Even the names sound intriguing: Cherry Cove and Parsons Landing, Arrow Point and Emerald Bay. Catalina's west end is a very special place--a series of bold headlands and crescent-shaped coves.
The coastal hills and canyons extending between Two Harbors and Parsons Landing are more botanically intact (i.e., less eaten by feral goats and pigs) than other parts of the island. The wind-swept oak and chaparral ecosystems are thriving.
One floral highlight is a grove of the native Catalina cherry. Depending on your point of view, it's either a tree or a shrub; its profile is shrublike, but its height (specimens reach 40-50 feet) calls for tree status.
The lovely, waxy-leaved native celebrates spring with spiky clusters of white flowers. It produces a dark red, cherry-like fruit. Though the cherries are more pit and pulp than juicy fruit, the Gabrielino Indians harvested them in days gone by, and they are eaten today by birds and foxes.
West End Trail, a mellow dirt road, begins at Two Harbors, Catalina's "second city," which isn't a city at all but a drowsy hamlet with a small lodge, cabins and campsites.
Two Harbors' history is colorful, checkered and seems to have revolved around smuggling. During Spanish days, contrabandistas stashed cargo here to avoid mainland customs collectors. And during Prohibition, bootleggers' boats hid out at remote west end coves.
A pleasant family outing on fairly level trail is the walk from Two Harbors to Cherry Cove. A long, but not particularly rugged, hike is the jaunt to Parsons Campground, seven miles west. The camp is an ideal destination for a weekend backpacking trip. From Parsons, West End Trail continues to Starlight Beach and Land's End.
Directions to trail head: Several boat companies offer ferry services to Catalina from Long Beach and San Pedro.
Two Harbors is accessible via ferries departing from San Pedro, as well as ferries from Avalon (summer only). If you can work out the logistics with the ferry schedule, you might be able to arrange transportation to or from Parsons Landing and make this a one-day hike.
Before hitting the trail, you must obtain a hiking permit (they're free) from the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation office, 213 Catalina St., Avalon 90704, (213) 510-0688. The department operates an information center in Avalon's Island Plaza.
The hike: From Isthmus Cove Beach, look for the trail ascending 50 yards to an intersection with West End Road. Go west. Looking oceanward, you'll spy Bird Rock, a white rock that's a landmark for sailors.
Geology-minded hikers will pause to look down at the Catalina schist, the fine-grained metamorphic rock that forms the shoreline.
You'll pass Fourth of July Cove, a mooring named for the Independence Day celebrations held here by the Banning family when they owned the island.
After 1 1/4 miles of walking, you'll reach Cherry Cove, named, obviously, for the Catalina cherry that thrives in the mouth of a wide, V-shaped valley. Through the valley you go, passing, over the next few miles, a number of Scout and group camps, as well as private moorings. Particularly beautiful is aptly named Emerald Bay.
Six miles from Two Harbors, you'll pass an intersection with Boushay Trail (a dirt road) on your left. Staying right, you walk another half-mile, leaving West End Road as it bends left and joining a trail leading through grassland to Parsons Landing Campground. Here you'll find a little beach, a lot of campsites and a seaside picnic area.
Catalina, West End Trail Where: West end of isle. Distance: From Two Harbors to Cherry Cove, 3 1/2 miles round trip , with 300-foot elevation gain, to Parsons Landing Campground, 14 miles round trip, with 800-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Native grassland, oak woodland. Highlights: Terrific hiking on San Pedro Channel side of the island; up-close look at the Catalina cherry. Degree of difficulty: Moderate Precautions: Can be very hot and dry during the summer. Bring water, wear a hat, use sunscreen and pace yourself accordingly. For more information: Contact the Catalina Visitor's Bureau, Box 217, Avalon 90704 (800) 428-2566, or the Avalon Visitor Information and Services Center, 423 Crescent Ave., Avalon 90704, (213) 510-2000.