Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kayakers keep their cool on these 3 paddle trips

You know it’s summer in the big valley when birds fall out of the trees in flames. Not a great season for inland paddling, unless you enjoy tepid bath water. Let’s check out three kayaking spots that take the sizzle out of summer.

Our criteria include daytrip driving distance, scenery, wildlife viewing, and generally pleasurable paddling. If you live in Northern California, at least one of these three paddling destinations should squelch that steam coming out of your ears...

The fishing boat Point Reyes sits in shallow water, and then only at high tide

Tomales Bay, near Inverness

Watch fog battle it out with blue sky and sun, but never bet against fog here as the day wears on – so a morning paddle is often the best. On the other hand, a recent early evening trip produced some spectacular lighting against the blond hills of Marin County.

Stay tuned to weather, especially wind, and go with a high tide of four-feet-plus to avoid the risk of running aground -- or more accurately, a-mud. The shallow, 15-mile-long bay can bog down unwary paddlers who mis-time their tide and distance, so always give yourself a margin of safety when planning a paddle. Inverness, on the west side, is best to buffer winds.

Tucked away down a winding road within the Tomales Bay State Park is Heart’s Desire Beach. It offers one of the better launch sites but may require a 75-yard hike to the waterline, even at high tide. Another option is the Tomales Bay Resort and Marina, a private biz with a concrete boat ramp and plenty of paved parking. (Expect to pay $10 for parking and use of the ramp unless you’re a motel guest.)

Looking south of Inverness toward sunny Marin hillsides...
...And at the same spot, same time, looking north toward the mouth of the bay and invading fog

The advantage here is that it’s easier to explore the back bay with its shoreline of old docks and whimsical cottages. Plus, about three miles south, the wreck known as the Point Reyes. But you'll need a six-foot-plus tide to get close to the grounded fishing boat. (The photos above were taken from the shoreline behind the Inverness store.)

Cool tips: 64 is the average daytime temp in August. (Some online weather services often report highs in the 80s, way off the mark, so look for a reliable local forecast.)
And always double-check the forecast with the National Weather Service, especially to confirm wind speed. Online info from the National Park Service includes general weather conditions and kayaking advice. For Inverness tide tables, go to saltwatertides.com. Also check out this early season post on NorCal Yak and see pro photog and NorCal Yak pal Darvin Atkeson's take on the Point Reyes and other coastal scenes.

Playing in the San Juan rapids on the lower American (photo by Thomas Schuebel)

The lower American River, near Sacramento

So here we are in Sacramento -- The Big Tomato, a.k.a. The Broiled Tomato, in summertime. With average August daytime temperatures in the mid-90s, if we’re lucky, why is this one of our destinations? Because water in the lower American River is holding at a refreshing 60 degrees or so. It feels amazingly cool, even before you dump out of that kayak.

Plus, higher flows may be sustained a bit longer this year – the river has recently been running at more than 4,000 cfs as reported by DreamflowsAt some point, the lower American will be drop to around 2,000 cfs and then paddling will get a bit rocky.

No huge challenges here for us flatwater paddlers. The San Juan rapids (class II) are the closest thing to whitewater. Hug the left bend to avoid the main rapids. But as always, wear a PFD and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Cool tips: Usually 70s by mid-morning, so start early. That will also help you avoid the flotillas of rowdy rafters on weekends. Launch from the Sacramento County Parks Department’s lower Sunrise Recreation Area ($8 day use fee with a kayak) and take out along the American River Parkway at Harrington Avenue or at Riverbend Park. You could go farther downstream, but you’ll want to be off the water before 4 p.m., because there’s a limit to what even the American River can do during sizzle season.  And arrange your own shuttle – a rental rafter bus began limiting its shuttle service to customers only this season.

"Who brought fish?" Pelican club convenes in Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough, near Monterey

This may be as close to guaranteed cool as you’ll find in August. In fact, traveling from the valley oven, you may be tempted to leave the splash jacket at home. Don’t do it. Afternoon ocean breezes can whip up waves on the slough, and it gets downright cold as salt spray slaps your face on the paddle back toward the bay. 

Best bet is to launch from the marina (parking fee varies with time but is reasonable) with an incoming tide by mid-morning. (Check saltwatertides.comYou can paddle about four miles up to Kirby Park, a bare-bones parking lot with a port-a-san but the only suitable lunch stop. Along the way, you’ll likely see tons of waterfowl and other wildlife such as seals and sea otters.

Cool tips: 72 is the official average daytime high in August, but fog and wind make it feel much cooler for all but an hour or two each day. Check this NorCal Yak post for more info.
© Glenn Brank 2012