On certain crystal-clear days (most common between late October and March), the looping hike over East Mountain on Santa Catalina Island affords an ever-changing panorama of the blue ocean, San Clemente Island to the south, and the snow-capped summits of the San Gabriel Mountains on the mainland. On this walk you will cover 8.5 miles of distance along mostly dirt roads and wide trails, and gain a total of 2000 feet of elevation. That's a good half-day's worth if you don't dawdle much along the way.
You'll begin your walk in Avalon, Catalina's capital-of-sorts. First, of course, you'll need to navigate to the island itself. Visit the Santa Catalina Island Company's website (www.scico.com) to help with your plans and reservations. Ferries to Avalon depart from Dana Point, Newport Beach, Long Beach, and San Pedro. When planning for your hike, don't forget to bring plenty of water (especially important during Santa Ana wind episodes), and sun-protective clothing. Also note that hiking permits (for travel outside Avalon) are mandatory; inquire on the way over, or when you arrive.
Let's assume you start from Clemente Avenue and Wrigley Road (a.k.a. Mt. Ada Road) on Avalon's south edge. On paved Wrigley Road you swing around the high ridge overlooking Avalon Bay, enjoying picture-postcard-perfect views of boats at anchor and of the famous round casino building on the bay's far side.
Go right after 1.3 miles on Renton Mine Road (the paved road continuing ahead descends left toward a power station at Pebbly Beach). Renton Mine Road takes you uphill to another junction, where you make another right on East End Road. On the slopes hereabouts, notice the St. Catherine's lace, a type of buckwheat endemic to the dry slopes of the island. The flower clusters on this large (up to several feet high) shrub can spread as wide as a foot, with a creamy white color fading to rust in the fall.
After curling around East Mountain, East End Road proceeds due west along the ridgecrest, with spectacular views north down to Avalon Bay and south over the sparkling waters to San Clemente Island. You'll notice that thick accumulations of chaparral coat the north-facing slopes, while the sunnier, south-facing slopes are much more parched and brown. Drought-resistant prickly-pear cacti grow abundantly on the ridgecrest and down along the drier slopes.
After a total of 6.8 miles, you'll veer sharply right on Memorial Road. Some easy walking down this dirt road takes you along a cool, north-facing slope covered by tall and luxuriant (by San Diego standards, anyway) growths of chaparral plants such as scrub oak, manzanita, and toyon. At the bottom of the hill you come upon Wrigley Memorial, a 130-foot-tall edifice built as a memorial to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., who purchased the island in 1918.
The famed botanic gardens started by Wrigley's wife (Ada Wrigley) in the 1920s lie just below the monument. Distinguished by a virtually frost-free climate, the gardens are home to an extensive array of native Southern California plants, as well as exotics from distant corners of the world. Once beyond the garden gates, 1.4 miles of road-walking down Avalon Canyon will take you back down to the center of Avalon.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.