Best Kayaking Spots in California: A Paddle-Ready Adventure


Best Kayaking Spots in California: A Paddle-Ready Adventure

 California, also known as the Golden State, is famous for its beautiful coastline, iconic landmarks, and abundant outdoor activities. With over 840 miles of coastline, thousands of lakes, and countless rivers, California offers a plethora of opportunities for kayaking enthusiasts. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced kayaker, there are numerous paddle-ready locations in the state that promise unforgettable adventures. In this article, we'll explore the top 10 kayaking spots in California and provide all the information you need to plan your next kayaking excursion.

1. Los Angeles River: Urban Kayaking with a Twist

The Los Angeles River, spanning 48 miles through the heart of California's largest city, offers a unique kayaking experience that combines urban exploration with water adventure. Although the river is relatively shallow, it provides kayakers with a rare opportunity to navigate through the city and explore its hidden gems. L.A. River Expeditions and L.A. River Kayak Safari are two trusted companies that offer guided tours along the river.

L.A. River Expeditions provides tours through the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Valley, with prices ranging from $50 to $75 per person. If you prefer gentler waters, the Sepulveda Basin tour is a great option at $50 per person. For a more immersive experience, the Elysian Valley tour costs $75 per person. Additionally, L.A. River Kayak Safari offers tours starting at $85 per person, including a bike ride, history talk, and an environmental discussion. If you have prior kayaking experience, you can also rent kayaking equipment from L.A. River Kayaks.

2. Gold Lake: Serene Beauty in Plumas National Forest

Nestled in the north of California, Gold Lake in Plumas National Forest is a hidden gem for kayakers seeking calm waters and breathtaking natural beauty. Comprising over 20 small lakes connected by hiking trails, this area is surrounded by alpine forests and majestic peaks such as Iron Cap Mountain and Big Snow Mountain.

To access Gold Lake, you can book a campground at Gold Lake Campground, Gold Lake 4X4 Campground, or Snag Lake. Please note that the former two campgrounds require a high clearance vehicle or drybags for transportation. Unfortunately, there are no kayak rentals available at Gold Lake, so you must bring your own equipment. However, the tranquility and stunning scenery make it well worth the effort.

3. Kern River: Thrilling Rapids and Scenic Beauty

For kayakers seeking an adrenaline-filled adventure, Kern River is a must-visit destination. Flowing 164 miles through the San Joaquin Valley, this stunning river offers a range of options suitable for kayakers of different experience levels. The Lake Ming day use area is perfect for experienced kayakers who enjoy challenging rapids and eddy turns. If you're a beginner or prefer gentler waters, Kern River Outfitters and Sierra South Mountain Sports offer kayaking experiences and rentals along the river.

Claggs Kayak Rentals provide kayak rentals at a reasonable price of $10 per hour, while Sierra South Mountain Sports offers comprehensive whitewater programs ranging from $249 for a 3-4 hour 'Whitewater 101' session to $899 for a 5-day full immersion program. River's End Rafting & Adventure Co. and Pro Rafting Tours also offer kayaking experiences along the Kern River, but prices may vary. Don't miss the opportunity to explore other attractions along the river, such as the Kern River Golf Course and the numerous campgrounds.

4. Carlsbad Lagoon: Calm Waters and Beachside Fun

Located in southern California, Carlsbad Lagoon, also known as Agua Hedionda Lagoon, is a haven for kayakers seeking calm waters and a wide range of activities. From paddleboarding to WaveRunner rides, this lagoon offers something for every water enthusiast. California Watersports is a trusted provider of kayaking trips and rentals at Carlsbad Lagoon.

You can rent a single kayak for one hour at $25 or a tandem kayak for a full day at $115. With its proximity to San Diego, Carlsbad Lagoon is a great place to spend a day exploring the water and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Make sure to check for any access restrictions and contact California Watersports for more details on parking and other amenities.

5. Monterey Bay: Explore the Coastal Beauty

Monterey Bay, situated along the California coast, is a kayaking hotspot that offers stunning coastal views and a diverse marine ecosystem. With two locations operated by Monterey Bay Kayaks, you can choose between Del Monte Avenue and Elkhorn Slough for your kayaking adventure.

Monterey Bay Kayaks provides sea kayaking classes and kayak fishing tours. Private classes are available at a cost of $165 per person. If you prefer to rent kayaks, you can choose from a variety of options at both locations. Prices range from $38 per person for a single sit-on-top kayak to $65 per person for a fishing kayak. Rentals typically last four hours, giving you ample time to explore the beauty of Monterey Bay. Don't forget to visit other attractions in the area, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the scenic Del Monte Beach.

6. Lake Hodges Reservoir: A Tranquil Getaway near San Diego

Located just a short drive north of San Diego, Lake Hodges Reservoir is a picturesque body of water that attracts kayakers looking for a peaceful escape. Covering an area of 1.927 square miles, Lake Hodges features three forks and stunning scenery that will captivate any nature lover.

If you're interested in kayaking at Lake Hodges, the Lake Hodges Visitor Center and the Lake Hodges Water Recreation Area are two places where you can rent kayaks and paddleboards. Unfortunately, pricing information is not readily available, so make sure to contact them directly for more details. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced kayaker, Lake Hodges Reservoir offers a serene environment for a memorable kayaking experience.

7. The Russian River: Nature's Splendor and Wildlife Encounters

Stretching 115 miles north of Santa Rosa, the Russian River is a paradise for kayakers seeking an immersive experience in nature. The river is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including otters, bald eagles, turtles, and an array of beautiful birds. Paddling season on the Russian River typically lasts from May to September, offering plenty of opportunities to explore its scenic beauty.

Russian River Adventures, River's Edge Kayak & Canoe, and Russian River Paddle Boards are among the kayaking services available along the river. Prices vary, with options ranging from $60 per kayak to multi-day trips priced at several thousand dollars. These kayaking experiences are tailored to different skill levels, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the stunning Russian River and its surrounding valley. Don't forget to check out the luxurious lodgings and spas in the area for a complete getaway experience.

8. Tomales Bay: A Coastal Gem for Kayakers

Tomales Bay, a long and narrow inlet located just north of Point Reyes National Seashore Park, offers kayakers a unique opportunity to explore the stunning coastline of central California. With four suitable locations for kayaking, Tomales Bay provides a range of options for both beginners and experienced kayakers.

At the Tomales Bay Boat-In Campground, experienced kayakers can access the campground by water and set up camp for an unforgettable kayaking adventure. Blue Water Kayaking is another reputable company offering kayak rentals and tours at Tomales Bay. Prices range from $40.25 per hour for a single kayak to $212.75 for a 24-hour rental of a double kayak. Tomales Bay Expeditions is another option, offering kayak rentals and tours starting at $70 for a two-hour single kayak rental to $280 for a 48-hour double kayak rental. Make sure to explore the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the natural wonders of Tomales Bay.

9. La Jolla: Explore the Jewel of San Diego

La Jolla, often referred to as the Jewel of San Diego, is a coastal paradise with rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and diverse marine life. It offers a wide range of water-based activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, and exploring sea caves. Everyday California, La Jolla Kayak, and Bike and Kayak Tours, Inc. are some of the reputable providers of kayaking experiences in La Jolla.

Everyday California offers kayaking tours starting at $64, including sea cave tours and whale watching tours during the appropriate season. La Jolla Kayak provides kayak rentals, ranging from $35 for a single kayak to $69 for a double kayak for a 90-minute adventure. Bike and Kayak Tours, Inc. offer thrilling cave tours starting at $59 per kayak and kayak and snorkel tours starting at $49 per person. Immerse yourself in the beauty of La Jolla's coastline and enjoy the vibrant marine ecosystem.

10. Channel Islands National Park: A Kayaker's Paradise

Topping our list is the Channel Islands National Park, a group of five stunning islands off the southern coast of California. Known for its rich marine life and breathtaking natural beauty, the Channel Islands offer a kayaking experience like no other. Several services provide kayaking opportunities in the park, including Channel Islands Adventure Company, Channel Islands Kayak Center, Santa Barbara Adventure Company, and Channel Island Expeditions.

These companies offer a range of options, from guided tours to kayak rentals. Prices vary greatly, with options starting at $12.50 per hour for a single kayak rental and going up to several thousand dollars for private tours. Whether you're kayaking through sea caves or exploring the diverse marine ecosystem, the Channel Islands National Park promises an unforgettable adventure. Don't miss the chance to discover the luxurious lodgings and spas available on the islands.


California offers an abundance of kayaking opportunities for adventurers of all skill levels. From the urban kayaking experience of the Los Angeles River to the serene beauty of Gold Lake in Plumas National Forest, each spot has its own unique charm. Whether you're seeking thrilling rapids or calm waters, the top 10 kayaking spots in California will satisfy your craving for adventure. So, pack your gear, plan your trip, and get ready for an unforgettable kayaking experience in the Golden State.

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