When Sacramento’s summer temperatures climb to fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot, some city dwellers cool off by dashing to the river.
Most take a stationary approach – pick a spot in the sand, pop a cold drink and maybe take a swim when the moment feels right. But why watch the afternoon pass by from a beach towel when you can cruise past the sidelines in style, exploring the city’s beautiful waterways and bridges from a canoe, kayak or paddle board?
The American River is ripe with places to launch small vessels. If you have one, you can pull off an urban water safari from Carmichael past Old Sacramento with just a little planning and a lot of arm strength.
To start you’ll need a watercraft, a vehicle that safely transports your watercraft, and at least one other person. Pack snacks and bring sunscreen – this 15- to 20-mile paddling trip is a full day’s work.
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The journey begins at its end point, the Sacramento Marina at Miller Park. Drive two vehicles to the marina’s main parking lot, which is free to use for the day. Leave one of the vehicles, and hop on Highway 50 to begin your drive upriver with your watercraft.
To avoid the rowdy rafters that drop into the water from the raft rental businesses in Fair Oaks, try putting in a bit south of the popular Sunrise Recreational Area. The William B. Pond Recreation Area in Carmichael makes its boat ramp available for $3, though the launch is a steep and rocky quarter-mile trek from the parking lot. If you’re lugging around a heavier vessel, drive to the end of Harrington Way off nearby American River Drive for much more direct access to the river.
Once in the water, it’s almost all reward. The river, framed by lush greenery and gracefully leaning trees, is home to an impressive variety of creatures enjoying the calm water and mostly quiet vibe. Look closely and you might spot snapping turtles on a nearby log, or egrets and herons swooping overhead. Wood ducks, geese and swans traverse the river right alongside boats, some with a line of fluffy newborns in tow.
The first stretch of river is mostly flat, with a few segments of rapids that are navigable even for amateur rowers. Follow the current straight ahead, or take a detour around one of the river’s many islands. Keep eyes out for people fishing on the riverbank and try not to get tangled in their lines.
In just a few miles you’ll see the Watt and Howe avenue bridges, each a reminder of the busy world beyond. The first big bend takes paddlers to the California State University, Sacramento, campus, easily visible on the left. Next stop: the recently renovated Guy West footbridge modeled after the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Up a little farther you’ll slip under the J Street/Fair Oaks Boulevard bridge and spot the Campus Commons golf course. On the left you’ll see the beach at Glenn Hall Park, a great place to pull over for a swim or a picnic.
A short stretch and another bend takes you under Interstate 80 and past Sutter’s Landing Regional Park on the edge of downtown, a popular watering hole for families and dog owners. Be prepared to navigate past swimmers, raft loungers and docked motorboats.
The next few miles should be fairly quiet as you make your way under Highway 160 and north of the Richards Boulevard neighborhood toward Tiscornia Park, another bustling spot for summer revelers.
Finally, the outlines of Old Sacramento appear in the distance, just past the I Street Bridge. Muster up some strength – you’ll be pushing through the wakes of the yachts, motorboats and Jet Ski crafts that zip near the downtown hub.
That challenging paddle is well worth the close-up views of the Ziggurat and other distinctive buildings along West Sacramento’s River Walk Park. Stay far enough to the left and you can actually touch the Delta King, Sacramento’s restored 1927 riverboat housing a famous hotel and restaurant. As you continue on, wave to diners at Rio City Cafe and Joe’s Crab Shack up above.
If you time it correctly, you can be gliding under the magnificent Tower Bridge at sunset. Regardless of the hour, the view from the water is photo-worthy.
Finish your journey with another wide turn, which will take you past Miller Park and into the marina proper. Stretch your legs briefly before the drive back to Carmichael to retrieve your second vehicle, then return to the marina to load your boat.
All said and done, it isn’t a trip for the faint of heart. But it is a boatload of fun.