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Explore Catalina’s “Wild Side” | Nature on Catalina Island

As wonderful as the town of Avalon is, it is only a very small part of Catalina Island. For those who want to experience the “wild” side of the island, a journey into the island’s vast interior is a must.

Catalina Island’s interior, 88% of the island, is owned and managed by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. The interior is covered with broad valleys, isolated coves, pristine beaches, two thousand-foot peaks and near-vertical shoreline palisades and is home to thousands of species of unique native plants and animals. It is in the Conservancy lands that Catalina Island Fox, the Beechey Ground Squirrel, North American Bison, and Catalina Island Quail traverse the hills freely. These animals are endemic to Catalina and are found nowhere else in the world. Bald Eagles, which have been re-introduced to the island, soar above the coves.

The Catalina Island Conservancy

In 1972, members of the Wrigley family established the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy as a private, non-profit organization dedicated solely to the conservation and preservation of Catalina Island. With more than 42,000 acres and 48 miles of coastline under its charge, the Conservancy’s legal mandate is to preserve the island’s native plants and animals, its biological communities and its geological and geographical formations of educational interest. Equally important, the conservancy also manages the island’s open space for controlled recreational purposes.

The Conservancy also owns and operates Catalina Island’s Airport-In-The-Sky, Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden, and the Nature Center. The Conservancy provides a ranger service both on land and along the shore to assist visitors and assure the security of the interior.

A Unique Ecosystem

In the beginning, the isolated island that eventually became Catalina remained virtually untouched. Its flora and fauna included only native plants and small animals. Some of these plants are now very rare and are only found in a natural state on Catalina Island. At least 6,000 years ago, early man was a natural and compatible part of this lush ecosystem. Unfortunately, however, the Spanish explorers and early settlers introduced grazing animals to Catalina Island, which resulted in continual uncontrolled grazing for over 100 years. This grazing had a detrimental impact on the island’s native plants and shallow soils. This trend has been reversed in recent years, and much of Catalina Island’s unique ecosystem remains intact.

Hiking, Biking, and Camping

There are many options for exploring Catalina Island’s vast and beautiful interior, including sightseeing tours, Jeep Eco-tours, and shuttle buses to the Airport-In-The-Sky. For the more adventurous types, hiking, biking, and camping are fun choices.

A number of hiking trails allows hikers to explore Catalina’s interior. Due to rugged terrain, mountain bikes are required and riders must wear helmets. The roads open to bicycling are for the most part improved gravel.

Bicycle permits may be obtained at the Conservancy Office, located at 125 Claressa. Permits are also available at Catalina’s Airport-in-the-Sky and Two Harbors Visitors Services during their regular hours of operation. Biking permits require a fee; hiking permits are free.

A shuttle bus service, from Avalon to Two Harbors, operates year-round and makes stops at campsites and trailheads in the interior.

Two Harbors

Two Harbors is a rustic resort village located at Catalina Island’s isthmus, 23 miles by land or 14 miles by sea, west of Avalon. A popular destination for boaters, transportation to Two Harbors is also available from either San Pedro or Long Beach, and bus service connects Avalon and Two Harbors.

Recreation opportunities at Two Harbors include hiking on ocean-view trails, snorkeling and scuba diving at nearby world-renowned sites, ocean kayaking among secret coves, mountain biking along ridge roads, pleasure boating or just plain relaxing on a sandy beach. There is one restaurant and one general store. The Banning House Lodge is the only hotel in Two Harbors, but there are a variety of camping options. Theme weekends and parties throughout the year offer fun-filled family activities.