The Southern California beach scene: undeveloped beachfront, deserted coves, grazing bison. Wait a minute, something's wrong with this picture.
Welcome to Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, where 200 miles of hiking trails and little-used dirt roads lead to chaparral-covered canyons, wildflower-dotted ridges, remote beaches, and yes, even a herd of 200 orso bison.
Hop a ferry for the 20-mile trip across the San Pedro Channel to the kitschy hamlet of Avalon. There you can catch a van to the island's interior, leaving modern-day California in the rearview mirror. A good place to stage your ramblings is at the Blackjack Junction Campground, a 1.3-mile hike from the main road. It's nestled in a rustic bowl surrounded by pines and rare Catalina ironwood trees.
Or have the van drop you in Two Harbors and hike winding West End Road about 7 miles to Parson's Landing Campground, which affords ocean views from a perch high on an open bluff.
Continue to abandoned Starlight Beach, then up to 1,802-foot Silver Peak, before returning to Two Harbors via Wells Beach.
Where: Catalina Express (800-805-9201) offers daily ferry service to Avalon from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point ($36 round trip). The conservancy offers van service to the interior of the island ($11 round trip, 310-510-0143).
Maps:The Catalina Island Conservancy (see below) offers a free map. Four USGS topo maps cover the island-Santa Catalina North, South, East, and West ($6 each, Map Link, 800-962-1394).
Trail Info: Catalina Island Conservancy, (310) 510-2595. The conservancy also issues free hiking permits.