Catalina Island Hiking (Two Harbors to Little Harbor)

Catalina Island Hiking & Camping Guide (Two Harbors to Little Harbor)

Catalina Island hiking takes you through unspoiled beaches and scenic trails, with a chance of encountering some of the abundant wildlife. It is perfect for a quick getaway from the city, located just 1-2 hours away off the coast of Southern California.

One of the best trails on Catalina Island is the Two Harbors to Little Harbor trail. Throughout the hike, you will be treated to stunning views of the west-facing island cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. After setting up camp in Little Harbor campground, unwind as you enjoy the beach and bask in the sunset. Fall asleep listening to the waves before hiking back to Two Harbors the next day.

Without the crowd, it makes you feel like the whole beach is exclusively yours. This overnight hiking and camping experience is also suitable for beginners, and I really recommend it for anyone who craves an outdoor experience.

Read on for a comprehensive guide on how to plan an amazing adventure from Two Harbors to Little Harbor.

How to get to Catalina Island

Transport to Catalina Island takes 1-2 hours by ferry and 15 minutes by helicopter ride. You could also charter a boat or take a private plane to the island’s Airport in the Sky.

Most people take the ferry as it is the most affordable. There are 3 main ferry ports on mainland Southern California that take you to Catalina Island – Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point. They go between Avalon or Two Harbors via regularly scheduled passenger rides. Avalon is on the southern side, whereas Two Harbors is further up north where the hike to Little Harbor begins.

AvalonTwo Harbor (from San Pedro)
Duration1 hr1 hr 15 min / 2 hrs (*via Avalon)
Round trip price$74.50$74.50
FrequencyEvery 2 hrs (Long Beach)Every 5 hrs
Earliest departure to Catalina6am9am
Latest departure from Catalina7:30pm or 10pm (Fri & Sat)4:30pm or 4:45pm (*via Avalon)

Take note that the ferry schedule changes with the season, do check for updates before planning.

Ferry ride from San Pedro to Two Harbors

Two Harbors is also known as “Isthmus Cove”. Only ferry rides from San Pedro take you to Two Habors, and they happen twice daily (only once on Saturday). Depending on the time slot, the ride might pass through Avalon first, with an additional 45min of travel time. The ferry ride that continues North from Avalon to Two Harbors is actually quite nice as you get to cruise along the side of the island cliffs.

Friends at Two Harbor

Campground facilities and reservation

There are decent facilities on Little Harbor campground, which gave us some comfort around the idea of camping. Here are some of the important factors we considered when we decided to camp at Little Harbor. Generally, it was important to have campsite that was comfortable for hanging out and enjoying the scenery. It also needed to have potable water in order to cook meals conveniently.

Why Little Harbor?

  • Picnic tables and food containers to keep animals out of reach
  • Barbecue pit/grill
  • On-site potable water
  • Fire ring
  • Chemical toilets within walking distance
  • Showers
  • Available campsite with an ocean view and just minutes from the beach
Sunset in Little Harbor Campground

Once you have chosen a spot, you will need to reserve a campsite. Reserve America is a great way to check for availability, and you can either book online or call Two Harbors Visitor Center. I recommend going for a Friday to Saturday trip, since there will be a 2-night minimum stay for weekend bookings. The costs incurred are entrance ($20-25) and reservation fees ($9.25) per person.

We booked LH12 as it was one of the closest to the beach, though it meant exposure to the wind and we did get a little cold. If you have a good enough sleeping bag or are camping in summer, I think this is a great location. LH09 is also a good site with sufficient wind shielding from the trees and is nearer to the restrooms. You should book in advance as these are popular spots. You can check-in to your campsite at Two Harbors Visitor Service Center before beginning the hike to Little Harbor.

Full map of Catalina Island here.

Two Harbors hike to Little Harbor campground

We were really excited for this trip, and it did not disappoint at all. It was everything we wanted – great views, a stunning sunset by the beach, and stargazing at night.

View of Little Harbor Campground from the beach
Little Harbor campground from the beach

Suitable for beginners

Distance: 5.6 miles (Two Harbors to Little Harbor)
Max Elevation:
1180 feet
Difficulty: Moderate (base fitness required for uphill hiking)
Duration: ~3 hours

During my study abroad in Los Angeles, my friends and I were looking for a place to go camping and hiking. Catalina Island hiking was perfect for us as beginners because of the well-maintained trails and campgrounds.

Many people who completed the Trans-Catalina trail said that the stretch between Two Harbors and Little Harbor was their favorite, so we decided to check out this trail. Little Harbor has even been named as “One of the Best Campgrounds in the West” by Sunset Magazine.

Another reason why Catalina Island hiking is great for beginners is that Two Harbors Visitor Services provides camping equipment rental. We purchased some firewood and charcoal, rented a 2-burner stove with propane gas for boiling water. You can even have food and drinks from the Two Harbors General Store delivered to you in a cooler filled with ice. Find out more here under the ‘Tips’ section.

If you ever want to go hut-to-hut hiking one day, this overnight hike is great training for you. You can also check out my article for tips on taking great hiking photos of yourself here.

Hiking up, up and up

We woke up bright and early to catch our 9am ferry from San Pedro to Two Harbors. I was seasick throughout the ride, so my first tip is to bring seasickness pills if you don’t want to suffer like I did (more on the packing tips later).

We had a quick lunch at Two Harbors and stocked up on snacks at the general store before starting our hike. You should also purchase a lighter here so that you can start a fire at the campsite (they probably would not let you take it onboard the ferry).

Abandoned car - Catalina Island hiking

Try to start your hike by 1 pm and you should be able to make it at the campsite comfortably by evening. Follow the signs pointing towards the Trans-Catalina Trail and it should lead you uphill, past a gate and onto paths littered with bison poop. Before long, you will be looking down over Two Harbors, with a glimpse of the west-facing side of the island where boats are moored.

You start to see more of the island as you continue the hike uphill. After about 2 hours, there is a sheltered picnic table that overlooks the vast Pacific Ocean. You are rewarded with a view of the northern parts of the island which are simply breathtaking. I don’t think the MacOS wallpaper has captured this part of the island (that shot was probably taken from the south near Avalon).

Arriving at Little Harbor campground

Moving along, there are several animals that live all over the island including rattle snakes, foxes, and bison. I find it really amusing that the bison were actually brought over for a movie production. Watch your feet in case you step on their poop! They might even be hanging out at your campsite. We did not get to see any bison so I was a little bummed about it.

Catalina Island hiking wildlife

As you continue onward to Little Harbor campground, the trail gets a little rockier with steeper downhill slopes at some places. My favorite moment was when the descent eventually led us to an unobstructed view of Little Harbor campground and the beach. The evening sun was also shining onto the bay in the most flattering way and you can even spot your campsite from up here. Look at how close the campground is to the aqua blue seawater!

Looking over Little Harbor campground

Following a series of winding switchbacks downhill, you eventually arrive at Little Harbor campground via the back. The campground looked quite empty and we only bumped into one couple. It was slightly past 4pm so we quickly set up our 6-person tent, got our jackets and headed to the beach. As the beach faces the west towards the Pacific Ocean, we enjoyed a direct view of the amazing sunset and even had the beach all to ourselves. We were really happy with the day and took photos till the sky turned dark.

Sunset photo with friends

Spending the night on Catalina Island

We boiled water for our instant ramen in separate batches using a small pot that we brought from home. After starting a campfire, we sat around it and chatted through the night while making smores. I recommend getting about 2-3 bundles of firewood to keep warm at night/in the morning (each costs $10 and lasts for 1.5 hours). Take time to stargaze, enjoy the cool sea breeze and let all your worries go. Before you go to bed, remember to store your food in the metal box provided so that animals won’t try to enter into your tent or steal them while you sleep.

In windier/colder months, try to face your tent entrance away from the sea breeze and preferably behind some bushes or trees. Take note of the temperature and bring LOTS of warm clothes and layers if you do not have a warm enough sleeping bag. We slept a little longer and waited till we were warmer before preparing breakfast – instant oatmeal and coffee. Remember to set aside some snacks for the hike back to Two Harbors, and always dispose of trash properly. If weather permits you could even rent kayaks or do some exploring nearby to Shark Harbor.

Packing for Catalina Island hiking and camping

There will be baggage size limit onboard the ferry, but of course if you are hiking you would want to bring a lighter/smaller pack. However, a regular backpack is only going to be able to fit your food, clothes and essentials. In our group no one had a large enough backpack for our 6-men tent, so the guys kindly took turns to carry it by hand. The rest of us carried sleeping bags or grocery bags, which was alright for the relatively short hike. Here are some useful things we made sure to pack for the trip.

Read more:

Catalina Island Hiking

Food and utensils

  • Bowl/plate for dinner & breakfast
  • Fork/spoon
  • Food for dinner and breakfast (instant noodles, spam, marshmallows, bread, instant oatmeal, pop-tarts, etc.)
  • Hot beverages (hot chocolate/coffee)
  • Light snacks/lunch for day 2 of hiking
  • Small pot for boiling water

Clothes and others

  • Tent and sleeping bag
  • Sports shoes, extra socks
  • Rain jacket/poncho
  • Warm clothes
  • Toilet paper (in case they run out)
  • Toiletries (they have a shower but no hot water)
  • Portable charger for phone (there is no electrical supply)
  • Lighter (purchase in Two Harbors)
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle
  • Motion sickness pills (for the ferry ride)
  • Camera with extra batteries

The weather in Catalina Island

Catalina Island’s weather is similar to the rest of California, not too hot or cold all year round. January has the highest rainfall, so remember to bring a rain jacket or poncho if you plan on going at that time. There might be the occasional fog which makes it feel like you are walking above the clouds. I recommend visiting in March/April as there are usually more wildflowers and greener grass, and the cool spring weather makes it pleasant for Catalina Island hiking.

It is generally windy so warm clothes for the night are essential. Although most estimate the average minimum temperature in winter to be 50 F, it went as low as 45 F in the middle of the night when we went in February. Other than that, we had very good weather with clear skies and a cool breeze during the day.

Cactus against island view (Catalina Island hiking)

There will be many more activities you can do in the water if you visit in summer. If you intend to go kayaking or swimming, make sure to bring swimwear and a change of clothes. Don’t forget to bring sunblock no matter which time in the year you are visiting as the trails are unshaded.

How much does it cost

As we were on a student budget, we tried to spend less while maximising the experience. Aside from a tent ($60 split 5 ways) and sleeping bag ($30 from Amazon), we did not purchase any other camping equipment for the trip. Here is the breakdown of costs throughout our Catalina Island hiking and camping trip.

Ferry (San Pedro to Two Harbors)$74.50 (per pax)
Entrance fee $25 (per pax)
Campsite reservation fee$9.25 (per pax)
Charcoal (7 lbs)$16
Firewood (2 bundles)$20
2-burner stove$18
16oz propane$8
Two Harbors (food and souvenirs)~$40

Total: about $160 per person, $200 if you include the cost of camping equipment

You’ll love it here

Campsites are open all year round. The winter months of November to February are off-peak times, though Catalina Island offers a much warmer getaway compared to somewhere like Yosemite. Maybe you will fall in love with the island and come back to hike the full Trans-Catalina trail.

This is a super affordable yet memorable way to experience Catalina Island though hiking. In my opinon, it’s much more worth the ferry price to go for a 2 day (rather than 1 day) trip. This first experience as a beginner at camping helped me to enjoy the outdoors even more and later on I started to plan camping road trips with friends in California. A weekend trip to Catalina Island is easily accessible and fun for hanging out with friends and family, I highly recommend it especially if you live in LA.

I hope this post was useful, and inspires you to explore the gems around your city. Do subscribe to my email list so that I can update you on more adventure travel guides and tips. Stay healthy my friends!

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