Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Catalina Island Two Harbors Camping

Last weekend my friend Sara and I took our daughters on a camping trip to Catalina Island's Two Harbors campground. 
Why was the only thing we could keep thinking of on the way over was Boats n Hoes? 
We took the 10am Catalina Express ferry on Friday morning for our 3 hour tour out of San Pedro, CA. The boat allows each passenger 2 pieces of luggage plus a personal carry on item. We tried to pack as lightly as possible so that we could use our 2 bag limit to transport all of our camping gear: tents, ice chest, chairs, lanterns, etc. The island actually offered rentals for a lot of this stuff but we wanted to stay a step ahead of the nickel-and-dime-ing that is inevitable when you're on vacation.
Our tents, bags, etc are all packed in there.
As it turned out, more experienced Catalina Island campers already knew something that we didn't: the boat staff isn't really all that strict about the 2-item per person limit OR the 50lb per item maximum. They only weighed a couple of our bags and even let the one that was over the weight limit pass without batting an eyelash. Other people carried chairs, umbrellas and all sorts of personal bags on board in addition to what they stowed in the cargo hold. We made a mental note of this for next time. 
The boat ride from San Pedro to Two Harbors took just about an hour and it was all of these 3 girls' first time on a "real" boat! They were pretty excited and we  made sure they were all doped up on Dramamine. Just in case.
Once the boat docked in Two Harbors, we collected all our gear and checked in to the Visitor Services bungalow where we had to show our camp reservations. When you're booking online, Two Harbors charges camp fees on a per-person basis, per night. So we paid for 5 people per night for 3 nights. However, once you arrive at Two Harbors, it becomes apparent that nobody is actually verifying the number of campers in your party. We could have just as easily paid for 1 person per night instead of the 5 people per night we actually paid. We made another mental note of this for next time. 
The campsites are located over the bluff just about a quarter mile from the "town" of Two Harbors where the ferry docks. See that road cut into the mountain below? We had to go up and over the hill to get to our camp site. No shade either.
Fortunately, the Visitor Services bungalow is also where you can pay $3 per bag to have Two Harbors haul any and all of your gear to the campsite (round trip). This was a huge convenience as I don't know how we would have managed if we'd had to transport all our stuff ourselves. We also purchased firewood from this Visitor Services bungalow for $10/bundle and had them deliver those 3 bundles for us as well. A big relief!
The gear haul guys in green shirts. At our Service! 
We only had to carry with us anything we didn't want to pay $3 to have delivered. In hindsight I would have had all the girls' backpacks delivered by the truck as well. The walk to the campsite wasn't long, but it was up and over that bluff and strenuous enough that the girls complained the entire way. You know how that goes. 
We found our site, #33, and all our gear had arrived there ahead of us as if by magic. I didn't get a picture of the delivery but here's what it looked like when the wood was delivered:
Poof! It's magic!
We took note of the shower & water situation! (oh, goodness, a FITTED sheet for shower privacy. I wonder where the flat sheet is being used? hahaha):
We set up camp:
made lunch for 3 girls who more and more are starting to eat like TEENAGE BOYS! YIKES:
 Then we got down to the business of doing absolutely nothing for the next 3 days. Ahhh!!

our private beach for the next 3 days. 
The little girls. we call them Thing 1 and Thing 2
The ocean view from our campsite
For dinner, since we weren't allowed to transport a camp stove or any type of fuel on the boat (Coast Guard regulations), we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers directly over the open fire pit. I've been camping more times than I can count in my lifetime, but never without a propane camp stove. This was a new, gratifying experience for me! We don't need no stinkin' stove!
S'mores for dessert. Every night.

And lots of non-electronic, no-screen fun too! Playing Spot-It by lamplight:
We spent the entirety of one of our days on the Island in the town of Two Harbors. The "town" consists of a handful of bungalows that serve as a restaurant/bar, a snack bar/deli, general store & rentals company. We rented snorkeling gear and ate pizza and ice cream for lunch on this day and everybody was happy. 

We (I) actually had to go back and forth into town quite a few times over the 4 days to purchase ice from the general store. That quarter mile up and over the mountain was no joke. But by the 2nd trip for ice we had discovered a MUCH EASIER trail between the town and the campsites.

Looking closely in this picture you can see a narrow foot trail that runs along the very edge of the bluff. It's not as steep as the giant rode that all the directional signs point you toward. The easy trail runs parallel to the road but is much flatter because it's lower on the hillside. We were pretty excited to discover this secret....and made a mental note of it for next time. 
the Puff and Alyssa (Thing 1 & Thing 2) are on the "easy" trail.
Easy trail on the edge of the bluff but not too scary. 
When you see this sign, take the lower road! 
We had a bit of excitement on one of our last mornings. Alyssa had asked for a cup of noodles for breakfast. We boiled up some water in a few seconds (using the JetBoil contraband stove I'd smuggled on board the boat) and she promptly spilled scalding hot water onto her leg and hand. We had ice from the ice chest to apply to her burns but Alyssa seemed to be in pretty bad shape.
Some camp neighbors suggested calling Baywatch because the burns had broken through the skin. Baywatch showed up faster than you can say 9-1-1. Seriously. And they were wearing RED TRUNKS underneath their uniform. They showed us. They determined that Alyssa's burns weren't too serious and we enjoyed our last full day on Catalina without further issue. She was a trooper!
The girls collected sea shells, "cooked" seaweed and left it out for the deer and spotted octopus and sting rays in the water from the dock. It was great to see them enjoying themselves out in nature.

On Sunday there was a mass exodus of boats from Catalina. Everybody heading home. Not us though, we were staying one more day!
Monday morning we had to be up early to break down camp by 8:30am so that the awesome gear haul truck could take our stuff back over to the town for the boat ride home.

On this morning we decided we'd treat ourselves to breakfast in the restaurant in town. After breakfast we killed a couple of hours exploring the other side of the Isthmus (the 2nd harbor in Two Harbors) before boarding the boat for the ride home.

Despite the 2nd degree burn, sunburns, bumps, scrapes and being off grid for 4 whole days, the girls had a great time. I hope they will reflect back on this weekend with fondness as they grow older.

Camping can be difficult in the best of circumstances, but on the Island you have the extra obstacle of being limited by the amount of gear you can transport on the boat. Less gear means less creature comforts. Sara and I both agreed it was 100%worth the extra effort to camp here & plan to make it an annual trip! BOATS & HOES!!! 


  1. What a beautiful place to camp! It looks like you guys had a great time. I always hate when I follow the rules (like the baggage rule) only to find out that no one else follows them!

  2. Looks like you guys had a great time! It's beautiful there.

  3. wow looks like so much fun! im actually going camping in catalina tomorrow in Little Harbor. First time to catalina, I have a few questions on baggage you bring on to the catalina express. can the baggage be a plastic storage bin or does it have to be luggage type bags? and do they search bags? thanks :)

  4. they don't search bags at all and yes, other campers used storage bins as their two pieces of luggage. the bins were much more practical! have fun, can't wait to go back again!