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A New Journey Awaits Across the Ocean: A Guide to Backpacking Catalina Island

Rest stop on trail in between Two Harbors and Little Harbor. Photo Credit to Olivia Roberts.

 I embarked on a backpacking trip across a portion of Catalina Island with 19 other people on Jan. 26. Although this wasn’t my first time on the island, I always tend to forget how much preparation goes into planning a backpacking trip such as this one.

Here’s a guide to backpacking Catalina Island. If you are just interested in backpacking in general, you can still pick up a few tips on what to pack and expect.

  1. Buying tickets

Before you even start your backpacking, you need to find a boat to transport you over to the island. The two most common ferry services are the Catalina Flyer and the Catalina Express, which will take you to either of the two ports, Avalon or Two Harbors. We chose the Catalina Express because it docks at Two Harbors, which is where the trailhead we selected began. 

Once you buy your round-trip tickets, double-check the date and time of your departure to ensure you will be on time. We arrived an hour early to park, check in, print out our tickets and load onto the boat. 

  1. Picking and reserving campsites

Hermit Gulch, Black Jack, Little Harbor, Two Harbors and Parsons Landing are the four different campgrounds that you can stay at while on Catalina Island. 

Hermit Gulch is within the Avalon city limits and is a little over a mile from the Avalon boat landing.  

Black Jack is the only campsite out of this group that isn’t located right on the water. Instead, it is a 12-mile hike from the Avalon Port into seclusion surrounded by pine trees and views from 1,600 feet above sea level. 

Little Harbor is located right off the water and is an 8-mile hike from the Black Jack campground and a 6-mile hike to the Two Harbors Port or campground. While staying here, you can expect crystal-clear water, an abundance of unique shells to pick up on the beach and friendly visits from the wild bison or foxes. 

The Two Harbors campground is just a quick walk from the Two Harbors dock. This is another site that is oceanfront and is great for snorkeling. One distinction of this sight is that you’ll have access to cell service, showers and food all by walking the short distance into town. 

The last option is Parsons Landing which is 7 miles from Two Harbors. This site is located directly on the beach and only has eight sites available. Parsons Landing is also the only campsite out of the four that lacks running water and shaded structures. 

The first time I ever backpacked Catalina was in 2020 during a four-day long trip. We began our journey at Avalon and started backpacking to Black Jack where we slept our first night. The next day we hiked down to Little Harbor, spent the night, and then headed to Two Harbors the next morning to spend our last night.

For this recent trip, however; we began in Two Harbors, then backpacked to Little Harbor where we spent two nights, and departed back to Two Harbors to finish off our trip. 

Whichever campgrounds you choose to stay at, plan out your routes beforehand and reserve your campsites. 

You can reserve a campground by visiting https://app.fireflyreservations.com/reserve/property/CatalinaIslandCompany

  1. What to pack

The most important thing to remember is that whatever you bring, you have to carry on your back and up steep hills, so bring light and reusable items!

  • Tent: Your tent needs to be easily compacted which typically means bringing one that fits only one or two persons. 
  • Sleeping bag: Again, opt for a backpacking sleeping bag, which means it is smaller and more compact.
  • Headlamp, flashlight, lantern: You won’t have any streetlights to illuminate your path, so bring a source of light to help you cook your food and find your way around at night. 
  • Something to cook your food with: Camping tools such as a jet boil or a small propane stove make it easy for you to boil water and heat food. Plus, bring reusable containers that you can cook in or eat from. 
  • Clothes: As you are hiking during the day, you want to wear comfortable and athletic clothes that you can move around in such as shorts and a T-shirt. Still, you want to have warmer clothes like a puffer jacket and sweatpants for when temperatures go down at night. 
  • Food: Pack light and easy food such as oatmeal, chili, soup, pasta or mac ‘n cheese, where all you need to do is add boiling water or heat them up before eating. 
  • Toiletries: Even though you are camping don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush or even some baby wipes — which are personally my favorite hack. 
  • Extras: Bring things to keep you entertained such as cards or goggles. 
  1. How to pack your backpack

As you are packing in all your items, you want to be strategic with where each of them is placed. By placing heavier items centered upwards at your back and between your shoulders and lighter items lying at your hips, you can ensure maximum stability. 

Now that you are all packed and ready for your trip, get ready for some challenging hikes, beautiful views and memories you won’t forget. 
To learn more about what the island has to offer, visit https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/.