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, Little Harbor.
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.
Little Harbor Campsite Reservation
Located 7 miles from Harbors and 16 miles from Avalon, Little Harbor/Shark harbor have 26 available campsites. 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.
- Campsites have chemical toilets and potable water
- 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
- Many sites have awnings and shade, with close proximity to Shark Harbor and Little Harbor
- Campsites have a fire ring, trash bins, and BBQ pits
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.
Little Harbor Hike Profile
- Distance: 5.64 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1486 ft
- Minimum Elevation: 0 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 1209 ft
- Time: 3-5 hours
- Difficulty: (3/5)
- Dog Friendly: Dogs are allowed in the campground, but not on the TCT. You will have to hike the alternate fire road if you bring dogs.
- Permit Required: Permits for this hike are included with your campsite reservation
- Water: There are no water sources along the trail. You must fill up in Two Harbors or at Little Harbor.
- Weather: Very hot in the summer months due to full exposure and a lack of shade. Rain and wind in the winter months can make the inclines challenging.
- Trail Condition: Mostly single track with bits of fire road and asphalt in Two Harbors
- Cell Phone Reception: Strong in Two Harbors and patchy after that
Gear, Food, and Water:
- Water: Potable water is available in Two Harbors and Little Harbor. There is no water available on the trail, so make sure to load up before your hike.
- 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 Little Harbor, 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 Little Harbor. 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
Starting from Two Harbors you’ll head southeast away from Two Harbors towards the Banning House and head east on Banning House Road. Turn left when you see the Isthmus Yacht Club and begin a steep climb out of Two Harbors.
Due to the steep incline out of Two Harbors the views open up almost immediately. Make sure to stretch well before beginning this hike. You’ll be gaining around 1200ft over the first 1.5 miles.
The TCT is a very well marked trail with trail signs in abundance. The only time a hiker might feel unsure of their direction is when running into a fire road gate. These are to keep the bison penned in. Just open up the side pedestrian gate and pass through to continue your hike.
As you reach the crest of your first climb, you’ll have views of northeast and southwest views of the islands. On colder days, the wind can whip and chill here, so make sure to have your layers ready.
As you approach the 3 mile mark of your hike, you’ll see a shaded picnic table with some of the best views you’re ever likely to find along a hiking trail. This is a popular spot, so you’ll also get a chance to meet other hikers during your stop.
The final two miles from the shaded picnic area are a pleasant rolling downhill with views of the ocean the entire way. As you approach the end of your hike, you’ll be treated to a bird’s eye view of Shark Harbor and Little Harbor.
Once you make it into Little Harbor, you’ll want to find your campsite, setup your tent, and have some lunch before exploring the beautiful coastline. We’ve stayed here a few times, and there really aren’t any bad spots.
After your overnight stay in Little Harbor, you can hike back the way you arrived along the TCT, hitch a ride by on the Catalina Safari bus (expensive!), or hike back along the dirt fire road.
Read More Like This
Hiking Hermit Gulch and The Trans-Catalina Trail From Avalon To Camp At Little Harbor
Hiking From Little Harbor To Two Harbors On Catalina Island And Sailing Home
20 Photos That Will Make You Want Hike Around Catalina Island
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8 thoughts on “Backpacking on Catalina Island: Little Harbor and Shark Harbor via Two Harbors”
Oh my, little Owen is so grown up! And he has his own little hiking poles! Just too cute! So good to see you guys out and about hiking with your son. We are waiting for cooler weather here in Perth to begin our hiking season, my daughter turns 10 soon and said she is ready to do more serious hikes with me! Yay!
He’s all geared up and wanted a kit just like ours. Glad to hear your 10 year old is ready for more hiking in Perth!
Your little boy grew up and looks like he enjoys what you also enjoy: exploring the outdoors!
He’s growing up way too fast! He’s the one pulling me outside now.
What a beautiful place to hike!
One of my favorites. I’m lucky to live close by!
This is a great location, yet the trails are more challenging and happy if my son will come like yours. I already do hiking, and baguio, philippines has some of the instagrammable spots. Thank you for sharing your experienced.
Hiking and Camping plus an amazing location is a great combination. We got here a few years ago and we had a great experience. Now, we are exploring different campsites in batangas, philippines.