Santa Catalina is a scenic island situated less than 30 miles from the coast of Southern California. This rocky island makes for an ideal adventure playground with miles of hiking trails, pristine beaches, and crystal clear waters full of marine life. Catalina is 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point, and is transected by the 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail. If you’re looking for a multi-day backpacking trip on Catalina Island, make sure to check out my TCT trip guide. In this post, I’ll be covering a shorter journey to one of California’s most beautiful campgrounds, Parsons Landing.
Parson’s Landing has 8 shoreline campsites that can be reserved online. Book early, because these spots go quickly. You’ll need to take a boat from Long Beach or San Pedro to Two Harbors, then hike 7.5 mile to the Parsons Landing Campsite. In this guide, I will provide you with instructions on how to get to Catalina, how to book a reservation, a hike profile, maps, important links, and more!
Parsons Landing Campsite Reservation
Parsons Landing is a primitive campsite on the northern end of Catalina Island. Reservations are required year-round and can be made on Reserve America. You can also call the Two Harbors Visitor Service Center at 310.510.4205.
- You must purchase locker keys with your reservation or in Two Harbors for water and fire wood. Each key is $20 and provides access to 2.5 gallons of water and 1 bundle of wood with a starter log.
- There is a 10 day maximum stay at Parsons Landing.
- You’ll need to use critter boxes for food to prevent birds, foxes, and rodents from getting into your gear.
- Check-in is a 2 PM and checkout is at 11 AM
- 2 night minimum required unless you are hiking the TCT. For a waiver, call 310.510.4205.
- There are 8 campsites available and they book up early, so plan ahead.
- There is no shade or awnings.
- Campsites have a fire ring, and access to chemical toilets.
Current Campsite Rates
|Summer Rates (3/8 to 10/28)||$24 per night||$15 per night|
|Winter Rates (1/1 thru 3/7 and 10/29 thru 12/31)||$19 per night||$10 per night|
|Holiday Rates (3 night minimum)||$25 per night||$16 per night|
Transportation to Two Harbors, Catalina Island
To get to Two Harbors on Catalina Island, you’ll need to take the Catalina Express from San Pedro. You can view schedules and fees on the Catalina Express website. The address for the San Pedro Catalina Express port is Berth 95, San Pedro, CA 90731.
*** You can not bring cooking stove gas canisters on the Catalina Express. You will need to purchase gas canisters at the Two Harbors General Store.***
The boat ride from San Pedro to Two Harbors takes around an hour, and you will need to arrive an hour before your departure. The Catalina Express office in San Pedro has parking for $18 per day. There is a restroom, restaurant, and snack shack, with plenty of seating outside.
Once you arrive in Two Harbors, you’ll collect your backpacks and gear and head towards the mainland of the isthmus.
As soon as you near the end of the pier, you’ll see the tourist office on your left hand side. This is where you will pick up your camping permit and locker keys. If you would like to purchase additional locker keys, you can do so here. The helpful staff can also provide you with maps and information on weather and trail conditions.
After picking up your permit, take a right hand turn and head north towards the Two Harbors restaurant and general store. The West End Galley is a great restaurant for a quick sit down or grab-and-go meal. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The well stocked Two Harbors General Store is where you’ll want to go for gas canisters and everything else.
Getting There: Directions And GPS Track
From the Two Harbors General Store, head north along the shoreline and you’ll see a fire road cut into the hillside. This is the ‘trail’ you’ll be taking to Parsons Landing. Stay close to the beach and a path will take you up to the fireroad.
- Distance: 7.63 miles
- Elevation Gain: 420 ft
- Minimum Elevation: 0 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 220 ft
- Time: 3-5 hours
- Difficulty: (2/5)
- Dog Friendly: Dogs are allowed in the campground, but must be leashed at all times.
- Permit Required: No permit is required for the hike, but you must have a campsite reservation to stay at Parsons Landing.
- Water: There are no water sources. You must reserve a water and wood locker.
- Weather: Very hot in the summer months due to full exposure and a lack of shade.
- Trail Condition: 98% fire road with a short stretch of rutted single track before reaching Parsons landing.
- Cell Phone Reception: Strong in Two Harbors and patchy along the coast.
Gear, Food, and Water:
- Water: Potable water is available in Two Harbors. There is no water available on the trail, so make sure to load up before your hike and purchase locker keys for 2.5 gallon jugs at Parsons Landing.
- Food is available in Two Harbors at the Harbor Reef Restaurant,West End Galley, and Two Harbors General Store. Once on the trail and at Parsons Landing, you will need to carry all of your own food and snacks.
- Gear: Standard 3-season backpacking gear is all that is needed for this camping outing at Parsons Landing. Make sure to come prepared for a lot of sun and exposure. You can see my John Muir Trail backpacking gear list for an idea of what I usually bring along for trips like this.
Hike Map And Elevation Profile
0.0 Miles – Starting from Two Harbors you’ll climb up a small hill on the north end of town to reach the road towards Parsons Landing, West End Road.
You’ll see a few notices posted to be mindful of the Bison on Catalina Island. I can speak from experience that you don’t want to get too close! You can read about my Catalina bison encounter here.
The distance between Two Harbors and Parsons Landing is pretty short as the crow flies (Euclidean Distance), but the road cuts into coves making the actual trail much longer. You’ll pass the 4th of July Yacht Club, Camp Cherry Valley, and Emerald Bay before reaching Parsons Landing. Take your time and enjoy the journey, because there really is no way to get lost on this road.
A lot of the coves and inlets you’ll spot from the trail look very tempting for a hike down to dip in the water. Keep in mind that these areas are private, so avoid the temptation and keep walking towards Parsons Landing.
6.0 Miles – Once you reach Camp Emerald Bay, you’ll have to keep an eye out for the chaning trail as you cut inland and leave the coastal fire road behind.
As you follow the fire road inland, you’ll see a few campsites with signage. Continue walking past these signs until you see a cattle gate.
After passing through the cattle gate you’ll continue on the fire road. Keep your eyes open for the single track trail to your right. The junction is marked, but is easy to miss. This is the trail you will take to Parsons Landing.
The trail from this point on is a straight shot down to the shores of Parsons Landing.
The first thing you’ll see at Parsons Landing is an elevated platform with chemical toilets and the lockers holding firewood and water. From the platform, you’ll head down the side of the hill to reach the campsites.
Campsite 01 is located on the far south end of the beach and campsite 08 is located at the far north. The campsites are very well spread out and almost all of them have stone firebreaks that fellow campers have built up over the years.
Be mindful of where and how you set up your tent. The tide can come up quite high, and the wind always seems to be blowing here.
Once your tent is set up and you’ve retrieved your firewood, it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the amazing views.
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