Best Kayaking in California

Trying to find the best kayaking in California? Bivy has great hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, skiing, riding and more, with hand-curated trail maps, as well as detailed driving directions.


Nevada, Henderson

02 :03 hrs
4.8 mi
0.000061035156 ft

For an easy and fun water adventure in the Las Vegas area, consider the Boulder Island kayaking route. Leaving from the Hemenway Harbor, you’ll paddle to the very nearby Big Boulder, Little Boulder, and Rock Islands and explore their ever-changing coastlines (due to rising and falling reservoir water levels). Waves on Lake Mead can be a bit bigger than on smaller water bodies, upping the difficulty of cross-lake travel, but this is still a good adventure for novices.


Nevada, Reno

00 :12 hrs
0.5 mi
0.77124023 ft

Surrounding Wingfield Park, the Truckee River Whitewater Park features 11 pools for kayak play, a kayak racing course, and annually hosts the Reno River Festival, a competitive kayaking event. The park is located in downtown Reno in walking distance from 24 resorts, so if you’re staying in Reno, passing through, or a local, access is quite easy. Rapids are rated at Class II to III.


California, Siskiyou County

03 :58 hrs
10.5 mi
145.74329 ft

Salmon River is its map name, but local Californians refer to it as the Cal Salmon. This section of the Cal Salmon winds through rocky cliffs and forested canyon walls. On this whitewater paddle trip you'll experience mostly Class IV rapids and three challenging Class V's. The best part about this run is, there are no crowds.


California, Placer County

04 :06 hrs
15.7 mi
786.19354 ft

Giant Gap is a section of the North Fork of the American river where you get to ride mostly Class IV and three challenging Class V rapids and dive into calm crystal clear pools in between. To reach the river requires a 2 mile hike down and into the canyon. Rafters have either rolled up their raft with the paddles and pump inside or wheeled it down on a foldable trailer. As you make your way down river the canyon walls begin to close in and become wide enough just to fit a raft through. With that said, once you put in there's no taking out. The steep sided canyon walls make it impossible to climb up.


California, Mariposa County

11 :19 hrs
28.7 mi
279.95358 ft

The headwaters for the Merced River originate from Mount Lyell of Yosemite National Park. It tumbles past Yosemite Dome creating the famous Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls before making its way to the valley floor and through a typical Sierra foothill canyon, this is where this trip begins. This run has a combination of Class III and IV rapids that eventually are broken up with a break just before Briceburg (mile 15). Briceburg is used as a take out/put in for a half day run. The trip explained here is intended to be a multi-day trip. The BLM has three designated camping areas: McCabe Flat campground at mile 17.5, Willow Placer campground at mile 18.8, and Railroad Flat campground at mile 20.2. Contact the BLM for further information on camping and required permits. At mile 22 just before the confluence with the North Fork of the Merced is a 30 foot waterfall, the North Fork Falls. Some have navigated the far left side and dodged the boulders, but most use the portage on the right. Here is a link to a map indicating rapids and put ins/take outs:


California, El Dorado County

08 :22 hrs
20.8 mi
148.31638 ft

Stretching from Chili Bar to Folsom Lake along the South Fork of the American River, this paddle trip explores the most popular section of whitewater paddling in California. This section of the river has over 20 named rapids as it winds through forested canyon walls, grassy slopes, and the historic gold mining town of Coloma. Check out the following website for flows:


California, Tuolumne County

02 :30 hrs
7.8 mi
255.42902 ft

Cherry Creek run is one of the most challenging run in the US, making this the ultimate thrill ride for whitewater paddlers. Cherry Creek is a steep graded, swift moving tributary of the Tuolumne River originating from Yosemite Valley. On this trip you'll be dodging granite boulders, descending down five big drops, and riding long, continuous Class IV and V+ rapids known. At approximately mile 7 is the Class V drop Lumsden Falls which will require portaging.


California, Del Norte County

05 :01 hrs
13.2 mi
173.22931 ft

The section of the North Fork of the Smith River between Low Divide Road and the town of Gasquet is a popular Class IV whitewater run. The river is surrounded by a narrow canyon and steep sided rocky cliffs blanketed in a thin forest of evergreens. The rare carnivorous Pitcher Plant is indigenous to the area and can be found growing on the walls of the canyon. Although the shuttle is long, the enjoyment of this run will be well worth it. For convenience, there are local shuttle drivers to save some time: Annie at (707) 457-9576 or "Barefoot" Brad at (707) 457-3365.


California, Nevada County

04 :11 hrs
13 mi
411.10364 ft

Fordyce Creek was first run by a whitewater kayaker in 1983. The creek is known for its stunning granite cliffs scenery, challenging Class V rapids, and several high drops, including a the 20' Rotator Cuff waterfall. These rapids are governed by dam releases which are generally between summer and early fall. Its recommended to do this as a two day trip with an overnight at Eagle Lakes, the take out is just beyond the footbridge at approximately mile 7.7. Leave your boats here and hike and camp at the cars; a 4WD dirt road leads to Eagle Lake. There are several portages at a few of the larger unrunnable falls and are found at the approximate mileage: Insane Falls mile 1.8, Locomotive Falls mile 1.9 (after portage scout left, right drops into a rock wall), Bishops Balcony mile 2, Little Squeeze mile 4.6 (for boats larger than 74"), Limbo Log mile 5.3, Big Squeeze mile 6.1 (for fiberglass kayaks and rafts), Where's Barry mile 7 (depending on possible log jam below), Bad Seed mile 7.5, Fordyce Falls mile 9.6, Knobs mile 9.9, and No Man's Land mile 10.5. The final 2 mile stretch is across Spaulding Lake to the launching dock.


California, Tehama County

13 :52 hrs
40.1 mi
965.00714 ft

Deer Creek is 40 miles of Class IV and V rapids with several steep drops as it meanders through a narrow canyon and steep sided walls, offering amazing scenery from beginning to end. This trip is generally done as a multi-day trip. Contact Lassen National Forest for information on required camping permits. If you do not want to do the entire 40 mile run of both upper and lower Deer Creek, take out or put in at Poderosa Way Bridge instead. At mile 18 the stream becomes braided; be cautious of strainers in this area. There is one portage at Fishladder Falls (mile 2.5).

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