Best 7 California Kayaking Spots

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American River

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Located in Central California, the American River is actually subdivided into three distinct sections that grow gradually more intense. The Lower Fork in Sacramento is a Class II and is mild enough to accommodate both leisure kayaking and inner tube floating. The 16 mile long Middle Fork, located in Auburn, ranges from Classes III to IV. It is a popular choice for intermediate kayakers because the stretches of white water in the canyon are punctuated by respites of smoother water as well. The North Fork is a minimum Class IV, recommended for kayakers with strength, endurance, and legitimate experience. This free-flowing section of the American River is the most challenging and is not suitable for boating. It has some of the best whitewater in California, but it can be easy to miss as kayaking is only permitted February through May. Park at 39.178108, -120.647664

Pull In 39.202241, -120.617319

Pull Out 39.100948, -120.9238

Cherry Creek

This 8 mile river has only a short season that starts in either June or July, depending on rainfall, and lasts until September. It is located in the Yosemite area, meaning that the area is beautiful and offers many other opportunities for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, bouldering, and other such activities. Cherry Creek is ranked as Class V, and only recommended for those with strong whitewater skills and plenty of experience. The river is almost exclusively whitewater, leaving very little calm and room for breaks.

Put In 38.096637, -119.799016

Pull Out 38.019817, -119.901319

Kern River

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The Upper Kern River is just south of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Lower Kern is the southernmost whitewater kayaking in California. It is considered excellent kayaking because it ranges from Class II all the way to Class V, and features calm portions between each rapid. Its season lasts from April to July. It is located in a narrow canyon, and becomes increasingly more challenging. Also noteworthy is nearby Brush Creek, where kayak competitions annually occur in the spring. In addition to notable drops within the whitewater sections, Brush Creek also has a 20 foot waterfall.

Put in 35.576073, -118.532311

Pull Out 35.531441, -118.663575

Kings River

Money Drop

Photo by Liquid Lore

The Kings River in Centerville, Southern California, is ranked as Class III in some parts and Class IV in others, distinguishing it as whitewater suitable for both intermediate and experienced kayakers. The kayaking season in Kings River lasts from April through July. This river is known as being more fun than particularly challenging in terms of the whitewater. The ten mile river is fairly evenly punctuated by stretches of calm and rapids, never spending too much time on either. Kings River runs through the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests, which means there is picturesque woodland scenery as well as plenty of trails and mountain biking nearby.

36.838142, -118.875591

North Fork Yuba River

This river is located in Central California, flowing through the Tahoe National River. Its season is relatively short, lasting only April, May, and June. It is ranked as Class IV+, making it only recommended for experts and highly experienced individuals. The North Fork Yuba River stretches 19 miles and is characterized by challenging whitewater, large granite boulders in and alongside the river, and a few notable drops. The river’s remote location makes the distance and time commitment to drive  to it one of its biggest setbacks. However, this can be seen as an advantage as very little commercial rafting in the area means it is less crowded.

Put In 39.580027, -120.608028

Pull Out 39.568560, -120.615196


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Photo via A Wet State


The Tuolumne River in Groveland, Central California enjoys a relatively long season, from April until September. It contains Class III, Class IV, and Class V rapids, making this river appeal to both expert kayakers looking to enjoy their experience and intermediate kayakers looking to challenge themselves. As a whole, kayakers enjoy long periods of calm between each section of whitewater, with the most intense sections occurring before Clavey Falls. The most notable of the whitewater is the Clavey rapids. Although the 18 mile river can be completed in one day by the kayaker who pushes themself, it is more commonly done as an overnight trip in two or three days. Most kayakers choose to stop along the way to explore the Clavey Falls, the nearby Olympic pool, and numerous hikes near the river.

Put In 37.836405, -120.053897

Pull Out 38.019817, -119.901319


Smith River Kayaking

Photo via Sundance Paddle Sport

Smith River is located in Northern California in Crescent City. It is unique in that it is one of the few rivers in California whose kayaking season occurs in the wintertime; the Smith River’s season can begin as early as November and last as long as May, depending on the year’s rainfall. Because of this, the water is near freezing and it is strongly recommended one only undertakes it in a wet suit. It stretches 13 miles and contains sections of Class III, Class IV, and Class V stretches. This river is situated in a lush, remote location, and its flow and whitewater sections are constantly changing.

Put In 41.981743, -123.960089

Pull Out 41.848160, -123.968865





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