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Adventure, Places

7 Amazing Waters for Kayaking in California


  1. Lake Almanor

Paddling along the water on your kayak, you’ll get to witness magnificent views of the Lassen National Forest to the north, and Plumas National Forest towards the south side of the lake, both offering peaceful views of bright blue skies and the deep emerald hues of the evergreen trees. If there’s one place where your eyes can fully relax after staring at one too many spreadsheets at work, it’s got to be right here.

There are two campgrounds available in Lake Almanor, namely Rocky Point Campground and Wilson’s Camp – all with standard facilities for campers of any experience level. If you don’t feel like camping but still want to spend a few days taking in the sights of Lake Almanor, the Quail Lodge Lake Almanor will take care of all your hospitality needs while you go on your kayaking adventures. And if you don’t feel like lugging your kayak along, Lake Almanor Kayak Rentals offer kayak rental options as well.

Lake Almanor is a man-made reservoir built in the early 1900s, located three hours north of Sacramento, in the Northern California region. It is known to be one of the most beautiful places to kayak in Northern California, and is one of the largest as well, with 52 miles of shoreline.



  1. La Jolla

La Jolla is an affluent suburb located just north of San Diego, and boasts a magnificent 7 mile-long coastline that faces the Pacific Ocean – a true jewel by the sea as some might describe it. It is one of the most popular beaches in California, and consistently voted as one of the top beach destinations in the world. There is so much to see and do in this upscale seaside enclave – with kayaking being one of the most popular activities.

The coastal waters of La Jolla’s Pacific shoreline is the perfect backdrop to a day out kayaking and exploring hidden sea caves, encountering dolphins, sea lions and a variety of sea creatures big and small. Guided tours conducted by La Jolla Kayak let you experience the area’s most spectacular sights and you can even witness the sky majestically changing colours at sunset while paddling on your kayak with their sunset kayak tour.

San Diego itself has plenty of things to do when you’re out of the water. Restaurants, bars, hotels and beachside lodges are available all through the city, ensuring you get the best possible experience during your time in this seaside suburb. If open water kayaking is your thing – make sure not to give this a miss.



  1. Monterey Bay

You’ve probably heard about the Monterey Bay Aquarium – one of the largest and most popular ocean conservation facilities on the west coast of the U.S. Well, that’s exactly where you need to go for your next kayak adventure. Boasting panoramic coastal views that seem to stretch endlessly across the horizon and thriving marine wildlife activity, there’s little wonder why Monterey Bay is considered as one of the best places to kayak in the Golden State.

Open water kayakers will enjoy meeting all sorts of underwater creatures like dolphins and fishes, alongside seagulls, pelicans and even sea lions going about their day in their aquatic hangouts. Kayaking anglers will have the opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish – from salmon, to white seabass and lingcod in the open waters of Monterey Bay.

  1. Mono Lake

Nestled in Mono County, California, Mono Lake is a large lake – or better described as an inland sea that is surrounded by the high deserts of the Eastern Sierra. This highly alkaline lake is a temporary home to a diverse collection of migratory birds and mammals, and a permanent one to a rich ecosystem of shrimp and other invertebrates residing in the waters.

This ancient turquoise-colored lake is located between the Great Basin and the Eastern Sierra, spanning more than 65 square miles in all directions. The lake itself is desolate and barren, yet hauntingly beautiful in the simplest of ways. Calm waters provide a quiet respite for kayakers looking for moments of peace and tranquility when paddling, and time seems to stand still while you stare out across the alpine peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains while on your kayaking excursions – making it great for those in need of self-reflection or just a peaceful couple of hours alone.



  1. Petaluma River

The Petaluma River is the perfect destination for a leisurely paddle on your kayak down a river teeming with wildlife and bird watching opportunities. Located in Northern California, the Petaluma River is a tidal slough that features a mosaic of waterways that seem to meander endlessly at the upper sections of the river, while the lower sections leads you down to the Petaluma Marsh, which is a 5,000 acre marshland surrounded by 7,000 acres of reclaimed wetland.

The current of the Petaluma River is gentle at best, making it an exceptionally pleasant kayaking experience as you paddle down river with the chance to get up close and personal with a large variety of migratory birds in the fall and the winter. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see prairie falcons or red-tailed hawks soaring in the skies above you while you paddle.

If you’re an avid kayaker and a nature lover, paddling down the Petaluma River is one experience you don’t want to miss.



  1. Lake Sabrina

Located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada (still in the state of California), Lake Sabrina promises an ultra-relaxing kayaking experience – taking in the majestic views of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range while paddling about in the cool, mirror-like waters of the lake seems almost like a dream, or something out of a movie. The short history of Lake Sabrina is as follows: it was created by damming the middle fork of Bishop Creek in 1908, thus ensuring a constant supply of water to the hydroelectric plants built a couple of miles downstream.

Lake Sabrina is very popular for fishing and boating, and for the kayak anglers reading this – fish such as rainbow trout, brown trout and alper trout are in abundance in Lake Sabrina. Whichever area of the lake you choose to cast your line, you’re bound to catch a fish or two.

With such great views and calm waters, it’s little wonder that Lake Sabrina is one of the most instagrammable kayaking areas in California. Just look through the geotag and let the pictures do the talking – and if you’re planning to get on the ‘gram while kayaking, make sure you have a waterproof phone case!



  1. Lake Sonoma

Tucked away in the coastal mountains about 30 miles north of Santa Rosa, Lake Sonoma is a reservoir that was originally built by the engineers of the U.S Army Corps – but is now a fully public facility that is popular with boaters, swimmers, anglers and picnickers who go to enjoy the beautiful views of the shoreline on a warm and breezy day.

Similar to many of California’s mountain reservoirs, Lake Sonoma features narrow, snaking arms around the canyons and miles upon miles of shorelines, inlets and little coves for the kayaker to explore. Being nestled in the foothills of Sonoma Country, the views of the 8,000 acre oak woodland on all shorelines are a visual treat for anyone willing to take the time to explore the beauty of this place.

Fishing is fantastic here, with fish such as smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappies and sunfish residing in the submerged trees underneath the cool waters of the lake. Who knows – you might just get lucky and reel in a big catch if you bring your fishing gear along!

And The Ocean

Sea Kayaks, also known as touring Kayaks, are longer and more equipped to endure the waves. You can take your River Kayak out in the sea, but only for short distances. For long distances, you need a Sea Kayak, which moves more smoothly in a straight line and has enough space to stock supplies for a long trip. Also, the River Kayak will require a lot more effort than a Sea Kayak to cover the same amount of distance. Since the weather is unpredictable in the sea, in case of rough weather, you’ll want to be on a Sea Kayak so that you can paddle back to shore quickly and safely.


Sea Kayaking is more of an endurance sport

Stamina is the key to Sea Kayaking. You’ll notice that most of the Sea Kayakers are fitter than River Kayakers as they’ve conditioned their body to paddle for hours while venturing the sea. River Kayaking is more of an adventure sport, while Sea Kayaking is more of an endurance sport. One is a sprint while the other is a marathon. There is not much paddling involved in Whitewater Kayaking. A lot of the movement of the Kayak happens with the flow of the water. In Seawater, you have to paddle a lot. Sometimes the wind helps. Other times you’ll have the paddle against the wind.


Turning a Sea Kayak will test your patience

A Whitewater Kayak turns fast. You can make a 360-degree turn with fewer strokes. A Sea Kayak has larger hulls, designed to provide stability and ease for long-distance paddling, not quick maneuvering. If you’re used to River Kayaking, turning a Sea Kayak will test your patience the first few times.


Safety Precautions

  • Check the tide. Most sites have a Tide time table. Paddling against the tide is a waste of time and energy. Plan your trip when the tide is going out and coming back in.
  • Don’t go too far off the shore just for the sake of exploring. Please understand that as much as you paddle to reach your destination, the same amount of paddling will be needed to get to the shore back safely. So don’t go that far inside the sea that you don’t have the stamina left to paddle. It’s a rookie mistake a lot of novices make.


California is known for some of the best waves in the world, and the throngs of surfers that set up camp all along the west coast every surf season can attest to that fact. There’s no doubt that the most relaxing way to enjoy a perfect sunny day on the beach would by far definitely be lying down on a beach chair and admiring the views of the vast open sea in front of you, but there’s another water-based activity that takes you straight to the heart of the action – Kayaking.

The massive variety of microclimates that exist in the state of California practically means that it is ready for any sort of outdoor adventure, and with a variety of inland lakes, rivers and water bodies along the seemingly endless shoreline, there’s no lack of spaces to enjoy a good paddle in the water with your kayak. Whether it is putting your skills to the limit with some adrenaline-fueled whitewater rapid action, or a leisurely paddle down a calm river or lake, there’s something for every kind of kayak enthusiast right here in the Golden State.

Guide for beginners


Climate of California

First off, we’ll start with understanding the climate of California. A Mediterranean climate represents a large portion of the state, with the summers being hot and dry while the winters are characterized by rainy and mild weather – with the mercury averaging no lower than 10ºC. However, some parts of Northern California and the mountains do experience snow in winter, making it perfect for snowboarders and skiers.


California’s varied terrain

The weather is a big part of what makes California so attractive to the outdoorsy crowd, and with the type of terrain spanning from the arid deserts of the Mojave, to the towering rock formations of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and finally to the snowcapped mountains in Mendocino – there is truly something for everyone.


Water sports in California

Being a coastal state, water is a huge part of life for local Californians and visitors alike. It’s not uncommon to see people flock to the beaches, lakes and rivers to enjoy all kinds of water sports on any given day of the week. Surfing, kiteboarding, jet skiing – you name it, and you’ll probably see it happening on the shorelines.

The coast isn’t the only water body that California has to offer. Because of the geological advantages of the Golden State, there are over 3,000 named lakes, reservoirs and dry lakes, with the largest being the 36-cubic mile Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California border.


California Kayaking

For kayaking enthusiasts, California is home to raging rapids that will challenge even the most experienced whitewater kayakers. Apart from whitewater, there are also plenty of flatwater routes with calm waters – for the non-adventurous types who just want a leisurely day out in the water. The myriad of lakes, reservoirs and calm coastal waters are excellent choice when it comes to taking your kayak for a ride.

With so much choice, you’re probably a little confused when it comes to choosing where to go for the best kayaking experience. If you’re wondering what the best spots are to kayak in California, we’ve compiled a little list for you below of 7 of the best spots in California to kayak in, and to tick off your bucket list. Paddle on below to find out more.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of opportunities in California for kayakers of every skill level to get out there and paddle. Whether you choose to go on a group adventure with your family and friends, or go on a solo expedition to challenge your limits, a fun paddling experience awaits around every corner in the Golden State.

Always remember to watch out for inclement weather and always take precautions to stay safe while paddling in order to have maximum fun with minimal disruption to your kayaking experiences in the many lakes, rivers and coastal waters of California.


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