How to kayak the L.A. River

Los Angeles River. Some Angelenos actively avoid it. Others deny its very existence. But it’s there. And it’s beautiful. I recommend experiencing it on a kayak.

“Look at those black-neck stilts!” Our guide, Steve Appleton, owner of the LA River Kayak Safari, pointed to a flock of fragile shorebirds gliding just inches above the water. Sitting in my red kayak, I was too busy trying to navigate the next quick, narrow swath of water through a dense grove of ivy.

“Scan right!” Appleton guide.

Finally, the water calms down. As I looked around, I noticed local aviation running along the shores. Appleton explains that the lush canopy above them is native sand willow, which has a tremendous impact on the habitat.

A man sitting in a kayak in front of some trees.

Alvaro Sagasti enjoys a calm stretch of the Los Angeles River.

(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

You might not think of the Los Angeles River as a roaring kayaking destination – after all, the canal is surrounded by buildings, railroad tracks and graffiti-lined walls – but you might be surprised. . My recent excursion was a remarkable respite from the hustle and bustle of the city and an opportunity to learn something fundamental about the importance of conservation. And it was a hell of a ride.

“The LA River is a way to tell the story of the history of Los Angeles and speculate on its future,” said Appleton, who is also deeply involved in restoring and revitalizing the river (and actually owns 4.5 acres of it). “The part I enjoyed most was the intimacy that results from kayaking together in this rare natural space in the middle of the city.”

Interested in trying this educational escape? Here are some answers to questions you may have.

Wait, can you kayak on the LA River?

You can. Once an important source of water and food for the Tongva people, natives of Los Angeles, the LA River was formerly free-flowing but was transformed into a concrete channel after the devastating flood of 1938. For many years years, it was considered too dry to even be considered a river, but in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a “traditional, navigable waterway”. The first official kayak tours took place in 2011. led by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. This summer, the river will be open for kayaking, fishing and other activities through September 30.

OK, I’m intrigued. Where exactly will I kayak?

Of the nearly 51 miles of river that extend from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, two can be navigated by kayak during the summer: a two-mile stretch in the Sepulveda Basin and a two-and-a-half-mile stretch traversing the Elysian Valley, both managed by the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority since 2014. I opted for an urban adventure through Frogtown, although the Sepulveda Basin part is well worth exploring and tends to be lighter and less urban feel.

Two men kayaking through calm water.

Nathan Lin and Kyle Lin kayaking on a winding stretch of the Los Angeles River.

(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

Who will guide me?

As recognized by MRCA (who often organizes his own special trips), there are three official kayaking providers for the LA River:

LA River Kayak Safari: The organization guides two treks through the Elysian Valley spread over the weekend and one on Friday. It also takes organized groups to the river on Tuesdays and Thursdays (LA Native Ways College 2 and Hike Clerb recently went on an excursion). Tours, which begin and end at Oso Park, cost $85 per person for a 2.5-hour experience that includes biking, history and environmental talks, training, and plenty of time on the water.

LA River Expeditions: Founded by George Wolfe after his leadership three-day journey down the entire river in 2008 (contributing to the EPA protecting the “navigable” river), LA River Expeditions now offers tours through both the Elysian Valley and the Sepulveda . Basin with an experienced guide. Sepulveda Basin excursions, which navigate the gentler waters, are $50 per person and run at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. on weekends. Elysian Valley tours are $75 per person on select Saturdays at 11am and 2pm. You can also organize a private tour by contacting the group directly.

Kayaking on the LA River: Want to go alone? The LA River Kayak rents equipment so that boaters can comfortably explore the river on their own, through drop off and pick up points. There are two options: Standarda 1.1-mile ride ($37.50), and experienced, covering 2.5 miles ($57.50). Jeffrey Tipton, who runs the company, started the service after filming Wolfe 15 years ago before their infamous 51-mile journey.

I have no experience with kayaking – can I do it? What should I bring?

While it is recommended to be physically fit for any river adventure, paddlers of all levels can kayak the river. (Due to weight limitations, contact your tour guide first if you weigh more than 230 pounds.) My experience was both thrilling and peaceful. The rapids – Appleton clocks them Grades I through II – was manageable but technically surprising, as we had to navigate through rock gardens, under low trees, and around rocks bamboo trees.

Know that you will probably get stuck a few times and will definitely need to get out of your boat at least once. And perhaps most obviously, you’ll get wet. Bring the right gear, a dry bag for your phone, and waterproof shoes (old tennis shoes also work). Most importantly, as Appleton says, “Good spirit is the most important criterion for you to enjoy the trip.”

A man kayaks through rapids on the Los Angeles River.

Thomson Dryjanski navigates the first set of rapids.

(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

Is the water safe?

Pollution is a perennial concern for Angelenos, so residents can be properly vigilant about the health of the river. Fortunately, river safety and water quality are not only critically important to MRCA and water managers, but are actively monitored. The Los Angeles Environmental and Sanitation Officer samples and tests the water twice a week, and based on bacterial levels, a color coding status is determined: green (good to use), yellow (progressing). caution) and red (closed to all). There are also beacons placed throughout the area, including next to the LA River Kayak Safari launch point, to indicate current reports. You can update here – it is especially important to do so after heavy rain. Appleton actively alerted our team when bacterial levels were potentially unsafe, and we were only allowed into the water when the results were clear.

What will I see while kayaking?

In both kayaking areas, you’ll see a wide range of local waterfowl amid classic riverine flora (especially sycamore, cottonwood, and willow). I discovered ducks, roosters and cormorants. Expect the aforementioned uses, along with skunks wading under willows, black-necked stilts scurrying along the shore, and Canadian geese floating nearby. You’ll also probably discover what the river’s unofficial mascot is: the great blue heron, often found lurking among invade arundo donax reeds. Urban birdwatchers’ paradise continues in the skies – look for winged inhabitants like black-crested night herons, red-winged blackbirds and even ospreys (large carnivores that eat local carp) ) as you pass under the bridge and around both native and invasive plants, including those that are most important in conservation efforts.

What to do after the tour?

So you’ve just paddled the LA River – it’s time to celebrate and get your feet back on land. In the Elysian Valley, head to local riverside sites like Say bike cafewhere not only delicious food but also bicycles for you to continue exploring or Frogtown Brewery for a cheering after kayak. At Sepulveda Basin, choose to explore more of the recreational area surrounding the river – picturesque Lake Balboa at Anthony C. Beilenson Park and SuihoEna peaceful Japanese garden, comes to mind.

Most importantly, after reflecting on your experience, consider getting involved in advocacy for the river. During the tour, you will sometimes see a plastic bag and a piece of trash. This is just a reminder of the importance of trail conservation. Participate in cleanup activities, such as those held every Saturday by Friends of the LA River, or ask your tour guide about opportunities to help during your kayaking trip. “This river is a work in progress, but it is an inspiration for what can be done,” Appleton said.

A man sitting on a kayak.

River Kayak Safari’s owner and lead guide, Steven Appleton.

(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

https://www.latimes.com/travel/story/2022-07-14/kayak-los-angeles-river-elysian-valley-sepulveda-basin How to kayak the L.A. River

Russell Falcon

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