Many rivers in the Sierra are continuing to shake, roar and rumble, thanks to last winter’s abundant snowpack that filled reservoirs to the brim. It’s the perfect season for adventurous rafting thrills and spills that will last into September. But what if you’re not up for whitewater rapids?
Families with young kids and the less experienced should head to a mellow spot on the Kern River near Bakersfield that provides a cool ride without the angst. “Our half-day lower Kern is a nice outing if you are looking to get wet and have fun and be in the canyon,” said Matt Volpert of Wofford Heights, Calif.-based Kern River Outfitters. The put-in below the outlet from Lake Isabella in the Kern River Valley is an area the locals call the Jungle Run, which “drops a mild 20 feet per mile over its eight-mile course,” Volpert said.
Closer to home, there are lots of lazy water places — the Back Bay estuary in Newport Beach and Marina del Rey’s canals — where you can stand-up paddleboard, kayak or canoe — and just relax. Here’s a roundup of where to go.
▶ The Castaic Lake State Recreation Area north of Santa Clarita covers thousands of acres in two bodies of water separated by a dam. Kayaks, paddleboards and pedal-driven hydra bikes ($25 an hour; $75 for five hours on Saturdays and Sundays) are available for rent on the smaller 200-acre lower lake, or lagoon, on weekends. It is restricted to non-gas-powered vessels. Kayaking also is allowed on the upper reservoir, which includes more than 2,200 acres and 29 miles of shoreline and coves to explore. The recreation area is 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Info: castaiclakerecreation
▶ Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley rents hand-cranked boats and pedal boats shaped like giant swans through Wheel Fun ($6 to $11 an hour). Stand-up paddleboarding is not allowed, but you can bring your own kayak to this small, 27-acre lake off Balboa Boulevard between Reseda and Van Nuys. Paddling is free, but kayaks must be inspected by lifeguards before they are allowed on the lake to make sure they don’t carry invasive species, such as quagga mussels. L.A. City Parks offers a learn-to-kayak program at the lake. Info: laparks.org/aquatic/balboa
▶ Puddingstone Reservoir in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas offers rentals (kayaks start at $12 an hour, pedal boats at $20 and stand-up paddleboards, $12) at the swim beach and east shore. The lake covers 250 acres and has five miles of shoreline to paddle and explore. Visitors may bring their own kayaks and paddleboards, but they must be inspected prior to entering the water. Info: bonellipark.org
▶ Huntington Harbour in the northwest corner of Huntington Beach, which borders Seal Beach and Sunset Beach, offers a protected waterway filled with narrow canals to discover. Andrew Allen, owner of the OEX Sunset Beach store, has paddled all over Southern California and Mexico and considers the harbor an excellent place to learn because of its calm waters and mild tidal flows (other watercraft are limited to a speed of 5 mph). Single kayaks and stand-up paddleboards rent for $20 for up to two hours; a double kayak costs $30 for two hours. A typical tour in the harbor takes about 90 minutes. Hobie pedal kayaks also are available to rent, $30 for two hours for singles, and $55 for doubles. Info: huntingtonharbour
▶ The Newport Back Bay in Newport Beach is the largest remaining estuary in Southern California. Billy Whitford, executive director of the Newport Aquatic Center calls it a “relaxing, family-friendly and unique alternative to the typical O.C. tourist destination.” The Back Bay is a salt marsh that is home to many birds and several endangered species. You can take a two-hour guided kayak tour ($25) through the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve with a naturalist every Saturday and Sunday morning year-round. Kayak tours organized by the Newport Bay Conservancy are led in partnership with the aquatic center and are good for novices and experienced paddlers. In addition, the aquatic center has kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals starting at $15 an hour, lessons and other water programs. Info: bit.ly/newportbackbay
If you want to stick close to the Westside, Marina del Rey offers eight protected canals open to paddlers. The Pro SUP Shop at Mother’s Beach offers stand-up paddleboards and kayak rentals ($25 an hour for a single, $35 for a double). Standard paddleboard rentals cost $25 an hour, while a sleeker race board costs $75 for an 80-minute session. Private and group lessons are also offered.
Alamitos Bay in Long Beach is a calm, user-friendly marina sometimes described as the “best-kept secret between L.A. and Orange County.” Flat water and little boat traffic keep the relaxation vibe high. Kayaks and SUPs are available from Kayak Rentals (kayakrentals.net); kayaks cost $12 an hour per person for singles and doubles; SUPs cost $25 per hour, with instruction included. The outfitter is directly across from the Naples canals, which are lined with attractive t homes. A typical tour of the canals takes about 45 minutes, and you can even paddle to six restaurants.
San Diego’s best flat-water paddling includes Lake Poway, which has four-person pedal boats for rent at its marina ($15 an hour) but does not allow kayaks or SUPS. Lake Miramar in the Scripps Ranch neighborhood of San Diego has kayaks and SUPs available for rent from $12 to $25 an hour, depending on what you choose. See bit.ly/lakemiramar.
Other places include Lake Hodges, with 27 miles of shoreline, south of Escondido. Kayak (starting at $12 an hour) and pedal boats ($15 an hour) can be rented from the Rocky Mountain concessionaire at the lake bit.ly/lakehodgesescondido.