Hiking on Catalina Island to Parsons Landing Campsite

Hiking on Catalina Island to Parsons Landing Campsite

In This Guide
  • Choosing & Booking Your Campsite
  • How to Get to Parsons Landing and Catalina
  • Camping Gear That You Need
  • Parsons Landing Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Video
Distance15.2 miles (24.5 km)
TimeOvernight - 4 Hours Each Way (Total Time)
DifficultyEasy
Total Climbing3,613 feet (1101m)
Highest Elevation222 feet (68m)
Dog FriendlyNo
Park NameCatalina Island Company
Park Phone877-778-1487

Hiking on Catalina Island offers some beautiful options, but I think the hike to and overnight at Parsons Landing campsite is the best. Parsons Landing campsite sits on a secluded beach, with the sounds of the waves as your camping soundtrack. There are only 8 campsites, the hike is not too tough, and the scenery is breathtaking. Do it. Do it. Do it.

Planning for the Parsons Landing Hike & Camp

Booking the Parsons Landing Campsite

Before you do anything, you should make a reservation for a campground. If you don’t have one, you can’t camp. Parsons Landing campsite is remote, but a few years ago it was featured in Sunset Magazine, so it’s become more popular. And there are a few wrinkles to navigate.

Parsons Landing campsite map
Here’s a rough map of where the campsites actually are. My favorite is site 8, but 1 and 2 offer some seclusion as well. If you can only get one of the middle ones, don’t stress, they’re all beautiful and you’ll be closer to the bathrooms.

What I recommend is this:

There is also a mandatory “locker fee” which you must pay, but it’s a good thing. When you get to the campsite, a locker with a bundle of firewood, a fire starter, and a 2.5 gallon water jug will be waiting for you. If you want more wood or water, you can just buy multiple lockers.

Staying at the Parsons Landing Campsite

Parsons Landing hike camp
If you want anything aside from what you see on this table, you need to carry it in yourself. This is what will be waiting for you in your locker.

Parsons Landing is a primitive campsite, meaning that there’s not much there. Here’s what to expect when you stay there (and the hike directions later will show some examples).

Cristter Boxes At Parsons Landing
You can see the critter boxes at every campsite. I highly recommend using them; animals will find a way into you pack and have been known to pull zippers and chew threw nylon. Thanks to Bev G. for the photo.

How to Get to the Parsons Landing Trailhead on Catalina

Parsons Landing ferry
Here I am in San Pedro waiting for the ferry to Two Harbors. The ferry has plenty of room for your gear, and there is a big pay parking lot at the ferry terminal. When you add it all up, it’s not cheap, but was worth it.

The hike starts in Two Harbors, which is a very small town on the north side of the island. Avalon, which is further south, is the main tourist destination on the island. You have a few options to get to Two Harbors. The schedule and service changes based on the season, so it’s a must to check the ferry websites out and book in advance.

This is the address for the start of the hike: Two Harbors Harbor Department, Avalon, CA, 90704, USA.

Gear For Camping and Hiking at Parsons Landing

Parsons Landing campsite

You’ll need gear for an overnight stay, if that wasn’t obvious already. The only thing that you don’t need to carry into Parsons Landing is water, wood, and fire starting material. Otherwise you have to carry it in your pack.

Here’s what I brought (for a 1 night stay):

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

You can get limited food supplies at the general store in Two Harbors. Catalina is a big destination for drinkers, especially college kids, so the general store has lots of booze. You can also pick up disposable lighters if you forgot them (I did).

Also note, cell phone coverage is almost non-existant. The trails are pretty well marked and it’s highly unlikely that you would need to fire an SOS on this hike, but you could bring your emergency beacon just in case.

Watch Out For Animals All Over

Parsons Landing campsite
When you get your water at Parsons Landing, make sure you keep a sharp eye on your pack. I left mine for a minute while I dealt with my locker and two ravens had managed to unzip my pack and find my food.

The animals on Catalina can be aggressive when it comes to stealing your food. The worst (or best) at it are the Ravens, which can open the zippers on a pack without problem. There are also squirrels, mice, and foxes, which will dash out to grab unattended food. This occurs not only at Parsons Landing, but all over Catalina, with the snack bar at Two Harbors being particularly active.

To avoid getting pilfered, keep your pack with you at all times. When you camp, use the critter box to store all your gear, especially food and anything with a scent. Throw your trash out in the animal-proof trash area at Parsons Landing.

Parsons Landing Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Parsons Landing hike camp
You start in the small town of Two Harbors and then wind your way along the coast until you reach Parsons Landing. Lots of gorgeous ocean views.

Catalina is part of the Channel Islands (but not the National Park), and Two Harbors is the 2nd largest town (after Avalon) with 150 permanent inhabitants. There’s a one room school house that kids who live there use. If you have time on the way back, you can take a look around the small town. In general this end of Catalina is more rugged and undeveloped.

Most hikers on Catalina Island do the Trans-Catalina Trail, taking 3-4 days to cover the whole route. This hike to Parsons Landing Campsite isn’t part of that hike, but does hit the Trans-Catalina trail for a small portion of the hike.

Most of the hike is on a wide dirt road that has incredible views as it hugs seaside cliffs. You might see a car or ATV along the way, but in general, it’s pretty mellow. Car registration on the island is very limited with a 14 year waiting list.

Parsons Landing hike camp elevation
There’s a lot of up and down, but no major climbs on the hike. The gradients are all reasonable and easy to do with a backpack on.
Catalina Fox
There are lots of the diminutive Island Foxes around, but they’re hard to spot. Photo from USFWS.

Keep your eyes open for the Island Fox, which is only found on the Channel Islands. I’ve seen them, but maybe I was just lucky. There are also bison on the island, a non-native species imported for a 1924 film and then set free. The heard is up to 150 now, and even if you don’t see them, you’ll probably see their tracks or crap.

Hike Directions to Parsons Landing

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Turn By Turn Directions

Parsons Landing parking
If you take the ferry from San Pedro, there’s plenty of safe parking (for a fee) at the ferry terminal.
Parsons Landing ferry
Make sure you buy a ticket online when you plan the trip. Take your receipt to the counter in the terminal for your ticket. There’s coffee and snacks here.
Parsons Landing ferry
The ferry is pretty big and can get crowded depending on the day.
Parsons Landing ferry
On board the ferry there’s a lot of room, and you can check your backpack with the other luggage. The ride is about 90 minutes to Two Harbors, and you can get snacks and drinks on the boat.
Two Harbors
Depending on the schedule, your boat could stop in Avalon first, so heads up. Either way, get off at Two Harbors. It’s a really small place.
Two Harbors
IMPORTANT: At the end of the ferry pier is a booth where you need to check in. Bring your receipt and pick up your permit and locker key here.
Two Harbors
If you want to buy anything, the general store by the pier is your only option. There’s also a restaurant for burgers and snacks. They’re usually open around the ferry arrivals and departures.
Two Harbors
When you’re ready to start the hike, head right (north) off the pier and cut across the beach.
Parsons Landing trail
A dirt road at the end of the beach heads up the hill.
Parsons Landing trail
At the top of the hill, make the right and start heading on the trail to West End.
Parsons Landing trail
You’ll immediately get great ocean views from the trail.
Parsons Landing trail
Be vigilant of fires, especially when camping. Catalina is remote and you can imagine the logistics involved with putting out a fire here.
Parsons Landing trail
Continue on the trail as it hugs the side of the island.
Parsons Landing trail
You’re going to be heading in the direction of West End. The Isthmus is the local moniker for Two Harbors.
Parsons Landing trail
At around 0.9 miles, stay left on the main trail. In general, as you do the hike, you’ll see turn-offs that head down to the coves. All of the coves and camps within them are private property.
Parsons Landing trail
Most of Catalina is run by the Catalina Island Conservancy, who make sure the land is protected and properly managed.
Parsons Landing trail
Again, avoid any side trails down into coves or private property.
Parsons Landing trail
You’ll pass an abandoned silver mine. Mining was big here in the 1860s.
Parsons Landing trail
If you went in a straight line from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing, it would probably only be about 2 miles. But the trail twists and turns around every cove. You’ll pass above camps and retreats from various private groups as you hike.
Parsons Landing trail
At about 2.6 miles keep going straight on the main trail, avoiding the side Goat Whiskers Trail.
Parsons Landing trail
The water is crystal clear and the trail will give you many opportunities to look down at the shore line. Keep your eyes open for dolphin, seals, sea lions, and whales.
Parsons Landing trail
You might see some bison tracks or scat on the trail.
Parsons Landing trail
At about 4.2 miles continue straight, avoiding Watertank Road to the left.
Parsons Landing trail
At about 4.4 miles, another cove, another camp. Stay on the main road. This is good point to take a snack break.
Parsons Landing trail
At about 4.8 miles, avoid the turnoff for Howlands Landing and continue on the road to West End.
Parsons Landing trail
At the top of the next hill, at about 5.4 miles, you can go either way. Stay right to hug the coast, or do the steep cutoff to the left to shorten the hike and visit the bench with the overlook. Both trails rejoin each other shortly.
Parsons Landing trail
At about 6.2 miles you reach the Boy Scout Camp. Continue straight on the main trail.
Parsons Landing trail
There are a lot of trails here. Stay on the main one. Most side trails have signs to point you in the right direction.
Parsons Landing trail
The trail gets a little tricky as you leave the Boy Scout camp. Head left and inland on the main road.
Parsons Landing trail
You’ve now passed all the private camps, and the trail has more of a back-country feel. Cross over the gate and keep following the big trail. You’ll be heading inland a bit here, leaving the sea behind.
Parsons Landing trail
Stay on West End Road.
Trans-Catalina Trail
At around 7 miles, you’re going to split off right onto the Trans-Catalina Trail.
Trans-Catalina Trail
Here’s a closeup of the sign at the split.
Trans-Catalina Trail
The wide dirt trail is gone, and now you’re on a more traditional single-track as you head through the valley to the ocean.
Trans-Catalina Trail
At about 7.1 miles, make the right.
Trans-Catalina Trail
Just up over one last rise and you’re there!
Parsons Landing campsite
You’ll see the beach and Parsons Landing campsite down below.
Parsons Landing campsite
Parsons Landing campsite is as remote as it gets.
Parsons Landing campsite
So as you enter Parsons Landing campsite, the bathrooms and communal areas are in the center.
Parsons Landing campsite
Dispose of all your trash in these bear boxes (for the foxes and ravens mostly).
Parsons Landing campsite
Also, don’t eat any mussels or clams from the beach.
Parsons Landing campsite
Take your locker key that you got when you checked in, and find the locker number on the key. The lockers are right by the bathrooms.
Parsons Landing campsite
Just put the key in and turn. Rangers drive up every day and stock the lockers. Just leave the key in there after you collect your wood and water.
Parsons Landing campsite
This is what you get in the locker: wood, fire starter, and 2.5 gallons of water.
Parsons Landing campsite
Find your campsite and setup. On this day I was staying at site 8, on the end.
Parsons Landing campsite
Site 1 offers a secluded cove, but you’re a bit back from the ocean.
Parsons Landing campsite
All the sites have stone walls to protect your tent from the winds. That’s site 6 in the distance.
Parsons Landing campsite
If you want to lay out on the beach and tan, you may have some neighbors.
Parsons Landing campsite
Here’s another view of my setup at site 8. I could look out my tent door at the ocean.
Fire Pit At Parsons Landing
Here’s what the fire pits look like now. They’ve upgraded them to this model in the last year. Thanks to Bev G for the photo!
Parsons Landing campsite
The benches are a nice place to relax after hiking with the pack.
Parsons Landing campsite
I used driftwood as kindling to start my fire.
Parsons Landing campsite
Enjoying a campfire on the beach.
Parsons Landing campsite
After you camp, simply head back the way you came to your ferry in Two Harbors. Give yourself some time to get back, if you miss the ferry, you’ll probably be on Catalina for another day.

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