This post is made possible with support from the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Little Harbor Loop (Catalina Island)
- Location: Airport in the Sky, 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 and Two Harbors. Once in Avalon, walk to the Conservancy office at 125 Claressa Ave for your free hiking permit. Then, walk to the nearby Island Plaza to pick up the bus. The schedule is always subject to change, and while reservations are not required, it is recommended that you call them at least an hour in advance, at 310-510-0143, to confirm that you will have a ride.
- Agency: Catalina Island Conservancy
- Distance: 11 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 5.5 hours, plus travel time from Avalon or Two Harbors to the airport.
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: “Santa Catalina East”
- Recommended gear: Sun Hat; Sunblock; Dramamine (boat ride)
- More information: Trail map here; bus schedule here (call 310-510-0143 for up-to-date fare and schedule information); Airport in the Sky info here
- Rating: 8
This loop visits scenic Little Harbor on Catalina Island’s west side, providing great ocean views on the descent on the Trans-Catalina Trail. Keep in mind, however, that it’s a reverse hike, meaning the bill will come due on the return. As described here, the route is a loop using the Trans-Catalina Trail, Isthmus Road and Rancho Escondido Road, but several variations are possible.
From the airport, follow either the Trans-Catalina Trail or Rancho Escondido Road. The two intersect shortly, and at this point, follow the Trans-Catalina Trail. For the next mile, the route is shared with the Airport Loop Trail. At a T-junction, head left to continue on the T.C.T.
You follow a ridge, getting nice views of the ocean, the island’s west end and Big Springs Canyon below. The trail bends toward the east, and shortly after mile marker 18, it begins a steep descent. As the trail starts leveling out, stay right as a road toward Rancho Escondido branches off to the left.
Five miles from the airport, the Trans-Catalina Trail reaches an intersection. Head right, and then bear left and follow the trail into the Little Harbor Campground. You can walk down to the small, rocky beach of Little Harbor and enjoy a picnic at one of the tables.
At this point, you have several options. If you’ve arranged transportation with the Safari Bus, or another provider, you can ride back up to the airport. You can also retrace your steps on the Trans-Catalina Trail. You can also make it an overnight trip by camping at Little Harbor. The loop hike described here returns via Rancho Escondido Road, which isn’t as scenic as the Trans-Catalina Trail, but the grade is more moderate.
Upon leaving the campground, continue past the T.C.T. to Isthmus Road. You get more nice views of the harbor and the island’s west side, and in 1.2 miles, you arrive at an intersection. Head left and begin a long, hot, dusty and at times, somewhat monotonous climb. The only shade is provided by a few small eucalyptus groves. Don’t be surprised if you share the road with a few cars and buses; there’s also likely to be construction going on in the Rancho Escondido Area.
However, as you get higher up, the sense of solitude returns. You’ll get a nice look at Mt. Banning across the canyon, and as you get closer to the airport, you might catch a glimpse of the mainland. Just below the airport, the road parallels the T.C.T., and then you return to the intersection. Follow the road the last quarter mile to the airport.
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.