Guide to Bikepacking Catalina Island with Gemma Bachmann

Guide to Bikepacking Catalina Island with Gemma Bachmann

Join Nomadix Ambassador Gemma Bachmann as she embarks on an exhilarating weekend bikepacking adventure to Catalina Island, a hidden gem just 22 miles off the Southern California coast. Gemma, along with her husband Joe and friends Brandon, Stephen, and Manchin, set out to explore the island’s rugged trails and serene vistas. Equipped with Nomadix gear and a shared spirit of adventure, they were ready to create unforgettable memories. Dive into their journey and discover the beauty and excitement that Catalina Island has to offer.



Catalina Island Weekend Getaway 

The Crew

Catalina Island, only 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, is a place I've been longing to explore for what feels like ages. Determined to turn my vision of this trip into reality, I rallied a group of fellow bikepacking enthusiasts for an unforgettable adventure. Our band of five, including my husband Joe, and friends Brandon, Stephen, and Manchin, were the perfect blend of shared excitement and wanderlust. With eager hearts, and a sense of adventure driving us forward, we set out, ready to carve our own path through the island’s rugged landscape.

Departure Day

Manchin, Joe, and I pedaled towards the San Gabriel River Trail from Covina, where we were to rendezvous with Brandon. The four of us journeyed roughly 40 miles along the river trail. Meanwhile, Stephen, coming from the opposite direction in Santa Monica, rode a similar distance, each pedal stroke bringing us closer to our shared destination.

The Catalina Express sets sail from ports in San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point, offering tickets at $42 each way, payable online for convenience. If you plan to bring your bike along, a $7 round-trip fee is required, along with a $35 Conservancy Membership, essential for obtaining a Freewheeler Bike Pass. With this pass, you can explore the island's trails freely. I recommend booking your campsite well in advance as spaces are limited and tend to fill up rapidly. Keep in mind that backcountry camping is prohibited on the island, so be sure to stick to established campsites during your stay.



We caught the 6:30pm ferry, the day's final departure, arriving at Catalina Island within an hour. The ferry offered a variety of food and drink options, with spacious seating across three levels and space for at least 10 bikes. Our journey was smooth and enjoyable.

Stepping off the ferry, Catalina welcomed us with its vibrant charm, twinkling lights, elegant hotels, and the iconic circular casino. Art vendors along the coastal walkway added to the festive atmosphere, evoking a southeastern Europe feeling. Surrounded by enchanting scenery and lively chatter, IItold Manchin, "The town feels so heartwarming," earning a laugh and a nod of agreement.



Hermit Gulch

Before  settling into our campsite, we briefly detoured to the local Vons for essentials. There, we met Eric, a 28-year island resident, who shared a local gem: head-sized cookies at the airport in the sky, freshly baked every hour—a culinary delight not to be missed! Excited for the treat, we cycled back under dark skies to the campsite at Hermit Gulch, where amenities like running water, showers, and well-stocked bathrooms awaited us. After a warm dinner, we eagerly anticipated those cookies and the adventures of the following morning.

The Route: 70 miles 9,177ft

The route began with a challenging 10-mile climb towards the famous "Airport in the Sky," where we were eager to try the highly recommended cookies. At 1,600 feet above sea level, we encountered brisk winds and a hazy mountaintop. The airport's cozy restaurant offered a restful stop with amenities like a gift shop and lounge area. The group had mixed reviews about the cookies: Stephen found them "overcooked," while Brandon and Manchin enjoyed them but were not overly impressed.



Descending towards Little Harbor/Middle Ranch Split, we marveled at the breathtaking views of the ocean and secluded beaches amidst lush green hills. The perfect 61-degree weather made for ideal climbing conditions as we spotted buffalo grazing in the distance. Joe and Brandon encountered a herd of buffalo during their steep alternate climb.

Continuing through undulating hills, we arrived at Two Harbors on the west end of the island, where we replenished supplies and enjoyed serene ocean views from Isthmus pier. Energized, we embarked on a 7-mile journey to Parsons Landing but felt our energy dwindle due to the unexpected sun and diminishing supplies. We decided to refuel at Two Harbors before the return journey to Avalon.



Taking a scenic shortcut back via a hike-a-bike trail with stunning ocean views, we refreshed ourselves at Two Harbors and then headed on Avalon.

Along Middle Ranch Road, we encountered a massive bison, reminding us of the island's wildlife and urging caution. Our journey continued with a challenging ascent up a 7.5-mile gravel canyon road, rewarded by sunset views and Stephan capturing a memorable group photo. Layered against the evening chill, we descended a gravel road for approximately 5 miles until reaching Avalon.

Back Into Town

Upon arriving in Avalon after dark, we were eager for a hearty meal, but our tired, dirty state discouraged us from dining out. Instead, we stopped at Vons for extra supplies before returning to the campsite. A quick shower revived us, but my choice of vegan mac & cheese turned out to be disappointing. Hungry and disheartened, I settled for leftover snacks while the group shared stories of the day. As bedtime neared, I couldn't help but crave the comfort of a warm burger and fries.


Time to go Home

We had a leisurely morning the next day and packed up our campsite after a quick breakfast. We cycled into Avalon for a satisfying meal, fulfilling my craving for burger and fries. Boarding the boat back to Long Beach, we felt happy and bonded, strengthened by our shared adventures and exploration.


Our bikepacking journey on Catalina Island was truly remarkable, filled with stunning views and unexpected wildlife encounters. Exploring the island by bike with friends created unforgettable memories. I highly recommend this adventure to anyone with a sense of exploration—whether you're a seasoned cyclist or a novice, Catalina offers something special. Gather your friends, pack your bags, and hit the trails—it's an experience you'll cherish forever!



Bikepacking Essentials Gear List:

On Bike Clothes

- cargo bibs

- cycling jersey

- gloves, socks

- helmet

- cycling shoes

- sunglasses

- Nomadix Bandana Towel

- Nomadix Tiny Towel


Off Bike Clothes

- shorts

- quick dry top

- sandals/lightweight shoes

- jacket

- sun hat


Bike Gear

- cargo bags

- hydration packs

- plugs

- GPS devices

- saddle bag tools (extra tire, co2 canisters, levers, patch kit, allen keys, mini pump)


Camp gear

- Nomadix Puffer Blanket

- camping pillows

- headlamps

- water filter

- tent

- sleeping pads



- contact solution/ case and spares

- toothbrush/paste

- deodorant

- wipes

- Nomadix Ultralight Towel

- sunscreen

- chapstick

- hand sanitizer



- portable camping stove

- fuel

- pan

- cycling food: maurten bars/gels/mix drink, scandinavian swimmers, coconut sugar, lara bars

- off bike food: Asha noodles, indian flat bread, canned beans, oats, raisins, pasta, spices, chocolate chip cookies 

- Nomadix Mini Towel


Camera Gear

- selfie gopro

- mics

- drone

- insta 360

- front mounted gopro 

- batteries/ battery bank

- usb c and lighting cable

- outlet plug in