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.
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.
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.
Getting to the Trailhead
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.
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.
You probably won’t have cell phone service.
It can be cooler and wetter than what you expect from the rest of Southern California.
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.
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.