Parsons Landing hike camp

Hiking on Catalina Island to Parsons Landing Campsite

Hiking on Catalina Island offers some beautiful options, but I think the hike to and overnight at Parsons Landing campsite is the best. You'll camp on a secluded beach, with the sounds of the waves as your soundtrack. There are only 8 campsites, the hike is easy, and the scenery is breathtaking. Do it. Do it.

Rating:
5 / 5
Distance:
15 miles (24.2 km)
Time:
Overnight - 4 hours each way
Difficulty:
Easy
Climbing:
3600 ft (1097 m)
Trail Condition:
Dirt roads, marked trails
Challenges:
Crowds
People:
Can be a lot on weekends and summer season
Known For:
Seaside Camping, Great Views
Best Time:
Winter (less crowds)
Dogs:
No
Bathrooms:
Yes
Parking:
N/A - Take Ferry
Hike Weather:

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).

Getting to the Trailhead

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.

Parsons Landing Hike & Camp Trail Maps

Google Maps trailhead:
Two Harbors Harbor Department, Avalon, CA, 90704, USA

Hike Location

Parsons Landing hike camp location
Parsons Landing is on the north side of Catalina Island, so you need to get to Two Harbors, not Avalon. It's easier to drive to the direct ferry on the mainland side than to get from Avalon to Two Harbors.

3D 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.

Hike Elevation Profile

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.

Interactive Hike Map

Parsons Landing Hike & Camp Map Downloads

Download a GPX file to use on your GPS device. GPS devices are great to plan and follow routes, and there are tons of free electronic hiking maps that you can use. But don't rely solely on electronic navigation, always have a paper backup. Print out the PDF below, get a topo map, and/or print these directions.

View a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

Parsons Landing Hike & Camp Directions

Parsons Landing hike camp

Do you have the right gear for this hike? Check out all the gear and clothing that I personally use and recommend. I've tested it all and cut the junk out so you don't waste your money.

What to Expect

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
When you get your water, 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.
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
I tucked my tent between the stone wall and brush at site 8.
Parsons Landing campsite
Here’s another view of my setup at site 8. I could look out my tent door at the ocean.
Parsons Landing campsite
The fire pit is a primitive ring of rocks with some grates.
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.

Parsons Landing Hike & Camp Video

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A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.