Catalina Island: Camping and Hiking Guide

Everything you should know before visiting Catalina Island

The view from the Two Harbors campgrounds

The view from the Two Harbors campgrounds

One sunny Summer weekend we left on a ferry to Santa Catalina Island, commonly known as just Catalina Island. During our 3 day stay, we hiked 10 miles, found a cool rusty abandoned truck, ran away from wild Bison, found our own private beach, chickened out of cliff jumping into the ocean, and camped under the stars.

Why visit Catalina Island? If you've always wanted to take a trip to Catalina Island but have never had the chance, now is the time. Whether you're into fine dining and tourism, or you're into hiking and camping, you will have a great time at Catalina 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

The view from the trans-Catalina trail

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 you won't want to forget for a camping and hiking trip to Catalina Island include: Your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food (there are groceries available at the Two Harbors store and also a restaurant), sunscreen, a Camelbak, trail shoes or hiking boots, and swimsuit. Check out these recommended camping boots from our friends at TheSmartLad.

There is firewood, water, alcohol, and snacks already available on the island. Check the weather before your trip and plan your outfit accordingly!

How to get to Catalina Island

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

If you drive to your departing ferry terminal, keep in mind that you will have to pay the maximum parking for each day your car is there. Consider taking an Uber or have your friend or family drop you off. The ferry ride will take about an hour after checking in and boarding. The ferry has drinks and snacks for sale.

Once you arrive into Two Harbors, check in at the camping visitor's kiosk. They'll ask you how much firewood you would like delivered to your campground. 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 there's live music.

Grab some food and a Bloody Mary and listen to the waves. At 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 to inquire about trails that fit your skill level.

Little Harbor's beach as seen from the Whale's Tail

Little Harbor's beach as seen from the Whale's Tail

Our recommended hike is from Two Harbors to Little Harbor, which is about 10 miles roundtrip. This hike is strenuous but extremely fun and memorable. Along the way you will see wild Bison, an abandoned car, a huge radio tower, and stellar coastline views. Little Harbor is Catalina Island's most iconic beach because of it's crystal blue waters and green grass and palm trees. Near 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. We saw people cliff jump off of Whale's Tail and went to go jump ourselves but chickened out!

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

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? :)

Our hiking destination - Little Harbor campground

Our hiking destination - Little Harbor campground

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.

Learn more: Catalina Island Website

Catalina Island FAQ

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

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.

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.

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.

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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