A few people have asked me what I’d recommend for a couples’ 2 to 3 night camping trip in Catalina. For nature lover’s with limited time, I suggest you skip touristy (though charming) Avalon and head straight for Catalina’s “Wildland” gems. Most Catalina aficionados concur that the 2 most beautiful spots on the island (not that you can really go wrong anywhere) are Little Harbor Campground and Parson’s Landing Campground. I’ll focus this post on them.
If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love those 2 spots.
How you plan your getaway comes down to your preferred balance of activity to relaxation.
If you want to see both Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing, the easiest way to do it is to take the San Pedro ferry direct to Two Harbors. Once there, you are equidistant to Parson’s Landing and Little Harbor – this gives you the most flexibility and the most relaxation and recreation options. You can grab a bite and set out for either destination as a day hike / bike or an overnight at one or both of them. You can also catch a shuttle one or both ways.
When you visit Two Harbors, enjoy a meal at Doug’s Harbor Sands – the only restaurant / bar in town. I recommend the Mahe and a Buffalo Milk or two for dessert. Buffalo Milk is a delicious libation named after the island’s iconic buffalo (think alcoholic chocolate milkshake). I’d post a picture of one, but I drank them so fast I forgot to take one.
Otherwise, you could stay over in Little Harbor night 1 and then work your way West to Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing. On a quick boondoggle, perhaps you take the Safari Bus back to Two Harbors or Avalon. (Arrange in advance.)
Staying Overnight in Two Harbors
Two Harbors Campground (42 tent sites & 3 Group sites) about a 1/4 from “town” on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Outdoor cold water showers & portapotties.
In “town”, the Camping Cabins offer simple comforts on a budget ($50-70 a night) They are available November through March only.
Note: There are coin operated hot water showers in Two Harbors.
After roughing it for a day or two, I always like to throw in a little luxury. See why the rustic Banning House Lodge in Two Harbors is my Top Pick .
Two Harbors Things to Do: Diving, snorkeling, swimming, stand-up-paddling, kayaking, fishing, exploring and relaxing. So yes, you can have tons of fun just hanging in gorgeous Two Harbors. Did I mention the Buffalo Milk? (Yeah, I did.)
Two Harbors Visitors Services 310-510-4205
Head from Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing (via West End Road – easy fire road ~7 miles & or the Trans Catalina Trail – hard single track ~11 miles) and camp out there. Note there is no running water at this campsite. You can hike from here to Starlight Beach (the Western most point of the island), but be prepared for 20 miles round trip as Starlight Beach is day use only.
Avalon to the airport ~10 miles
Avalon to Little Harbor ~15 miles
Avalon to Two Harbors ~23 miles (MTB route – ~3,284 elevation gain)
Little Harbor to Two Harbors ~7 miles by fire road or shorter by single track, expect a fair amount of climbing in either direction
Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing ~7 easy miles West End Road or ~11 via a challenging portion of the Trans Catalina Trail (hikers only) Note: Parson’s Landing Campgraound has no running water.
Two Harbors to Starlight Beach ~17 to ~21 miles depending on your route (see above)
Two Harbors to the airport ~13 Miles
Logistics – Getting to Two Harbors
Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro to go direct to Two Harbors ~$75 ea round trip.
Or treat yourself to a Helicopter ride, starting at ~$135 one way depending upon your departure point. It’s a quick way to spend $135, but it is a dazzling ~15+ minutes. (One way is enough, unless you’re in a hurry and have $ to burn.)
If you have a boat, you’ve got it made to explore your way.
Hiking permits are free and you can get them online.
Mountain biking? Get the scoop on the $35 pass and bike rentals.
Long Haul Options From Avalon
If you start in Avalon, you can take the island’s Safari Bus to Little Harbor, Two Harbors, or Parson’s Landing, but you are limited by their schedule. Mountain biking or hiking is possible too, but only if you’re up for ~23 somewhat tortuous miles (especially if you’re going to be carrying a pack) see my Catalina mtb. adventure post 1 & 3). There is a new Catalina Back Country Concierge that offers gear haul and other services, but they may not be open on weekdays in the off season – – at least they weren’t when we called them.
Another option is to stay in Little Harbor the first night and save the final 7 miles to Two Harbors for Day 2…
So many fantastic options, so little time. Be safe and have a blast!
I’ve been all over the island, the terrain can be challenging and most of it is completely exposed. (Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.) Keep ~150 yards from Buffalo. (They don’t like bikers.) Stay on designated trails and fire roads. Taking that short cut through brush may be tempting, but my brother will tell you, it’s not worth it. He got bitten by a rattlesnake there doing just that and had to be airlifted off the island. He’s fine now, but it was a bit sketchy during his two weeks in ICU…And no, I wasn’t on that trip.
Let me know if you have questions and do tell me what you did on your Catalina getaway!