Difficulty R Distance 5.1 to 10 miles Dogs allowed Rating: 7-8 Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring South Bay/Long Beach/West Side

Two Harbors to Little Harbor (Catalina Island)


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This post is made possible with support from the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Returning to Isthmus Cove and Two Harbors on the Trans-Catalina Trail
Mist on the coastline from the Trans-Catalina Trail

Two Harbors to Little Harbor  (Catalina Island)

      • Location: Two Harbors, Catalina Island.  Catalina Express operates boats to Two Harbors from San Pedro.  (Catalina Express also offers transportation from Long Beach and Dana Point at certain times of year; check their site for more information.)  This loop can be done entirely on foot from the dock at Two Harbors.  A free permit is required, available online here or at the Two Harbors Visitor Service Office (phone 310-510-4205).
      • Agency: Catalina Island Conservancy
      • Distance: 10 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,700 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: R (Elevation gain, steepness, trail condition, distance)
      • Suggested time: 5.5 hours from arrival at Two Harbors
      • Best season: September – May
      • USGS topo maps: Santa Catalina East; Santa Catalina North
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock; dramamine (boat ride)
      • More information: Trail map here; Two Habors information here; Trans Catalina Trail trip reports including this segment here and here; New York Times article and slide show about the T.C.T. here
      • Rating: 8

You already know how to get to Little Harbor from Catalina’s Airport in the Sky, but it can also be reached from Two Harbors, by way of the Trans Catalina Trail. The route from Two Harbors, which heads almost directly south toward Little Harbor, is challenging, with a lot of steep ascents and descents. Done as an out-and-back hike, as described here, there’s much climbing to be done in both directions. However, the views of Two Harbors, Little Harbor and the coastline are panoramic, and between the destinations, you’re not likely to have much company.

From the landing area, walk through the village of Two Harbors to the Trans Catalina Trail, and head left (east). You ascend, reach a four-way junction and head straight. The climbing becomes steeper, gaining almost 1,000 feet in less than two miles. A mile from Two Harbors, stay straight as the Catalina Harbor Overlook road branches off. You pass through a gate, continue your climb, and finally you reach a clearing on a high point, with views of the ocean and the canyon to the east.

After enjoying the vistas, head downhill on a rough single-track. The hiking poles will come in handy here, as you make your way down the steep and loose slope, climbing over a few rocks on the way.

The trail continues to follow the coastline, skirting around the edges of some cliffs, and making an ascent before turning back into a fire road. After passing another turnoff, you begin heading downhill and you get your first glimpse of Little Harbor. It’s still more than a mile away, however, so your work isn’t quite done yet.

The road passes close by some more cliffs and crosses a large bowl that was apparently caused by massive soil erosion. Soon you come to a split, where a short spur to the right leads to a vista point where you get a nice view of Little Harbor and the hills behind it.

The T.C.T. starts making a few switchbacks, and finally it arrives at the Little Harbor campground, where amenities include picnic tables, running water, trash collection and chemical toilets. Here you have a few options. You can retrace your steps – keeping in mind that you will have to climb up the same steep stretches that you just descended on the way out here. You can also make the hike a loop, returning via Little Harbor Road, which takes a slightly longer, more inland route back to Two Harbors. If you’ve arranged transportation, you can continue onto the Airport in the Sky, which is five miles and 1,600 vertical feet from Little Harbor.

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.

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2 comments

  1. Hello! Does anyone know if this would be a difficult hike for boys ages 11 and 13 with overnight backpacks? Thank you for any responses.

    1. Difficult but probably doable, if you’re talking about going from Two Harbors to Little Harbor, camping at Little Harbor and going back the next day. I have done both directions as a day hike (described in the post) and I also did the southbound direction as part of my Trans Catalina Trail backpacking trip with about a 30-pound back. Not going to lie, it kicked my butt–but I was also 40 at the time, so youngsters will probably be fine, assuming they’re at least in decent shape. Also, cool weather will help. I did it in June which is the tail end of the season where it’s advisable. The route is entirely exposed.

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