The most sublime wraparound vista on Catalina Island is from Cat Harbor Overlook, perched 950 feet above Two Harbors. Reaching trail’s end is like stepping out onto a visionary high dive. A sheer drop-off overlooks the sparkling deep-blue Pacific, and Catalina’s hulking mountains unfurl to east and west, with capes and points stacked and receding into a blue haze. The entire isthmus is visible. Lobster Point peers out beyond the pleasure yachts tethered far below at Cat Harbor, where swirls of bright turquoise paint the water.
The 4.3-mile (round-trip) out-and-back Cat Harbor Overlook Trail delivers you there. From Two Harbors, you head east up dirt Banning House Road. You’ll soon pass by Banning House, the Craftsman-style lodge built in 1910 by the Banning brothers, who once owned the island. Keep right at two upcoming forks to stay on the Trans-Catalina Trail. Yellow wildflowers and tall grass cover hillsides scattered with cacti and scrub oak as you trudge uphill.
After 1.2 miles, a right turn puts you on Cat Harbor Overlook Road, which climbs to a ridge exposing the back side of the island. A rusted barbed wire fence runs along the undulating crest for the next mile. Hikers have bent extra wire around its taut lines to form names and rudimentary symbols—an informal art installation of sorts.
From here, you may be tempted to loop back to town via grassy slopes leading toward Ballast Point, but the way is steep with loose rocks and is nearly swallowed in sections by spring overgrowth. Instead, take time to savor the view you earned, and return the way you came.
STAY: Banning House Lodge, perched on a grassy hill above Two Harbors, is a historic Craftsman-style home and hunting lodge turned into a charming B&B with 12 rooms. Enjoy a hearty continental breakfast on the patio, a wine-and-cheese social every evening, and sweeping views of the harbors rendered in ever-shifting shades and color.
Prefer to rough it? Reserve a site at Two Harbors Campground ($25 a night), about a half-mile east of town on a coastal slope above a wide, sandy beach. The views of Isthmus Cove and San Pedro Channel are a knockout. Choose from more than 40 tent sites, or book one of 13 tent cabins, which include beds with mattresses. Dogs are not allowed in the campground.
Wherever you stay, you might enjoy lunching or lounging at Harbor Sands, a new South Pacific–style beach club on Isthmus Cove, complete with palapas and swaying palms.
To get to Two Harbors, take the Catalina Express ferry from Berth 95 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro ($73.50 round-trip). Parking at the port is $19/day.
Begin the hike on Banning House Road in Two Harbors. All hikers on Catalina Island must obtain a free hiking permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy, available online and in person at Two Harbors Visitors Information Services at the foot of the pier. The trail is dog friendly!