You won’t sight a single goat on the 7-mile Goat Whiskers Trail loop west of Two Harbors. You will see abundant native flora and fauna, though, on this coast-to-mountain hike. And that’s precisely because the goats are gone. Thousands once roamed the island, descendants of a handful brought by early Spanish missionaries. But in the 1990s the Catalina Island Conservancy, determined to protect the native ecosystem, used sharpshooters in helicopters to gun down the nonnative ruminants. None remain today.
Starting at the Isthmus Cove beachfront in Two Harbors, head west up a short path to West End Road, a dirt motorway that hugs the winding coast northward. You get a fantastic view of the boat harbor and palm-studded village, idyllic grass hills rising beyond. For the next 2.5 miles, the road skirts two narrow inlets in a zigzag fashion—4th of July Cove and then Cherry Cove (where native Catalina Cherry trees abound)—before reaching a promontory known as Lion Head. Goat Whiskers Trail diverges inland here up a steep, sun-beaten ridge. As you climb roughly 700 feet over the next mile, San Pedro Channel (between Catalina and the mainland) takes on a sweeping grandeur and the island’s furrowed coast splays open like a deck of cards, revealing a large portion of Catalina’s west end.
The trail then runs into Water Tank Road, where you turn left and climb even higher up to a knoll. Scrub oak grows here in dense groves. Keep left at a fork, and shortly after Water Tank merges onto Trans-Catalina Trail, you’ll descend back to Two Harbors.
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.
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!