Bikepacking Catalina Island

Best Time of Year - Spring and Fall
Type: Mountain Biking, Backpacking.
Gear Needed - A little extensive (see the list below).
Why You Should Go - Bikepacking Catalina allows you to experience the island in a very unique way and a lot more of it in a condensed time-frame.

A little about Catalina Island
There are more than a few contrasts - If/when you start your bikepacking adventure on Catalina Island, the first thing you will notice is that once you leave the comforts of Avalon, or to a lesser degree, Two Harbors, you are pretty much out in the wilderness. But the cool thing is that you are not really that far from some form of civilization. And although you are riding mostly on dirt road, you will rarely see a car. There are places like Two Harbors that allow you to camp in close proximity of dining and shops, or you can head out to Lone Harbor or Parson's Landing for a lot more solitude. Plenty of options. So, find a part of the island that fits your level of adventure, create your plan of attack, and then just go! 

The Process
Catalina Island, or at least the people that run it, are very particular about who rides around their island, and how many at a time. So, they limit the numbers by making us jump through a few hoops, but with a little persistence and willingness to keep plugging away at something, it really isn't that difficult. So, here is what you need to do:

1) You need to join the Conservancy:
The first thing to understand is that you need to be a member of the Catalina Island Conservancy to bike on the dirt roads that connect the island. There are various membership levels, but the "Friend" level is all that is required. This membership also entitles you to important discounts like:
  • 50% discount on the Catalina Flyer (the ferry).
  • 50% discount on campground fees.
  • and much more...
2) You need to get some campsites:
Lone Harbor
3) You need to reserve your ferry ride over and back. Don't put this off, seats can be limited (especially on weekends), and not getting a ferry ride can make your trip a lot more difficult.
  • The main provider is The Catalina Flyer and the cost is around $75 as of this writing. Reserve online, or call 949-673-5245.
4) Check in with the Conservancy - Once you get on the island, you must check in at the Conservancy office at 125 Claressa Ave. in Avalon and get your bike tag (if you don't have it yet) before you can get on the road.

Reservation Windows (For Campsites, Permits, etc...)
  • Campsites - 13 months in advance.
  • Permits - Usually can be done through the Conservancy with just a few days notice (but I wouldn't push it too close).
  • Peak Season is March 9th - Oct 28th.
Necessary Gear
  • A bike (yep, can't get around this one) - A mountain bike is required (anything less could make for a tough and maybe dangerous ride). One with front suspension only is probably best, but full suspension will work too (you just need a rack that fits the seat post only).
  • Gear Racks - There are racks for the front, middle, and back of your bike, and they can be found at all different price levels. Check out my Bikepacking Gear List for all the details.
  • Backpack - Yep, even though most of your gear will be on the bike, it is a great idea to balance everything out by carrying some gear on your back (otherwise, your bike can be very awkward to handle). Don't make your pack to heavy though.
  • Backpacking Essentials - Basically, all the stuff you would take backpacking, but try to cut out a few items if possible (remember, you are riding). Check out my Backpacking Gear List.
  • Food - You really need to go light here, and by light I mean freeze dried. Any extra weight you carry, you will really feel. Normally, I really believe that when you are roughing it, you should be roughing it. But, on Catalina Island, there are plenty of opportunities to buy your food (stores, restaurants, etc...) so, maybe it's best to take advantage of that.
    • Cool side note - if you are on a budget, normally you would buy all your food at your local grocer, but there are two Vons stores in Avalon, and their pricing is the same as on the mainland. Sweet!
    • So, I would camel up when you get to Avalon and then fill up when you finish.
    • My advice - Since the cost of freeze dried food is about the same as restaurant food, go with convenience and dine on the island when possible. But bring your snacks and drink mixes to save money.
Images - 

Video - 

Tips and Tricks
  • Bring at least one headlamp.
  • When flying down some of the roads, be prepared to run into a buffalo or something. They do not like bikers approaching at a fast clip!
  • Keep an eye on Groupon for a discount on the ferry fare. They have a sweet discount fairly regularly, just try to get it in advance, there can be restrictions.
  • You can have firewood delivered to your campsite. And water to the campgrounds that don't have water (Parson's). Just call the Conservancy.
  • Avalon - TBA
  • Two Harbors - TBA
  • The Airport (a little detour, but worth it) - Dan and Brian highly recommend the buffalo burgers!
  • Avalon - There is an ice cream cone place right on the main drag that made for a perfect treat at the end of a long day of riding (I will get the name asap).
  • Two Harbors  - The Harbor Reef Restaurant (great opportunity to return to civilization and have a beer with dinner).
See you out there!

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