Catalina Island - Los Angeles

Camping and Hiking Travel Guide

By Meelad Mashaw

On a sunny summer weekend in 2016, Cassie and I spontaneously decided to go on a camping and hiking trip to Santa Catalina Island, more commonly known as just Catalina Island.

The view from the Two Harbors campgrounds

The view from the Two Harbors campgrounds

That trip was actually the inspiration for creating this website/blog (Exsplore.com). We had no intention of starting this blog prior to our trip, so excuse the quality of the pictures (they're actually mostly snapchat screenshots!) :) Needless to say - we're much more mindful to take pictures during our more recent hikes

To say visiting Catalina was fun is an understatement. During our 3 day stay there, we hiked more than 10 miles around the beautiful island, during which we avoided wild Bison, found our own private beaches, chickened out of cliff jumping, and camped under the stars. It was awesome.

Should you visit Catalina Island too?

If you've always thought about taking a trip to Catalina Island, and are looking for your next adventure, now is the time to go here.

Whether you're into fine dining and tourism, or you're into hiking and camping, you're going to have a great time on this island.

 

Planning and Preparing to visit Catalina Island

First, buy tickets for the ferry (buy one get one free tickets if it’s your birthday) and book a campground. We were luckily able to book a campground last minute at Two Harbors Campground but we suggest booking your site in as advance as possible.

The view from the trans-Catalina trail on the way to Little Harbor

The view from the trans-Catalina trail on the way to Little Harbor

Catalina Island has two main cities: Two Harbors and Avalon. Avalon is more populated and better for people who want to see the touristy side of Catalina. Two Harbors is less populated and better suited for outdoorsy people. We went to Two Harbors and had a blast. From Two Harbors, we hiked to Little Harbor, a tropical looking beach with huge palm trees and body surfed in the blue water at Shark Harbor all day before heading back to our campground at Two Harbors and having a well deserved dinner.

Items that we found to be the most useful for our camping and hiking trip to Catalina Island include: Our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (there are groceries available at the Two Harbors store and also a restaurant), sunscreen, our Camelbaks, trail shoes or hiking boots, and our swimsuits.

There is firewood, water, snacks, and even alcohol already available on the island (budgeters beware - goods on the island are a little pricier). Check the weather before your trip and plan your outfit accordingly!

How to get to Catalina Island

If you drive a car to your departing ferry terminal, keep in mind that you will have to pay the maximum parking for each day your car is there. (In San Pedro - not sure about Long Beach)

Two Harbors from far away, hiking on the Trans-Catalina Trail on our way to Little Harbor

Two Harbors from far away, hiking on the Trans-Catalina Trail on our way to Little Harbor

Consider taking an Uber or have your friend or family drop you off to the ferry. The ferry ride will take about an hour after checking in and boarding. The ferry has drinks and snacks for sale on board.

Once you arrive into Two Harbors, check in at the camping visitor's kiosk at the end of the dock. They'll ask you how much firewood you would like delivered to your campground. I think the firewood was $10-12 per bundle. We got 2 for 2 nights. Then walk the half mile to the campground and set up your tent!

What to do on Catalina Island

The best thing to do on Catalina Island is walking and hiking. After settling in to your campground at Two Harbors, go take a walk and check out the small town of Two Harbors. There's a cafe, restaurant, and small convenience store in town. At night sometimes there's live music.

Grab some food and a Bloody Mary and listen to the waves from the restaurant. Or go to the Dive and Recreation Center you can rent SCUBA gear, snorkel gear, kayaks, SUPs, mountain bikes, hydrobikes, and skiffs! If you're a hiker, be stop by Visit Services center to inquire about trails that fit your skill level.

Our recommended hike is from Two Harbors to Little Harbor, which is about 10 miles roundtrip. Ask the visitor center about it.

Yes, the hike is strenuous but extremely fun and memorable. Along the way you'll see wild Bison, an abandoned car, a huge radio tower, and stellar coastline views.

Little Harbor campground (this is where we hiked to)

Little Harbor campground (this is where we hiked to)

>> Click here to see the Two Harbors to Little Harbor hike on Google Maps

The destination of this 10 mile (roundtrip) hike, Little Harbor, is Catalina Island's most iconic beach because of it's crystal waters and green grass (during spring) and palm trees. It also has the best campground.

At Little Harbor beach there is also Whale's Tail and Shark Harbor. Whale's Tail is a small piece of land that separates Little Harbor from Shark Harbor that literally looks like a Whale's Tail. Shark Harbor is a beach that provides a rougher coastline and larger waves, perfect for surfers and bodyboarders.

I'll admit; we saw people cliff jump off of Whale's Tail and went to go jump ourselves but chickened out!

Tips for Visiting Catalina Island

A day on Catalina Island can be as glamorous or gritty as you'd like. There are many trails, beaches, hikes, and outdoor adventures to choose from including boating, jet skiing, and zip lining. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also spas, fine dining restaurants, five-star hotel accommodations, and shopping. Which side of Catalina Island is right for you? :)

Visit Catalina Today!

Catalina Island is a relaxing place to spend a couple of days camping and forgetting about the hustle and bustle back in the city. Many people in Southern California know of Catalina but not many have actually been to the island. Now is a great time to remind your friends that Catalina Island is a great getaway and tell them about all the great activities there are to do there.

Little Harbor beach from Whale's Tail (this is where we hiked to)

Little Harbor beach from Whale's Tail (this is where we hiked to)

Learn more about visiting Catalina on the Catalina Island Website

Catalina Island FAQ

Question: If I'm visiting just for the day, should I go to Avalon or Two Harbors?

Answer: If you're visiting Catalina Island just for the day, it can be a hard choice between Two Harbors or Avalon. You could actually visit both if you'd like to. If you'd rather just visit one, go with Avalon because there is a lot more to do there. There's hotels at Avalon too. If you want to camp overnight, go to Two Harbors.

Question: Is Catalina Island a part of California?

Yes, Catalina Island is part of the Channel Islands of California archipelago which is part of Los Angeles County.

Question: Is Catalina Island a National Park?

Catalina Island itself is not a National Park but Channel Islands is a National Park located just north of Catalina Island.

Question: Does Catalina Island have buffalo?

Yup! Catalina Island has a herd of buffalo living on it but they're not native. They were transported there for the making of a movie in 1924 and never taken back off. They are intimidating to see in person!

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