Hiking on Catalina Island to Parsons Landing Campsite
|In This Guide|
|Distance||15.2 miles (24.5 km)|
|Time||Overnight - 4 hours each way|
|Total Climbing||3,613 feet (1101m)|
|Highest Elevation||222 feet (68m)|
|Park||Catalina Island Company|
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.
What I recommend is this:
- Find a few open dates that you want on the Reserve America page.
- Weekdays are easier than weekends.
- Weekends are tough to book, but it’s a great weekend hike. A good option is to take Friday off and start your hike then, returning Saturday. Or do Sunday to Monday.
- Book as far out as possible, but keep your eye open for last minute cancellations.
- Call the Catalina Island Company.
- Make sure there are no big groups staying there during your date. I know folks who were there with big Boy Scout groups and it’s not as peaceful as you would like.
- Ask about anticipated extreme high tides, which will make camping impossible.
- There might be a two night minimum depending on when you arrive and who you talk to. I would secure the site on the call and just pay double for two nights (about $20 more), even if you are only staying for one. Or you can try to book on the website, which allows one night bookings.
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 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).
- The campsites usually have a stone wall built by other campers to block the wind.
- The ground is sand and pretty level. You could probably get away without a sleeping pad, but I used one.
- Each campsite has a wooden picnic table.
- Each campsite has a primitive fire pit.
- There’s a chemical bathroom in the middle of the campground.
- There’s NO running water, but your locker fee will include a 2.5 gallon jug.
- You get a bunch of firewood, which is fine for a couple of hours. There’s also driftwood that people burn.
How to Get to the Parsons Landing Trailhead on Catalina
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.
- You can take a direct ferry from San Pedro (by Long Beach) to Two Harbors on the Catalina Express.
- There are more ferry options to Avalon, with Long Beach and Dana Point served by the Catalina Express and Newport Beach served by the Catalina Flyer. Once you’re in Avalon, you can take the Safari Bus to Two Harbors. In general, it’s much easier to drive to San Pedro on the mainland side and take the ferry directly to Two Harbors.
- If you want to get fancy, you can take a helicopter to Avalon and then take the bus.
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
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):
- 3-season tent
- Sleeping pad
- 3-season sleeping bag (it can get chilly on the water and when the fog rolls in)
- Layers and a rain shell
- Freeze-dried food
- Hiking boots
- Overnight backpack
- Trekking poles
- My Kindle
If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.
See The Gear I Use
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
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, you can hang your pack on the poles by each campsite, or just put it in your tent, sealed in a plastic bag. I did the latter and it was fine. Throw your trash out in the animal-proof trash area at Parsons Landing.
Parsons Landing Trail Maps
I highly recommend bringing some form of 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 and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
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.
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
You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.