: 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. They are descendants of 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. 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, stay on the paved road toward town. Civilization's hubbub returns when the road reaches Zane Grey's Pueblo at Avalon's edge.

Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail

For hardy hikers and bikers only, the 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail 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 an especially good choice for anyone who wants to learn more about the island's ecology.