Mendocino Music Festival
Music Festival Has Something Special For Every Taste
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Julie Higgins
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Explore the Mendocino Coast by Canoe, Kayak or More

Paddle Mendocino Coast

Seals sun on the sandbar, otters slip through the clear water, a great blue heron takes flight. There is nothing quite like gliding along one of the pristine rivers and estuaries in a Canoe.

Want more excitement? Try exploring the coastal bays and sea caves in an ocean kayak. If this still sounds too tame, the open sea beckons with exciting wave surfing, paddle boarding among rock gardens. A variety of guided tours, instruction and rental shops on the Mendocino Coast offer up an adventure for everyone, including the family dog.

Just south of the village of Mendocino, on the grounds of the Stanford Inn and picturesquely nestled into an inlet near the Big River bridge, is Catch a Canoe, a full service, sales and rental outlet. Manager Rick Hemmings is especially enthusiastic about their outrigger canoes. “These are our specialty,” he says, “and customers can choose from a wide range of sizes, accommodating from one to nine persons plus canines. These boats are very easy to use, and offer unprecedented stability, far exceeding that of other paddle craft.”

The beautiful redwood strip construction of the boats is locally handcrafted from recycled water towers and barns. Combining a narrow hull shape with outrigger flotation on the side, it’s possible to use fewer strokes, and virtually impossible to tip.

Steering and control are made easy with an intuitive foot operated rudder system. They are perfect for couples, families, children and pets! Rick also rents stand-up paddleboards and kayaks and offers naturalist, solar eco and bioluminescence tours of the river, guided by the knowledgeable staff. canoe@mcn.org

A few miles further south, avid ecologist Craig Comen operates Kayak Mendocino from the beach at Van Damme State Park. Craig started kayaking the California north coast in 1993 and enjoys providing visitors with a wholly new experience. “Van Damme is a special place offering protection and channels both north and south,” notes Craig. “We stay within these areas to ensure a smooth ride, while still being able to observe wave action on outer reefs. Observing this incredibly rich and diverse habitat of seals, sea stars, algae and shorebirds from atop a kayak can be an empowering experience. The tours have been safely and happily paddled by thousands of people over the last fifteen years.”

With a degree in Marine Science Craig is well versed in the flora and fauna and his love for the ocean, nature and safety shines through on each tour. He is an expert at reading the weather and tides, and if the sea is too rough for sea caves, channels and blowholes, paddlers have the option of a pristine kayak trip up the Albion River. Instruction is available for stand up paddleboards and kayak surfing. i220925@thegrid.net

Another hour south is the Gualala River, which boatman Wayne Harris points out is actually more of a freshwater lagoon. “We think it is a magical place and we have been delighted to see that every single person who has had the opportunity to experience it has agreed with us.”

During the season, May to November, a sand dam between the river and ocean creates a four-mile crystal clear, shallow, sandy bottom paradise with a water temperature of 68 degrees, ideal for swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Wayne’s company, Adventures Rents, accommodates visitors with top of the line watercraft rentals; single and tandem kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards which can be delivered to Gualala River Redwood Park campground for a forest launch, or meet Wayne at the Mill Bend public access on Highway 1. Habitat ranges from ocean lagoon to towering redwood forests and Wayne enjoys hosting large groups of all skill levels, including school children studying marine habitats. The experienced staff can provide guided excursions with or without catered meals. Contact: info@adventurerents.com


Bay, River and Beach Launches
Three miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1 is Lake Cleone at MacKerricher State Park. This former brackish marsh was closed off from the sea by a timber industry road and became a 30-acre freshwater lake ideal for canoeing. The habitat draws more that ninety species of birds, including wood ducks and great blue heron. Here you will find clean restrooms, an easy launch and no fees!

At the south end of Fort Bragg are Noyo River, Bay and Harbor. There are three launch sites from the harbor, all requiring an access fee, or you can start from the parking lot at the beach, for free. The river is navigable for two to four miles inland, depending on the season, and is a surprisingly lush, tropical setting. Enjoy harbor seals and sea lions lolling on the docks hoping for a handout.

At Noyo Fishing Center, you can rent kayaks to cruise the Noyo River and check out the Harbor. A working harbor is hard to find these days but, just south of downtown Fort Bragg, visitors can experience the sights, scents and sounds of a true fishing village. www.noyofishingcenter.com

Tucked into a river bend near Dolphin Isle Marina is Liquid Fusion where owners and instructors Cate and Jeff run trips both mild and wild. From a private launch, they offer tours, rentals, and classes as well as guided adventures for all levels in the open water. This season, they’re featuring a new two-hour Eco Ocean tour of Noyo Bay. liquidfusionkayaking@gmail.com

Three and a half miles south of Fort Bragg is Caspar Beach, a protected cove with a wide swath of sand. The spot is popular with locals for surfing, boogie boarding, paddleboards and kayaking, all of which are available for rent from the on-site campground store, open daily.

Another three miles south, under a spectacular arched bridge built in 1939, Russian Gulch Creek meets the ocean at Russian Gulch State Park. A short portage across the sand under the bridge launches you into a sheltered bay filled with caves for the seasoned kayaker to explore. Park Fees and Regulations apply.

Located seven miles south of Mendocino, Albion Cove provides a site with both river and ocean access. The Albion River Campground and Marina offer canoe and kayak rentals, or you can launch your own watercraft from their boat dock at Schooner’s Landing for a daily fee. Enjoy the scenic five-mile estuary and sea caves along the headlands at the mouth of the river. albioncg@mcn.org


Tips For the Solo Adventurer
Because the rivers are tidal estuaries, paddlers can conceivably paddle both “up” and “down” river, which can get strenuous. The trick is to watch the tide charts and catch an incoming tide to get a free ride up the river. Then, relax, enjoy a picnic and return with the ebb tide. 2017 Tide Books are available at most local markets and hardware stores, and monthly tide tables are online at tides.mobilegeographics.com

Pack sensibly; you can sunburn even with a cloud cover so bring sunscreen and sunglasses to protect eyes from glare off the water. Stay hydrated and eat snacks. Wear lots of layers, the ocean breezes can be quite cold, even on a sunny day—and always wear a certified life jacket. The water temp is a chilly 52-54 degrees so you’ll want to wear a wetsuit if you’re on the open water.

Subsurface Progression, on Highway 1 at the south end of Fort Bragg, is a valuable resource for rentals and sales of single and tandem kayaks, surfboards, paddleboards, lifejackets and wetsuits. They have current information on tides, fishing, abalone diving and licensing. subsurfaceblake@yahoo.com

Catch a whitewater wave, explore sea caves among the rugged headlands, meander a historic river or placidly drift across a freshwater pond. An adventure awaits every paddler on the Mendocino Coast.