Kayak to a Remote Beach Camp

Lava Wall. The name alone shouts adventure—and the place loudly delivers. This towering volcanic cliff is the backdrop…

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Lava Wall. The name alone shouts adventure—and the place loudly delivers. This towering volcanic cliff is the backdrop to a remote beach campground on Catalina Island that you can only reach by boat. So pack your gear and start paddling! It’s an unforgettable 4.5-mile (each way) overnight kayaking excursion.

From the pier at Isthmus Cove in Two Harbors, paddle eastward along the coast. You’ll cross the deep cove that harbors the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, then round craggy Blue Cavern Point. Two caves come into sight, and beyond stretches an abandoned mile-long quarry cut into cliffs hundreds of feet high. The rocky shore yields to a beach with a curious settlement of several houses. This is Empire Landing, off-limits to boaters, so ply onward to Ripper’s Cove, a public campground where you can beach your kayak for a break, though your trip is nearly over.

As you resume, you fall into an easy rhythm of sea, sky, and paddle strokes. Suddenly, thar she looms! Lava Wall, with its imposing white-orange cliff face. Land on the beach beneath it and haul your gear ashore. The 400-foot-wide sand beach is a marvel of multihued stones, sea mammal bones, and a few spiral shells. Pitch your tent where vegetation grows in the shade of the cliff. After dark, you’ll fall asleep to crickets and the ceaseless roar and hiss of waves, a hypnotic symphony that can linger in the mind for days.

Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall
Catalina Island Lava Wall

In the morning, passing fishing boats might dispel your sense of isolation. No real bother—you’ve got exploring to do. As time permits, paddle east beneath igneous rock cliffs textured like coral and admire the underwater kelp forests swaying in emerald shallows, attracting the bright orange Garibaldi fish.

Give yourself at least two and a half hours to return to Isthmus Cove. Headwinds and chop can make reentry into the harbor an upper-body workout!

To get to Two Harbors, take the Catalina Express ferry from Berth 95 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro ($73.50 round-trip). Parking at the port is $19/day.

Reserve a boat-in campsite through ReserveAmerica ($20/person a night). Kayak rentals are available from Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Shop, located at the foot of the pier. Rental camping gear is available next door at Two Harbors Visitor Information Services. Do not camp during full moon periods, as high tide could swamp the campground. Avoid highly windy days.

The Catalina Island Conservancy owns and protects 88 percent of the island, including remote beaches such as Lava Wall. Visit their website to learn about membership benefits and opportunities to volunteer.

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