Overnight Camping in the Island’s Interior
Written by: NICK
A few weeks ago I went on a solo, overnight camping trip to the interior of the island. I would say I’m between beginner and intermediate camper, but I had never gone alone before and this was my first time camping on Catalina. I had done my research; taken a Naturalist Training class at the Catalina Island Conservancy, searched online forums, and pored over trail maps. I was originally wanting to camp by the beach on the backside of the island, but since I was by myself, I didn’t want to be too remote, so I decided against it. I eventually settled on Black Jack Campground, located in the interior of the island.
Once I knew where I was going, the next step was figuring out how to get there. Luckily for me, there are a number of services available to get people and their gear into the interior. The Wildlands Express thru the Catalina Conservancy is a prime way to get “out there” for a low cost. From Avalon to the Airport (about halfway to Two Harbors) is $32 round trip, and all the way to Two Harbors is $64 round trip, $5 if you want to add a bike (make sure you have a helmet and bike permit). Tickets must be purchased in advance. In addition to the Wildlands Express, Catalina Backcountry offers transportation for campers, their gear/water/firewood, and even additional gear for activities such as kayaking and snorkeling.
When it was finally the day of my trip, I met up with the Wildlands Express van at the Tour Plaza by the mini golf course with my single overnight pack containing my tent, water, and everything else. It was about an hour ride to the Black Jack Trailhead from Avalon with amazing views from the road of both the ocean and the sloping hills that make up much of the interior of Catalina. The driver was very kind, and patiently answered all my questions about the island and stopped when we saw Bison.
Located near Mt Orizaba, Catalina Island’s highest peak at just over 2000 feet elevation, Black Jack Campground is about 1.5 miles from the road to the Airport in the Sky (which is ten miles from Avalon). Trees surround Black Jack, giving campers a sense of seclusion. This was especially evident to me, as I was the only person in the whole campground.
After being let off at the Black Jack Trailhead and hiking to the campsite, I began to set up my simple camp (just a tent) under a shady tree. As I was setting up, I heard rustling in the large bushes about 30 feet from me. After a few minutes, A BISON stepped out. I kept my distance, and an eye on him as I finished setting up. My campsite also had a picnic table and a fire pit, however since Catalina is experiencing a severe drought and the vegetation is so dry, fires have been temporarily banned at Black Jack.
Finished with setting up my camp, I headed off on foot to the Airport. Any hiking in the interior requires a hiking pass. They are free to obtain and are available on the Conservancy website. My hike from Black Jack Trailhead was about 2.25 miles to the Airport. Along the way I encountered multiple Bison and often had to wait for them to pass as they blocked my path (darn Catalina traffic!). The hike up was fairly easy and a few people driving by asked I was doing OK or if I needed water. At the Airport, I grabbed lunch and marveled at the view.
Too soon, I was on the trail again heading back toward Black Jack. On the way I spotted Mt. Orizaba in the distance and decided I would hike up it. The trail up spiraled around the peak and as it was such a clear day after some rains, I was able to see the mainland, the ocean on the backside of the island, and even San Clemente Island, another of the channel islands. With such a breathtaking view it was hard to leave but it began to get dark and cold so I headed back to camp for the night.
The next morning I woke up and packed up. I had a van to catch. I got to the meeting place on the road by the Black Jack Trailhead and 5 minutes later was picked up and taken back into town, a successful overnight trip!