Such a great experience. The island interior is very lightly traveled. Some hikers and some Jeep / Humvee tours, but otherwise, the ride is just you, the buffalo, and the views. The ride is very challenging, with plenty of gain and some super steep sections. Once you leave Avalon and get over 1,000 feet, the views are everywhere. There are sections where you can see ocean on both sides of the island. Depending on the time of year, the marine layer is thick.
In Avalon, it can be thick grey cover, but once you get over 1,000 feet, the sky is clear blue and you can look down on the clouds. Gorgeous! The interior of Catalina is fairly isolated. Minimal traffic (though on Airport Road
there are work trucks and the occasional Jeep tour).
Plan to go extended periods without seeing anybody else. I saw way more buffalo than people. Beware of the herd - I saw them on both of my rides. The route is mostly dirt roads which are generally maintained. But there are treacherous sections that are very steep and very rocky with no shoulder and huge drop-offs (this was mostly in the southeastern loop from Hermit Gulch around to East End Road
). There are the occasional Humvee tours on this route, so it can be a difficult passing.
Bring enough food / water. The airport is the only place that I'm aware of that you can resupply.
Upon leaving Avalon, be prepared - it is all uphill. About 1,375 feet of gain in the first 3 miles. The route is paved for those first few miles, though much of that is pretty rough road. There are work trucks and tour vehicles traveling that stretch, but the traffic is light. A lot of blind curves.
Once you get to the top, there is an overlook that lets you look back to Avalon / Hamilton Cove and see how far you've come (assuming the clouds aren't blocking your view down). At the top of the hill, you are on Airport Road
(this is the most groomed road you'll be on), which takes a nice leisurely route to the island's airport.
There are twists and turns and some hills, but overall it is a leisurely ride for the next 6-7 miles. It's a nice recovery from the initial climb and there are great views the entire time as you are riding along a ridge that overlooks the eastern side of the island. The buffalo apparently roam along this stretch, so keep an eye out. The airport has a nice restaurant and is a good place to take a break.
After that it is 5-6 miles almost all downhill to Shark Harbor. This stretch is all dirt / gravel road - pretty steep with a lot of switchbacks. Lots of views down to the water on the west side of the island. At the bottom, you have a good vantage of the harbor. Here you turn left. Get ready for the climb back through Middle Ranch Road
back up to Airport Road
This stretch winds back up through the interior and is pretty desolate. Not much air flow, and combined with the slow go, this was probably the hottest portion of the ride. Again, a lot of steep sections especially as you get close to Airport Road
and really just a sense of desert isolation. Middle Ranch is interesting - a campground and some buildings. Some structures that look like they were built in the early 1900s.
Now you are back on Airport Road
heading back toward Stagecoach Road
, which is the road coming up from Avalon. Of course you can return to Avalon here if you like, but this ride takes you for another loop around the southeastern end of the island. When you are at the intersection of Airport Road
, Stagecoach Road
, and Divide Road
, there is a closed gate across Divide Road
. But there is an intentional opening in the fence that allows you get your bike through.
The next mile has a lot of steep gravel sections. But then you arrive at a ridge line that lets you really start to see Avalon. This ridge continues down to about 1,100 feet where the Hermit Gulch hiking trail ends. There is an overlook and a restroom in that area.
Next, it is back uphill again. Maybe it was late in the ride and I was tired, but this was some of the steepest riding. Great views of the ocean on both sides of the island from here. Very steep drop-offs along this ridge as you get to the highest point of the ride at about 1,600 feet elevation. The roads were extremely steep and rocky, with both larger rocks and regular gravel. Additionally, there were a number of ruts in the road from water runoff.
All things considered, it was very tough going up this stretch. I really didn't want to stop and hike-a-bike up this section, so my legs were on fire. But again, at the top you are rewarded with magnificent views: the ocean and of course Avalon as you are looping your way around the ridge that surrounds the harbor. On this clear day, you could see clearly to the town and have a great perspective of how far you'd come. After riding some up / down sections along the ridge, it is all downhill. This was the most dangerous of the downhills. More of the same rocky terrain throughout the steep switchbacks. Your upper body takes a toll.
With a couple miles left, you return to pavement. One last uphill section of about 0.5 miles. Good pavement, fairly steep. The only hard part here is the golf carts and e-bikes passing you ... At the top, one last great view of Avalon and the harbor with the casino in the distance. After that, winding down the hill through some neighborhoods back to sea level.