Santa Catalina Island: East Mountain and Lone Tree Point Loop
- Location: Avalon, Santa Catalina Island. Catalina Express operates boats to Avalon from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. Catalina Flyer operates boats from Newport Beach to Avalon. The route described here can be done entirely on foot, so no additional travel arrangements are necessary once on the island.
- Agency: Catalina Island Conservancy
- Distance: 13 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
- Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 8 hours total on the island (including time to get the required hiking permit and being back at the dock half an hour before the scheduled departure)
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: “Santa Catalina East”
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; Dramamine (boat ride)
- More information: Trail map here
- Rating: 9
Most California residents think of Santa Catalina Island, located 26 miles off the coast of Long Beach, as a nice place for a relaxing day or weekend trip to get away from the hectic pace of life on the mainland. However, there are plenty of great recreational opportunities on Catalina as well, including dozens of miles of hiking trails. The large loop described here leaves the town of Avalon and tours the southeastern end of the island, taking in some great ocean views. Of course, many shorter trips are possible, but for a long, challenging day trip, this one offers a lot of visual rewards.
While visiting Catalina Island might not require the same preparations as going to the undeveloped Channel Islands National Park, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s best to take everything with you that you’ll need (you can buy food and supplies on the island, but the prices are likely to be higher, and it also takes away from your hiking time.) Be at your mainland port an hour before the boat is scheduled to take off, and plan on returning to the pier in Avalon half an hour before your scheduled departure. Also, note that there is very little shade on the island, so bring a hat and sunscreen.
From the pier, head into Avalon, passing by the bay with nice views of the historic casino. You arrive on Crescent, the main street that walks along the beach. Go left on Claressa Avenue and walk a few blocks to the nature conservancy building, where you can get a free hiking permit, required for this route. Then, continue up Claressa to Beacon St., turn left and make a quick right on Clemente. Turn left on Wrigley Road, which you will follow for the next 1.4 miles. This might not seem like much of a hike so far, but as you climb uphill on Wrigley, you get some great views of the bay and the casino. There’s no sidewalk so watch out for golf carts (due to restrictions on the number of cars allowed on Catalina, golf carts are quite common). You’ll pass the Inn on Mt. Ada, the former residence of the Wrigley family, of Chicago Cubs fame.
Past the inn, the road makes a brief descent, and soon reaches the beginning of the signed Trans-Catalina Trail, your route for the next 6.5 miles. This first section of the T.C.T. is also known as Renton Mine Road on some maps. The fire road ascends steadily up the side of the mountain, with nice views of the ocean. Although you may still hear the noise of traffic, the trail has a pleasant, rustic feel.
After 1.4 miles on the trail (3 miles into the hike), you reach a junction, where a dead-end trail heads left. Stay right as the T.C.T. climbs along the wall of a deep canyon. More climbing brings you to a 1,563-foot summit called East Mountain, around which the trail curves. At this point, you’ll probably get a nice view of San Clemente Island to the south. For the next 2.5 miles, the trail follows the ridge, providing great views of the ocean on both sides (and aerial views of Avalon to the right). You may also notice the ridge where the destination of this hike, Lone Tree Point, can be found.
At 7 miles from the start (between mile markers 5 and 6), you reach a junction with the road that leads up from Avalon Canyon. This area is known as the Garden in the Sky, and it makes a nice resting spot. You can follow the trail downhill and back to town if you want to cut your hike short at this point.
To continue on to Lone Tree, however, head uphill on the Trans-Catalina Trail, climbing 400 feet in less than a mile to reach a junction with the Hermit Gulch Trail, your return route. This is another nice place to stop and sit before beginning the final, challenging stretch to Lone Tree Point.
Shortly past the junction, you’ll see a fire road branching off to the left. Make a hairpin turn and begin the first of several ascents and descents–some of which, while short, are quite steep, especially considering that you have been hiking for eight miles by this point. You are, however, rewarded with great views of Silver Canyon to the north, an area called the Palisades to the south, and the ocean straight ahead. After a mile of up and down, you arrive at Lone Tree Point. There aren’t really any trees here, but you do get a dramatic view of the ocean, only half a mile away as the crow flies, and 1,600 feet below. Catalina’s rugged west coast stretches out in both directions.
When you’re finished enjoying the view, return to the T.C.T., head right and then quickly left on the Hermit Gulch Trail. After the fire roads, this single-track is a pleasant change. It moves quickly down through Avalon Canyon, dropping 1,200 feet to arrive at the campground in 1.7 miles. While the trail isn’t shaded, the walls of the canyon block out the sun for most hours of the day, making the descent nice and cool. Near the bottom, the trail becomes somewhat overgrown (and there is some poison oak), but navigation and terrain aren’t too challenging. However, you may find that your knees and feet are sore from all of the hiking you’ve done up to this point.
After reaching the campground, where there are a few picnic tables that make for nice resting spots, you meet Avalon Canyon Road. Follow it downhill, back into town for the last 1.4 miles. Restrooms near the ferry terminal allow you to wash up a little bit before returning to the mainland.
This post is dedicated in memory of my aunt Lindsey, a wonderful person who always had a kind word for everyone.
Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.