Catalina Island beckons with new hiking trails, vestiges of old Hollywood

This 76-square-mile fortress of rock is marooned 23 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.

Catalina is one of eight of the Channel Islands, and it’s the only one with a significant civilian population. Latest figures put the number around 4,000 people, almost all of them clustered in the port of Avalon.

This diminutive city creeps up on the horizon like a postcard of tiny cake-colored homes perched along a crescent of golden sand.

Some might recall Avalon as the town where Marilyn Monroe lived when she was still Norma Jean, or the place where Natalie Wood mysteriously drowned in its coastal waters.

In the 1970s, the Wrigley family donated 88 percent of the land to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Last year, the nonprofit conservancy expanded its already lengthy backcountry trail network with 27 miles of new and enhanced pathways.

New paths like this one are part of a plan to lure outdoor enthusiasts into the island’s 42,000 acres of wildland. It’s a lofty goal, especially when you consider that tourism officials estimate that less than 10 percent of visitors set foot outside of Avalon. Those who do are greeted with sweeping hilltop views of the mainland that stretch from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. There are also vistas of secluded canyons on the dusty path down to Little Harbor Campground.

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