There are a lot of great places to go kayaking in California. From rivers near the coast to lakes, streams, and hot springs high in the mountains, there are plenty of unique waterways for an unforgettable kayaking experience.
Many lakes, rivers, and streams in California—especially those at high elevations—make it one of the best states for kayaking and other outdoor activities. There are so many great spots to explore that you’ll need multiple trips to see them all! Keep reading for information about some of the best places to kayak in California.
Types of Kayaing in California
Sea, Ocean, or Coastal Kayaking
- If you’re looking for a kayaking experience in the ocean, then sea kayaking is perfect for you. There are various ways to do this, from a short paddle from the shoreline to a multi-day journey in open water.
- Short Shoreline Paddle: This is a great way to enjoy a kayaking experience without a long wait for good weather. Short shoreline paddles are an excellent option for beginners and families.
- Coastal Voyage: These tours are for more experienced kayakers who want to paddle longer distances. Coastal voyage kayakers paddle from one point to another, often with a destination and timeline.
- Expedition Kayaking: This is the extreme version of sea kayaking, often lasting for days or weeks and covering large distances. Expedition kayaking is often done in teams with support vessels.
Lake or Resovoir Kayaking
Lake kayaking is the best option if you like to kayak near the shoreline. There are many great places for a kayak tour in California lakes and reservoirs, including the San Luis Reservoir, Castaic Lake, and the Los Vaqueros Reservoir.
Some reservoirs are better for kayaking than others. You’ll want to look for a lake or reservoir with a relatively calm surface, protected from wind and swells. You can also look for a lake or reservoir with protected channels, where you’re less likely to get into trouble.
Fishing Trip Kayaking
Fishing trip kayaking is done on a lake or reservoir where fishing is permitted. You can use kayaks to paddle out on the water, cast your line, and reel in your catch. Or, you can use kayaks to travel to a fishing spot and then switch to a fishing boat for the actual fishing. Fishing trip kayaking can be done just about anywhere.
River or Whitewater Kayaking
River kayaking is perfect if you’re looking for a high-adrenaline adventure. River kayaking in the Los Angeles river involves paddling through fast-moving (and often very cold) water.
This is not a trip for beginners or those afraid of getting wet or being in dangerous waters. There are plenty of places to go river kayaking in Northern California and Southern California. You’ll want to pick a suitable river for your skill level.
You’ll want a still river with a slow current if you're a beginner. You’ll want a faster-moving river with occasional rapids if you're intermediate. And for the advanced kayakers, you’ll want to pick a river with lots of rapids.
Essential Items for Every Kayaking Trip
To make the most of your kayaking adventure, it’s essential to be prepared for anything. Here are some essential items for every kayaking trip: kayak (duh), paddles, life jackets, dry bags, First Aid Kit, handheld GPS, tackle boxes, knife or multi-tool, sunscreen, sunglasses, extra clothes, and an emergency kit.
Now that you’re ready to hit the water, you need to find the best kayaking spots. Keep reading to learn about some of the best places to go kayaking in California.
Best Places to Kayak in California
La Jolla is a cute and upscale beachside town at the north end of San Diego. La Jolla is famous for its black sand beaches and white-sand coves, but it’s also home to a fantastic kayaking experience. You can launch from La Jolla Cove and paddle out to sea.
Once there, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of coastal mountains, sea caves, and the Pacific Ocean’s kelp forests. La Jolla Cove is a protected marine and ecological reserve, which means you’ll have a much lower likelihood of encountering any dangerous marine life or wildlife.
This is a great place to take your family or first-time kayakers. Book your La Jolla Kayaking experience with us here.
The Venice Canals in Los Angeles are one of the fantastic places to kayak in California. The Venice Canals are a great place to paddle in any season. There are a few different canals that you can launch from, but we recommend the main canal. This is a long, wide stretch of water perfect for kayakers of all levels.
Located just a few miles south of San Diego is the Carlsbad Lagoon, this is a popular kayaking destination with something for everyone. You can launch from the southern end of the lagoon and go north to the Bird Sea Life Refuge, where you can see wildlife. You might spot sea lions and dolphins, and you can even do whale watching at the lagoon.
If you launch from the lagoon's north, you’ll go south toward Carlsbad Beach. This is a great way to explore the lagoon’s diverse ecosystem. Carlsbad Lagoon is a great place to go kayaking in any season.
Pismo Beach is a popular vacation destination on the Central Coast of California. From here, you can see the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean on your day trips. There are a few different places to launch from, but we recommend Shell Beach. This calm stretch of water is perfect for kayakers of all levels.
Channel Islands National Park
Located just off the coast of Southern California is Channel Islands National Park, which is a federally protected marine reserve. There are many kayaking trails in the Channel Islands, but the Eastside Trail is one of the most popular. This kayaking trail in the Channel Islands is suitable for paddlers of all levels, but it can be a little tricky to navigate.
Elkhorn Slough & Monterey Bay
The Elkhorn Slough is a protected marine reserve close to Monterey Bay. This is a popular kayaking destination, particularly in the fall, when thousands of migrating shorebirds flock to the area.
There are many different kayaking trails in the Elkhorn Slough, but one of the most popular is the Moss Landing Harbor Trail. Once in the water, you’ll be treated to some of the best coastal scenery in California.
The Russian River is one of California's most iconic and well-known kayaking stretches. This kayak tour is one of the more challenging kayaking trips in the state and is only recommended for experienced paddlers. The river is best known for its Class III rapids and strong currents. You’ll need to take a shuttle to get past the private property that adjoins the river to access the river.
People Also Ask:
Do kayaks need permits in California?
California allows you to kayak anywhere in the state without a permit. There may be conservation laws limiting where you can launch your boat in some areas, but these are usually clearly marked on maps and signs near the launch points.
What are the three golden rules of kayaking?
- Always wear your life jacket! Kayaking can be a little risky, and it’s not worth the risk of going without a life jacket.
- Stay on the right side of the river, lake, or even bay. This will prevent you from getting stuck against rocks and other natural features that could pose a navigation hazard.
- When paddling, always face upstream and paddle in the direction you want to travel, never downstream or against the current. Paddling with the current is easier and more efficient when kayaking.
What do you wear when kayaking?
When you do kayaking tours, it's essential to dress appropriately. The climate in California varies wildly depending on where you are. If you are paddling in the summer, wear lightweight clothes to keep you comfortable. You should also bring a hat and sunscreen.
On the other hand, if you're kayaking during the winter, dress warmly and pack appropriate clothing for rain or fog before setting out.
California is a land of natural beauty, and one of the best ways to experience it is from the deck of a kayak. Both Northern and Southern California have several rivers perfect for exploring with a kayak, and the state offers something for every kind of paddler.
You can book guided tours in San Francisco, where you can kayak under the famous Golden gate bridge and see the sandy beaches and the California coast. To kayak or not to kayak? Now that you have the basics of kayaking, you can make an informed decision. So get out on the water and enjoy the ride!
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