Kayaking in California is an experience like no other. Between the beautiful shorelines, glistening alpine lakes, and incredible whitewater rivers, there’s a little something for kayakers of every kind. The Golden State offers some of the best paddling in the country, and here are a few spots you cannot miss.
La Jolla Sea Caves
Off the coast of La Jolla lies one of the state’s most astonishing natural treasures—the La Jolla Sea Caves. These seven spectacular caves are nestled into the sandstone cliffs just a 20-minute paddle from the shore. You’ll traverse rolling waves that are sure to leave you drenched, but will be treated to amazing views of both the overarching, sandstone rocky outcrops, along with incredible sea life. La Jolla is famed for its abundance of sea lions that like to bathe close to the beaches. They’re wonderful to look at, but don’t get too close as they can be a little feisty!
Few sea kayaking expeditions offer the wealth of wildlife that you’ll find off the shores of Catalina Island. This ritzy little area boasts waters so clear you’ll spend hours craning your neck over the kayak just to catch glimpses of the local fauna. Lush kelp forests house the state’s official marine animal, the golden orange garibaldi, along with a host of rays and leopard sharks. The skies are also an excellent place to spot the elusive bald eagle. Once you’ve had your fill of kayaking the open seas, the steep bluff up into Catalina Island is a wonderful hike that offers even more scenic views.
June Lake lacks the expansive acreage of other spots on the list, but makes up for it in sheer, unabated beauty. Nestled in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the lake is surrounded on all sides by pristine alpine evergreens and snow-capped peaks. Arguably one of the most beautiful areas in California, it should be near the top of every kayakers list. The lake offers plenty of fishing for anglers, with a boatload of rainbow trout and alpers residing here. When you’re not paddling, the waters are crisp but great for swimming during the summer months. June Lake has the added bonus of its great location near Yosemite, so it’s perfect for a getaway.
Thrill-seeking kayakers will want to head directly to the North Fork of the Yuba River. This section of the Yuba, near Nevada City, is a world-class whitewater destination and features some of the best rapids in the state. The North Fork of Yuba River possesses four distinct sections, each offering Class IV+ rapids. The Wild Plum is characterized by continuous Class IV rapids with very few eddies, while the Moss Canyon region is famous for its large drops. Roscoe’s Ravine is a short run of just over 3 miles, but Goodyear’s Bar is the big boy with over 9 miles of rapids, beginning at Class II and peaking at V. The North Fork of the Yuba River is also close to the Sierra Nevadas, offering views that’ll knock your socks right off.
The Petaluma River is easily one of the greatest kayaking destinations in California, due mostly to the large variety of landscapes you’ll see here. The river empties out into the San Pablo Bay for terrific views of the waterways just north of San Francisco. Further in on the lower sections of the river you’ll find the 5,000 acre Petaluma Marsh, situated right alongside the 50,000 acre tidal wetlands of the Napa-Sonoma Marsh Wildlife Area. This refuge is one of the largest nesting areas for migratory birds in the nation, and offers an excellent reprieve from the bustling city. While you won’t find any rough waters here, the length of it alone will certainly wear you out after a day of paddling.