Garden to Sky

Distance 3.1 mi
Time 1.5 hrs
Elevation Gain 855 ft
Season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Hike Info Hiker Info

The 3.1-mile round-trip Garden to Sky hike on Catalina Island is an exceptional day hike up Avalon Canyon to rewarding vistas of the island’s coastline, deep canyons, and San Gabriel Mountains. It’s easy to bump up the mileage by making a loop on the Trans-Catalina Trail or connecting to other nearby trails. You may even see the Santa Catalina Island Fox, a docile and playful reddish-grey fox endemic to Catalina Island.

Getting There

You can reach Catalina Island by ferry, helicopter, plane, or private sailing vessel. The Catalina Express runs regular ferries from Long Beach to Avalon, the main city on Catalina Island. The ferry ride from Long Beach is roughly 1 hour. Dogs are allowed on the ferry with a muzzle or in a carrier. There are no car ferries and no car rentals on the island. Cars are tightly regulated, and there is currently over a 20-year waitlist. (Fun fact: There are no stoplights on the island.)

This hike starts at Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, 1.5 miles southwest of downtown Avalon. Once you reach Avalon, you can walk to the garden, rent a golf cart, rent a bike, take the Garibaldi Bus, or call a taxi to get there. Rentals are within walking distance of the ferry. For a fun experience, rent a golf cart and drive to the garden, then do a loop tour around Avalon for postcard views of Avalon Bay.

Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is part of Los Angeles County, 20 miles off the coast of Southern California. The island is about 22 miles long, eight miles wide at its widest point, and a half mile wide at its narrowest. Mount Orizaba is the highest peak at 2,097 feet, and approximately 4,000 people live there year-round.

Catalina Island is one of eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Channel Islands National Park, established in 1980, is north of Catalina Island and includes Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands.

The 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail traverses the island’s ridges, canyons, beaches, and coastlines. Beach camping is a highlight, although, with little shade, the trek can be brutal in the summertime. Learn more at CatalinaConservancy.org.

Island History

Long before modern settlers, the Tongva Tribe inhabited Santa Catalina Island, then known as “Pima.” When Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno sighted the on November 24, 1602, he renamed it Santa Catalina, in honor of Saint Catherine, continuing a tradition of naming landmarks after saints whose feast days fell on or near the day they sighted it. 

In 1919, William Wrigley, Jr.—founder of the company that produced Wrigley chewing gum and a one-time owner of the Chicago Cubs—bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company and developed the island into a tourist destination. Over time, he built the Hotel Atwater, the Catalina Country Club for the Chicago Cubs’ spring training, a grand three-tiered recreation center he dubbed a Casino—although there is no gambling—and an estate on Mount Ada that served as the family’s summer cottage, which now is a bed and breakfast.

Good to Know Before You Go

This hike requires a free hiking permit. Register for it on the Catalina Conservancy’s website, CatalinaConservancy.org. While you’re there on the site, you can also purchase an entrance ticket for the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. You can also scan a QR code at the garden’s entrance to purchase tickets.

There are no facilities along the trail, so it’s good to use the restroom just past the garden’s entrance before your hike. The route is quite open and exposed, so bring sun protection and plenty of water. 

Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden doesn’t allow dogs, except for service dogs. Instead, you can try the nearby Hermit Gulch Trail which is open to leashed dogs and leads up to the same ridge.

While hiking, you may see a Catalina Island Fox, a reddish-grey fox about the size of a house cat. Just give them space and hike on by. The foxes are tame and docile, although they will grab food out of a backpack if it’s out of your sight.

Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden

Pass through the entrance onto the wide dirt road and hike 0.3 miles to the Wrigley Memorial. Wrigley’s widow, Ava Wrigley, commissioned the memorial to her husband after his passing in 1932 and began the garden in 1935 as a private plant collection. Plants are divided into zones such as Exotic Succulents and Plants of the Channel Islands and feature regional species like Catalina Ironwood, Coast Prickly Pear, and Torrey Pine.

As you reach the 130-foot-tall, 232-foot-wide memorial, a sign on the right marks the start of the Garden to Sky trail. After exploring the memorial, you’ll return here to hike up the canyon. For now, take the curved staircase up toward the memorial’s 80-foot tower, decorated in blue and green tiles made on Catalina Island. The blue flagstone on the floors is from Little Harbor on the western side of the island. 

Wrigley’s remains were initially interred here when the memorial was completed in 1934, but during World War II, they were relocated to Glendale, California. A plaque still marks Wrigley’s original resting place. At the top is a beautiful vista of Avalon Canyon, the garden, the San Pedro Channel, and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. 

Garden to Sky

After circling the Memorial, return to the Garden to Sky trail and begin hiking up the pebbly dirt road. Island oak and shrubby plants mix with the odd cactus on dry hillsides. Wildflowers, like the Santa Catalina Mariposa Lily, bloom along the trail in spring and early summer.

The trail’s gentle, moderate grade over long switchbacks makes it an approachable and enjoyable climb. As you gain elevation, views increase out over the channel to swaths of Catalina Island. Shorelines get tinier and more expansive, with the odd parasailor, cruise ship, and ferry in the water offshore.

Spotted Towhees, Mockingbirds, and Acorn Woodpeckers scour the trees and shrubbery for insects, berries, seeds, and acorns. It’s not uncommon to also spot the Santa Catalina Island Fox. This small, reddish-grey fox is endemic to Catalina Island, meaning it is found here and nowhere else on Earth naturally. As an adult, the fox reaches about a foot in height and weighs up to five pounds: It is about the size of a house cat. The fox has no natural predators on the island, so it is active in the daytime. Just walk on by—the foxes are docile, yet will take food from your pack if the opportunity arises!

To the Ridgeline and Beyond

After 1.2 miles, arrive at Divide Road and a sign that says, “You Made It!” To the southwest is a distant view of San Clemente Island, the southernmost Channel Island. To the northeast is Avalon, Avalon Bay, the Casino, and the San Gabriel Mountains on the mainland. 

When ready, retrace your steps back to the botanic garden entrance. Alternatively, turn the hike into a 4.25-mile loop by turning right onto Divide Road and hiking 0.8 miles northwest. Then, turn right onto the Hermit Gulch Trail and descend 1.6 miles down to the Hermit Gulch Campground. Walk a quarter-mile back up Avalon Canyon Road to return to the garden. Add on a side trip to Lone Tree Road, a 2.0-mile round-trip spur, to bump up your loop to 6.25 miles.

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Accommodations near Garden to Sky

Trail Conditions

The Garden to Sky trail begins at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden and climbs Avalon Canyon on a moderate grade to panoramic views from the ridge. The trail is wide, well-signed, well-maintained, and easy to follow. It can be hot in summer and there is limited shade, so pack water and sun protection.

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Camping Info

Hermit Gulch Campground is 1.2 miles southwest of downtown Avalon and a quarter mile from the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. There are 40 tent sites and 9 tent cabins. Camping reservations are required. Sites operate seasonally. Potable water, coin-operated showers, picnic tables, and barbecues are available. No open fires and no firewood collecting allowed. Wax logs and charcoal fires are permitted in barbecues. No dogs allowed.


How to Get There

In Avalon, take Clarissa Avenue southwest to Tremont Street. Turn right onto Tremont Street and after 0.1 miles, make a quick left onto Avalon Canyon Road. The botanic garden is 1.25 miles down the road and the Hermit Gulch Campground is a quarter mile before it. If renting a golf cart, park in the roundabout next to the garden gate.

Driving Directions

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