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Catalina Island Camping Guide (& My Personal Favorite Campsite)

From beachfront sites with ocean views to more secluded spots nestled among the hills, Catalina Island has something for everyone. While planning a camping trip to Catalina, it’s important to consider factors such as accessibility, local attractions, and individual camping preferences.

Catalina Island has five campgrounds along the Trans-Catalina Trail consisting of Hermit Gulch, Black Jack, Little Harbor, Two Harbors, and Parson’s Landing. Hermit Gulch and Two Harbors are the two only campsites that aren’t hike-in. If you’re wanting to camp on the beach, Parson’s Landing is a good option.

Let’s see where these campsites are located, my personal favorite, and some tips.

Camping Locations

Catalina Island offers a variety of camping locations, each with unique features and attractions. In this section, we will cover some of the most popular spots to set up camp on the island.

1. Little Harbor Campground

Our view from little harbor campground
Our view from Little Harbor Campground

This campground is accessible only by foot just like Black Jack and Parson’s Landing, adding to its remote and secluded atmosphere. It features 23 campsites spread over two terraces, each offering breathtaking ocean views and easy access to the beach.

This one is my personal favorite. You feel like you’re on a deserted island (in a good way). Waking up right next to the ocean is a huge plus too.

Facilities include picnic tables, BBQ and fire ring, cold-water, outdoor showers, fresh water, chemical toilets, and kayak rentals.

Tip: Some campgrounds that are hike-in offer gear haul services, where a ranger can bring your luggage or camping supplies (that they offer) from Avalon or Two Harbors to wherever you are camping.

2. Hermit Gulch Campground 

Photo: Catalina Island Company

Hermit Gulch Campground is located in Avalon Canyon. This campground is perfect for those who want a more secluded experience while still being close to the town of Avalon and its amenities.

The walk (or golf cart ride) is only about one mile from the main part of the town. When we went, we walked to Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden and it only took us about 5 or 10 minutes.

  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQ grills, tent cabins
  • Activities: Hiking, wildlife viewing, access to Avalon events

3. Two Harbors Campground

Two harbors
Photo: Catalina Island Company

If you are on the opposite side of the island in Two Harbors, the Two Harbors Campground is a great option to camp at, situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

This campground offers both tent sites and cabins, providing campers with stunning views and convenient access to nearby hiking trails and beaches.

  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, lockers, BBQ grills, tent cabins
  • Activities: Hiking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling

4. Black Jack Campground 

Black Jack campground
Photo: The Dyrt

For campers seeking privacy and unparalleled views, Black Jack Campground is an excellent option. Perched at an elevation of 1,600 feet, this campground offers a serene environment surrounded by Catalina’s pristine wilderness.

Most who camp at this site, are hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, as it is located 9 miles from Avalon.

  • Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQ grills
  • Activities: Hiking, wildlife viewing, stargazing

5. Parson’s Landing Campground

Photo: Catalina Island Company

Parson’s Landing is a remote beachside campground that offers a truly off-the-grid experience. It’s a very nice feeling to wake up to the ocean right in front of you.

They offer primitive sites for $20. The hike is about 4.5 miles from Two Harbors to get there along the Trans-Catalina Trail.

  • Facilities: Picnic tables, fire rings, chemical toilets
  • Activities: Hiking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, fishing

Overall, Catalina Island boasts a variety of camping locations suitable for various preferences and adventure levels. Be sure to research each site thoroughly to find the ideal spot for your next camping trip.

Campsite Reservations and Fees

All campsites on the island require reservations in advance, which can be made online through the Catalina Island Company or by calling their reservations office at (877) 778-8322.

Each campground offers different amenities, such as fire pits, picnic tables, and restroom facilities. Some campsites may also provide potable water, but be prepared to carry your water if necessary.

Fees vary depending on the campground and type of campsite. The table below provides a general breakdown of the costs:

CampgroundTent SitesPrimitive Sites
Hermit Gulch$25-$35 per nightN/A
Little Harbor$20-$30 per nightN/A
Black Jack$20-$30 per nightN/A
Parson’s LandingN/A$20 per night
Two Harbors$20-$30 per nightN/A

In addition to campsite fees, there may be other charges such as reservation fees, firewood fees, or fees for additional amenities. It is essential to review these additional costs when planning your camping trip to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Trans-Catalina Trail Campsites

Bison we saw along the trail
Bison that my boyfriend saw along the Trans-Catalina Trail

If you’re planning on hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, I recommend starting in Avalon and ending in Two Harbors. Here’s a table of the campsites along the trail and how many miles apart they are.

110.5 milesAvalon to Black Jack Campground
28.5 milesBlack Jack to Little Harbor Campground
37 milesLittle Harbor to Two Harbors Campground
47 milesTwo Harbors to Parson’s Landing
57.5 milesParson’s Landing to Two Harbors

What to Pack

my hiking backpack
My hiking backpack

When planning a camping trip to Catalina Island, it is important to bring the appropriate gear and supplies to ensure a comfortable experience. The following list outlines some of the crucial items to bring along for a successful camping adventure.

Tent and Sleeping Gear: A high-quality tent with sturdy poles and secure stakes is a must for protection from the elements. Additionally, pack a comfortable sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and a compact pillow to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Clothing: Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions by packing layers. Include moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and waterproof outer layers. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and comfortable hiking shoes or boots.

  • Base layers (moisture-wicking)
  • Insulating mid-layers
  • Waterproof outer layers
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Comfortable hiking shoes or boots
  • Windbreaker

Cooking Equipment and Food: Bring a portable camp stove or backpacking stove, fuel, cookware, and utensils to prepare meals while camping. Plan and pack non-perishable, lightweight food items such as freeze-dried meals, energy bars, and trail mix. Don’t forget water or hydration system and a means of water purification. I brought a 3L bladder that goes in my hiking backpack.

Navigation and Safety: A map of the island and a compass or GPS device are essential for safe navigation during your camping adventures. Additionally, pack a whistle, a basic first-aid kit, a multi-tool, and a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries.

Personal Items: Bring essential personal items, such as toiletries, medications, and any necessary documentation.

How to Get There

Photo I took on the back of the Catalina Express
Photo I took on the back of the Catalina Express

Reaching Catalina Island for a camping adventure is an exciting experience in itself. The island is accessible primarily by passenger ferry, helicopter, or private boat.

Passenger Ferry: The most common way to reach Catalina Island is by passenger ferries operating from various ports in Southern California. These ports include Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, and Dana Point. The Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer are two prominent ferry companies offering daily round-trip services. The travel time usually ranges from 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the departure point. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak travel seasons.

Helicopter: For those who prefer a more luxurious and faster mode of transportation, helicopter services are available. IEX Helicopters operate scheduled flights between Long Beach or San Pedro and Catalina Island. The flight time is approximately 15 minutes, offering a breathtaking aerial view of the island and the surrounding ocean.

Private Boat: If you own or rent a private boat, you can sail to Catalina Island at your leisure. Keep in mind that mooring reservations are required in many of the island’s harbors, especially during peak seasons. Information about mooring reservations can be obtained from the Catalina Island Conservancy or the City of Avalon Harbor Department.

Once you arrive on the island, transportation options include rental golf carts, bicycles, taxis, and shuttles. The Catalina Island Conservancy also operates a shuttle service to some of the more remote campgrounds. Remember to plan your transportation ahead of time to make the most of your Catalina Island camping experience.

Activities and Attractions

Photo we took while on a golf cart tour of the city
Photo we took while on a golf cart tour of the city

Catalina Island offers a wide array of activities and attractions for campers and visitors to enjoy.

Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the island’s natural beauty by exploring its numerous hiking trails. These trails offer varying levels of difficulty, making them suitable for all ages and skill levels. One popular hike is the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 38.5-mile long trail that traverses the island and provides stunning views of the coastline and wildlife.

For water-based activities, Catalina Island boasts excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving. Lovers Cove and Casino Point are two popular spots for observing the colorful marine life and underwater scenery. Additionally, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding can be enjoyed along the island’s picturesque coastline.

The island is also home to several unique attractions. The Catalina Island Museum offers a glimpse into the island’s history, art, and culture, while the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden showcases a diverse collection of native plants.

Lastly, a visit to the charming city of Avalon is a must. Here, visitors can explore the picturesque streets, shops, and restaurants while taking in the stunning views of the harbor.

Local Wildlife and Safety Tips


Catalina Island is home to a diverse range of local wildlife, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts. In this section, we provide some essential safety tips to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable camping experience.

Some of the island’s unique animal residents include the Catalina Island fox, deer, bison, and various species of birds. While observing these animals can be a thrilling experience, it’s crucial to maintain a safe distance and avoid disturbing their natural habitat.

  • Catalina Island fox: These small, elusive foxes are native to the island and can generally be spotted during early morning or evening hours. Keep food and trash secured to avoid attracting them to your campsite.
  • Deer: Deer are common on Catalina Island and are typically not aggressive. However, they can become a nuisance if they approach your campsite in search of food. Store food and scented items properly to prevent attracting them.
  • Bison: Introduced to the island in the 1920s, bison roam freely and can occasionally be spotted near campgrounds. Do not approach these large animals, as they can be unpredictable and dangerous. If you encounter a bison, give it plenty of space and slowly back away.
  • Birds: Home to various bird species, including the endemic Catalina Island quail, the island offers excellent birdwatching opportunities. Use binoculars to enjoy observing these fascinating creatures from a safe distance.

In addition to wildlife encounters, it’s essential to be aware of other safety concerns while camping on Catalina Island. Please consider the following tips:

Safety TipDescription
Poison OakBe mindful of poison oak, which is prevalent on the island. Learn to identify its distinct leaves and avoid touching them, as contact can cause an itchy and painful rash.
Fire SafetyFollow all posted fire restrictions and guidelines. Use designated fire rings or stoves for cooking and ensure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area.
Water SafetyStay hydrated by bringing plenty of drinking water, as potable water sources are limited on the island. If engaging in water activities, always adhere to approved swimming areas and wear appropriate safety gear.

With a little preparation and awareness, you can safely and respectfully enjoy the exceptional wildlife and natural beauty that Catalina Island offers to campers.

Leave No Trace Principles

rock shaped like a heart

When camping on Catalina Island, follow the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. These guidelines help protect the environment and preserve the island’s natural beauty for future visitors.

The first principle to consider is to plan and prepare ahead. Research camping locations, permits, and regulations to avoid surprises and minimize your impact on the environment. Study Catalina Island’s regulations regarding fires, waste disposal, and wildlife interaction to ensure a safe and low-impact visit.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces by sticking to established trails and campsites whenever possible. Avoid creating new trails or camping in areas with fragile vegetation. This will help prevent erosion and protect the island’s unique plant life.

Dispose of waste properly, including both human waste and garbage. Pack out all trash and ensure that wastewater is disposed of responsibly. Use biodegradable soap or bring a portable camping toilet to minimize the impact on the island’s ecosystem.

Leave what you find, such as shells, rocks, and plants, undisturbed. Do not build structures or dig trenches. Do not pick flowers or remove any natural objects. Leave the island’s natural beauty intact for others to appreciate.

Minimize campfire impact by using existing fire rings or bringing a portable stove for cooking. Do not cut down trees or branches for firewood. Instead, use small sticks and twigs that can be found on the ground.

Respect wildlife by observing from a distance and storing food securely to avoid attracting animals to your campsite. Do not feed or approach wildlife, as this can be harmful to them and dangerous for you.