This Thanksgiving, we went to Two Harbors on Catalina Island for a family camping trip. It was our first time going to Catalina after hearing good things about it from friends. It did not disappoint. The weather was warm (high 70s) and the skies were clear making it ideal for camping and hiking. We didn’t post a pre-trip blog so we included some more details in this recap, but first a fun fact: just over a dozen bison were ferried over to the island in the 1920s for a movie production and were left after the movie wrapped filming. The herd grew to over 600 bison at its peak, but was culled down to the current population of 150. We didn’t see any bison, but some through hikers on the Trans Catalina trail did and showed us their pictures.
Getting There: To get to Catalina we took a ferry from San Pedro/Long Beach. The ride out had blue skies and we saw some dolphins on our way to our first stop, Avalon. Avalon is the larger town on the island with 4,000 people and more amenities. We stayed in Two Harbors, a town of just 150 people. Catalina restricts the amount of vehicles on its island, so all the ferries just move people, not cars. In fact, there is currently a 20-year waiting list to own a car on the island. Yikes. Once we were on the island, we walked everywhere.
The ferry also had luggage restrictions, so we prepared as if we were backpack camping (kinda sorta), packing light and efficient. We rented a JetBoil stove from UC San Diego’s (my employer) Outback Recreation Center to save space since our stove is big and bulky. We also purchased some freeze dried meals from REI to make food prep easier. The freeze dried meals were pretty tasty and had high calorie counts to fuel us for the day. They were also incredibly easy to make. We simply added boiling water and stirred them up. It was a huge success when Quincy ate nearly two cups of the macaroni and cheese and consumed almost 400 calories at dinner. The cleanup was also super easy because you can eat them right out of the bags and throw them out when you’re done.
Lodging: We stayed at the Two Harbors campground and it was a camper’s/backpacker’s paradise. It had a restaurant/bar, general store, and dive shop. Our campsite was 0.25 miles from the ferry terminal and we paid for a baggage delivery service ($5/bag roundtrip) to drop our two packs and cooler at our site. It would have been a hassle dragging those extra bags on a dirt trail for a quarter mile while we carried the girls in the kids carriers. Our campsite was about 30 yards from a little beach where we threw lots of rocks and shells and listened to the sea lions bark. We also got a few visitors in the evenings – a fox came through our site crumb hunting and a deer grazed on some grasses on the perimeter of the site. Although we didn’t partake, some other campers were doing some snorkeling and spearfishing and caught some fish, eels, and sea urchins. The campsite wasn’t very full, maybe at 50% capacity each night, so we had a decent amount of privacy and our site was conveniently near a sink and bathrooms.
Kid factor: The girls are getting very exploratory and are truly becoming little humans. The main factor we had to consider on this trip was ocean/water safety. The water was a bit too cold to swim in, but the girls hung out on the shoreline and got their legs wet. They splashed around and had a good time and listened when we needed them to pay attention.
We had above average temperatures during our trip and it worked in our favor. With evening lows in the low 60s, but never dropping below 55 degrees, we didn’t have any concerns about the girls being warm enough while sleeping. To ensure they stayed warm, we put a onesie on them with fleece footed pajamas and a hooded sweatshirt on top. This layering system worked out very well even though they slept under the sleeping bags with us most of the time.
Kid-tivities: We had no formal activities planned except for a Thanksgiving dinner at Harbor Reef Restaurant. The girls kept active while at the campsite. They helped throw out trash and chased after birds. They also got really excited when we prepped the Kelty Kids Carriers. They would try to climb in them or use the hiking poles and walk around. Surprisingly, they would fall asleep shortly into our hikes, even though it wasn’t their typical nap time.
Some other interesting tidbits from the trip:
- Without knowing it, we stumbled upon one of the best kept Thanksgiving secrets in Southern California. The Harbor Reef restaurant is the only restaurant in Two Harbors, so it has no competition and/or need to make top notch food on a daily basis. Frequent visitors told us they make good food, but not great food. Well, on Thanksgiving, they pull out all the stops and make a great dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, peas and corn, rolls, and delicious cranberry sauce plus a slice of pumpkin or pecan pie. Lots of boaters moored in the harbor were coming to shore to have a family dinner here and the place was packed. Best part – we had to do no cooking and no cleaning. Worth every penny. We also met a through hiker from Toronto who had never celebrated American Thanksgiving, so she joined us for dinner and we brought her up to speed on the gluttony that takes place.
- As we stated earlier, Catalina is a backpacker’s paradise. Lots of trails and not big crowds. There is the TransCatalina Trail that goes from tip to tip of the island and is roughly 40 miles of rugged terrain. We didn’t do that, but we did do some steep hikes that were straight up ridges with no switchbacks. That also meant some steep declines on the way down. However, the views at the summits were breathtaking. Worth every step.
- We did the Hammocks Hike on Thursday and it was a steep 2.5 mile loop. On Friday, we did the Catalina Harbor Upper Isthmus hike which was over four miles and put us on the top of a ridge with amazing views. On Saturday, we walked along a coastal road with limited elevation gain to kill some time before the ferry took us back to the mainland.
- In regards to a camping trip, it’s on the pricier side. Ferry tickets are about $70/person with the kids being much cheaper. However, the campsite charged a per person fee. Luckily, they don’t charge for kids under the age of 2, so we lucked out there.
We like to include person’s favorite part of the trip and call it “the quintessence,” so the quintessence according to…
Mary- As challenging as the hikes were, they definitely provided an incredible sense of accomplishment (especially when you’re schlepping children on your back). Not to mention the relative solitude on the trail and the views… the pictures don’t even do them justice.
Quincy- Quincy fell in love with the pigeons and would chase after them when they were near our campsites.
Leona- Leona is becoming quite the environmentalist. She identified any and all pieces of trash around the campground and the town, picked it up, and asked for nearest trash can to properly dispose of it. Mary is so proud!
Sean- The landscape was completely untouched, giving you an idea of what California’s mainland coastline looked like before it was settled. Just a beautiful coastal desert with mountains and cliffs dropping straight into the ocean.