Bikepacking on Santa Catalina Island

I hadn’t been to Santa Catalina Island since I was young. So when Bruce asked if I’d join him for an overnighter there, I jumped at the chance. I needed to try out my bikepacking setup, and this would be the perfect chance.

Happening the same weekend was the Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix. They used to have motorcycle races on the island, but 1958 was the last year it was held. We met a racer from the last race in ’58 on our boat ride. Everyone seemed pretty excited to see the motos race on the island again. We decided we’d check out some racing before heading for the inland part of the island.

Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix racers.

After we’d seen enough of the motorcycles we decided it was time to start our trip by getting out of Avalon. Our plan was to cycle from Avalon to Two Harbors, where we’d board our return boat. The island isn’t very long, but it’s hilly, so we had some climbing ahead of us.

Profile of the climb out of Avalon.

The toughest climb is the road out of Avalon, with grades up to 12 percent. On our loaded bikes it didn’t take long before we were shedding layers and stopping to catch our breath. No problem -- around every corner was another photo op and a good excuse to pull over.

And here's a shot of the actual climb.

At the intersection of a couple of roads we heard some voices, and then saw some people flying across a Zip Line! A slight drizzle had been keeping things interesting all morning. However, once the climbing was over we were greeted with sun and blue skies. And still, every corner presented a new photo op, so it was hard to keep the camera holstered.

The ocean views were abundant and magnificent.

We awoke to clear skies on Sunday morning.

My bike-and-tarp camping setup.

After the steep climb out of camp we enjoyed a long descent down to Middle Ranch. Along the way we finally saw one -- a real life bison! In 1924, fourteen bison were brought to the island for the filming of a movie. After production ended, they were left on the island. Seeing one of their descendents was a highlight of the trip.

My penny can stove.

Parts of this ride reminded me of motorcycling through Baja. Dirt roads, few people, and amazing vistas. The only things missing were the taco carts.

The road started to climb again and before long we were granted a view of the far side of the island. We spotted a hawk, or an eagle perhaps, sitting alone on a rock overlooking the ocean. This is a special place, and we knew we were lucky to be here.

Bruce on one of the island's gravel roads.

We eventually made it to Little Harbor and stopped for some snacks. We had a boat to catch in Two Harbors for the return ride home, but to get there we had to climb back to the other side of the island. We arrived with time to spare and, after lunch, we relaxed on the beach, listening to the waves and enjoying a (strong!) beer. We couldn’t have timed it better, as the skies grayed with an approaching storm.

What a weekend.

Beer, bike, and beach. Does it get any better?

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: I did this trip on my Salsa Fargo. Later, I rode Catalina a second time on my Salsa Mukluk super-fat bike.


11 responses so far ↓

Jim Syyap - May 14, 2012 at 12:21 PM

"Beer, bike and beach...."

Yep, three good reasons to go bikepacking. I love it!

jerseyrider - May 22, 2012 at 5:18 AM

thats what we cyclist called for the 3 B[s] beer beach bike..remembered the 3 B's

Jim Sayer - May 31, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Awesome, I love Catalina Island and this makes me want to go back and bike it!

Bill Clendenen - Jun 3, 2012 at 4:01 AM

What a great trip!

Barb - Sep 3, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Did you have to buy that $35 pass twice? (once for each day?)

Errin - Sep 3, 2012 at 5:44 PM


No, the $35 pass is an annual pass. Best to go a couple times during the year so it pays for itself though.

Barb - Sep 4, 2012 at 6:18 AM

Thank you...what's nice about Catalina is you don't have to worry about getting eaten by a bear while you're sleeping. LOL. It looks really relaxing. Did you take your bikes on the boat out of Long Beach? How does that work? Do you get to keep your bike with you on the boat?
Thanks for posting those photos...

Errin - Sep 4, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Yes, bikes go on the boat. If I remember right it's a $5 charge per bike. The bikes hang out either in the cargo area or on the back deck in bike racks. Just depends on the boat that pics you up. We left out of Long Beach, but I think it's the same out of all the ports.

Teddy - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:31 PM

Great post! My buddy and I are thinking about bikepacking it in early November. We both have Fargos, although I'm thinking about buying a Mukluk in the future. Which did you prefer, Fargo or Mukluk, and why?


Alex - Dec 17, 2013 at 4:28 AM

Nice, I'm going on Dec.27th for overnighter with couple buddy's.But were riding to two harbor and back avalon the next day.

Doug - Nov 8, 2017 at 12:08 PM

I did a 3-nighter with my son. Hermit Gulch to Blackjack (via Cape Canyon) to Little Harbor to Two Harbors. I got the Conservancy membership where you get two bike passes, and half off of some campgrounds (Blackjack, Little Harbor, and Parsons Landing only). You missed out on the best buffalo burgers on the island when you bypassed the airport :-)

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