The hike to the highest point on the west end of Santa Catalina Island -- 1804-foot Silver Peak --introduces you to its wild windward side. Spectacular views are the norm most of the way. Assuming you start hiking at Parsons Landing, you can fashion a gorgeously scenic 10.5-mile loop hike that also visits serene and isolated Starlight Beach near Land's End at the westernmost tip.
Getting to Parsons Landing normally involves passage through Two Harbors, which is served by ferries from the "mainland" (San Pedro). That story might best be told via the various Catalina websites, a useful one being www.catalina.com. Be advised that you will need to pick up a free hiking permit before hitting the trail. One such place to do that is the Two Harbors Visitors' Information Center, open daily 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., 800-785-8425.
From Parsons Landing Campground, head west toward Two Harbors to the point where the Boushay Trail (an old fire road) takes off, up-slope to the south. The old road's winding course takes you two miles through dense chaparral to a junction with the Silver Peak Trail --a fire road traversing the island's spine. Here, amid brick-red soils and rock outcrops, you get your first glimpses of the west end's dry and eroded south-facing slopes falling precipitously to the emerald-tinted ocean below.
Just over a mile west of the Boushay Trail, Silver Peak Road passes about 100 feet below Silver Peak's nearly barren summit. You can scramble up through a sparse grove of Catalina ironwood trees and reach the top for an all-inclusive panorama. San Nicolas and Santa Barbara Islands can be seen to the west on many days. Very rarely, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, as well as the mainland shoreline west of Ventura, can be seen in the northwest.
Past Silver Peak, the fire road (now nothing more than a wide bulldozer track) swings sharply downhill, beginning a sometimes very sheer descent down the wind-buffeted ridgeline to the west. After descending a total of about 1100 feet, you reach a T-intersection. You'll return to Parson's Landing on the road to the right. But first make the side trip left down to Starlight Beach, one of the most isolated and wild stretches of Catalina's coastline. You'll have to scramble a bit in the end to reach the rocky shore, where the ebb and flow of the waves dance over rock-dimpled sand. On clear days you can clearly see the low dome of the Palos Verdes peninsula some 20 miles across the San Pedro Channel.
Climb back up to the T-intersection and return to Parsons Landing on the road that contours and lazily drops across steep, north-facing slopes. Each ravine you cross harbors a mini-forest of tangled oaks and chaparral. By the late afternoon, the sinking sun renders the waters of the San Pedro Channel below a deep azure.