Yes, we are in the fourth year of drought in California and, yes, the lakes and reservoirs are lower than low. But the reality is this is one of the best times in recent memory to try out a kayak trek without having to leave Sacramento or devote an entire weekend to the effort.
The American River below Nimbus Dam is running at near-perfect flows for kayaking as officials release water to protect the Delta and its fish population; hitting the river is the perfect way to beat the summer heat.
If you can swim and follow basic safety rules, it’s easy to get started. You can rent kayaks at various rafting centers or sporting goods stores, or buy them used or new without having to spend more than a few hundred dollars. Inflatable kayaks also can be found at various sports shops for much less cost than rigid-body boats; they’re also easier to store and carry.
Once you’ve got a boat, a paddle, water shoes (or old sneakers) and a life jacket – don’t be a fool, always wear one on the water – you’re set. Start with a friend and two vehicles, one to drop off along the river where you plan to get out and one to leave at your launching spot.
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Sacramento County has a number of parks where you can leave your car (a $5 vehicle fee and $3 kayak fee are required unless you have an annual pass) and launch your boat. For beginners, an ideal spot to begin is Ancil Hoffman Park, where wide beaches and shallow river water allows you to get situated in your boat and begin meandering downriver.
Depending on how much time you have, plan to end your ride at the Harrington Drive access point. This is about a two-hour float unless you are a serious dawdler. The spot is marked by a River Rat Raft & Bike Co. sign posted on the beach for rafters who have rented from that company.
For a longer float, plan to continue down to Watt Avenue, which can take three to four hours.
Weekend kayak: American River float from Ancil Hoffman Park.
Length: Two to four hours, depending on whether you end at Harrington Drive access point or Watt Avenue bridge.
Details: Only try this if you can swim and are wearing a life jacket. Most of the stretch is calm, flat water, but there are some bumps at the Arden Rapids near William B. Pond Park and downriver. If you’re not sure, steer clear of rough water and aim toward a beach. Wear close-toed footwear to protect you from rocks in the river. Take some water and snacks and invest in a dry bag that you can use to safely store car keys and cellphones. Check out park locations at Sacramento County’s park website.