14 Epic Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Los Angeles
By Natalie Ringel
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Updated November 17, 2022
Los Angeles is blessed with great weather all year-round. That being said, there is no reason to waste these beautiful days by sitting inside. Instead, try canoeing and kayaking in Los Angeles! With inexpensive rentals and minimal coordination required, this is the perfect activity for anyone looking for an outdoor adventure. With sandy shorelines, crystal clear waters, and breathtaking cliffs, Los Angeles is the perfect place to try kayaking for the first time or hone your skills.
Below is a list of the best spots to canoe and kayak in Los Angeles. The scenic spots are a hot-spot for wildlife, especially fish and birds. Whether you want calm waters for a relaxing paddle or Class IV rapids, LA has it all.
Best Spots to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Los Angeles
Castaic Lake State Recreational Area
Location: Castaic, CA
Rentals Available: Yes
A principle part of California’s State Water Project, Castaic Lake State Recreational Area features 29 miles of beautiful shoreline, and contains two bodies of water. For canoeing and kayaking, head to Lower Lake for a scenic escape from the city and loud power-boats. Kayaking also is allowed on the upper reservoir, which includes more than 2,200 acres and 29 miles of shoreline and coves to explore.
If visiting, paddling to the 425-foot tall Castaic Dam is one major attraction in this beautiful reservoir. The park also lies next to Angeles National Forest- a great spot for an afternoon hike and lunch!
Just 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, Castaic Lake is a must for canoe and kayakers of all abilities. Kayaks, paddleboards and pedal-driven hydra bikes ($25 an hour; $75 for five hours on Saturdays and Sundays) are available for rent on weekends.
How to Get There: Take US-101 N towards Sacramento, then I-5 N towards Castaic to Castaic Road.
Location: Van Nuys, CA
Rentals Available: Yes- at Wheel Fun ($6 to $11/hour)
Located just north of the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley, Lake Balboa’s still waters provide the perfect environment for novice paddlers to improve their skills! A peaceful 27-acre oasis, Lake Balboa resides in Beilenson Park which is open everyday until sunset. Because this lake is on the smaller side, it is perfect for a novice paddler to get some practice under their belt.
These “flat waters” are wonderful for birdwatching and fishing- and for newcomers L.A. City Parks offers a learn-to-kayak program! Whether you’re looking for an easy nature paddle or trying to improve your skills, Lake Balboa is a great place to explore.
The park rents hand-cranked boats and pedal boats shaped like giant swans through Wheel Fun($6 to $11 an hour). 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.
How to Get There: Take the US-101 N exit toward Ventura/Ventura Fwy, then take exit 21 for Balboa Blvd to get to Lake Balboa.
There’s no better place to cool off from the California sunshine than Puddingstone Reservoir in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park. With five miles of shoreline to paddle down and beaches to swim around, there is plenty for all ability levels to explore in this park.
With over 250 species of birds spotted around the reservoir, this lake is guaranteed to have abundant wildlife and is clean, as motorized boats are not allowed on the reservoir- go check it out!
Kayaking near Los Angeles is easy with Wheel Fun Rentals (kayaks start at $12 an hour, pedal boats at $20 and stand-up paddleboards, $12) at the swim beach and east shore. Visitors can bring their own kayaks and boats, but they must be inspected before entering the water.
How to Get There: Start on 101-S to San Bernardino Freeway towards E Via Verde St., then to Raging Waters Dr. and Puddingstone Dr.
A hot-spot for beginners, Huntington Harbor’s protected waters have a smooth and subtle current that will have your cruising around the beach! With tons of canals to discover, Huntington Harbor is perfect for thrill-seekers who want to experience something new (especially in the northwest corner of the beach).
Single kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent at OEX– $20 for up to two hours; a double kayak costs $30 for two hours. Typically, guided tours around the harbor last about 90 minutes.
If tired of canoeing and kayaking, feel free to test out the pedal boats also available for rent at the beach, $30 for two hours for singles, and $55 for doubles. If launching your own boats, head to Seabridge Park or Trinidad Island Park for a free launch into the water.
How to Get There: Start on 101-S, toward San Diego, then take exit 20 for Bolsa Chica Road to Wanderer Ln.
Located in the heart of Orange County, Newport Back Bay is the largest estuary in Southern California, and a huge destination for kayakers of all levels.
Newport’s coastline offers views of million dollar homes and tiny islands near the Balboa peninsula. Paddling south of the harbor you will find the scenic rock cliffs of Corona Del Mar. Here, you can paddle through Arch Rock, a naturally formed rock bridge coming out of the water. Although it can get a little windy, exploring rock cliffs and caves is definitely a must only list!
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 3naturalist every Saturday and Sunday morning year-round. Newport Bay Conservancy also offers tours that are great for novice paddlers and has rentals for $15 an hour.
How to Get There: Take US 101- S to CA-73 S towards San Diego, then take Jamboree Rd to Back Bay Rd.
Located in Long Beach, Alamitos Bay is a family-friendly protected harbor with still waters great for novice paddlers. Whether you enjoy looking at luxury homes on the shoreline or finding peace in nature, Alamitos Bay is one of the most popular places to kayak near Los Angeles.
The northern part of the bay is home to The Los Cerritos wetlands, a popular spot for birds and other wildlife. The canals running through Naples Islands also offer boat-free relaxation.
Kayaks and SUPs are available from Kayak Rentals; kayaks cost $12 an hour per person for singles and doubles; SUPs cost $25 per hour, with instruction included. A typical tour of the canals takes about 45 minutes, and you can even paddle to six restaurants. If launching your own boat, head to Naples Landing, Mothers Beach, or Marine Stadium launch spots.
How to Get There: Take US 101-S towards San Diego, then onto Studebaker Rd. toE Marina Dr.
Location: Castaic, CA
Rentals Available: No
Hidden among interstate I-5 in the Angeles National Forest, Pyramid Lake is known for its fishing and peaceful paddle conditions. Pyramid Lake is known for being windy, especially in the afternoon, so be careful and hold onto your hats!
Novice paddlers should definitely explore the first four coves on the eastern side of the lake, a perfect hideaway from the wind, and conveniently located by the Tin Cup picnic area (food is fuel!). If you’re an early riser, get out on the water- deer are usually spotted grazing on the Priest and Glory Hole Coves.
If launching your own boat, head over to Emigrant Landing Launch for free entry. Trust me, you won’t want to miss the vivid hues of green and blue that appear on Pyramid Lake.
How to Get There: Take I-5 N towards Sacramento, then take exit 191 for Vista Del Lago Rd.
Santa Cruz Island
Location: Santa Cruz
Rentals Available: Yes
Arguably the most popular island for sea kayaking near Los Angeles, Santa Cruz Island has hundreds of sea caves to explore- most notably Santa Cruz Island’s Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world.
Tons of companies offer tours of the island and its caves. Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers a deluxe all-inclusive Painted Cave day trip that departs from Santa Barbara harbor on a charter vessel equipped with hot showers and all the gear you’ll need. You’ll enjoy breakfast and hopefully some whale-watching en route to Santa Cruz Island, where you’ll then hit the water in kayaks for a day of exploring. Remember to pack a good headlamp to light up the multi-hued cave walls, with colors caused by lichen and minerals.
Besides kayaking, the Island is known for awesome snorkeling and adventures to kelp forests and radical rock formations. Scorpion Anchorage is another well-known spot to paddle around the island.
Sea kayaking is a new level of paddling- novices beware! These tours are for all levels, but you might be sore the next day!
How to Get There: Visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara are readily accessible by car or public transportation, but getting straight to Santa Cruz Island requires taking a ferry run by Island Packers (offered 5-7 days a week, hour-long ride).
Location: Palmdale, CA
Rentals Available: No
A rustic, small getaway, Lake Hughes is the perfect spot for a relaxing paddle and lunch on the water. Don’t be like the others and overlook this gem! Because of its small size, Lake Hughes is never too crowded and great for beginners.
Lake Hughes is located right across from the Rock Inn- a must-see historical landmark. Known for its kayaking, fishing, and hiking, Lake Hughes is a little slice of heaven. An afternoon of paddling around an area with a rich history is just what you need to have a stress-free weekend.
How to Get There: Start on US 101-N towards Sacramento, then I-5 N towards Castaic to Lake Hughes Rd.
Bursting with life, Marina Del Ray Harbor is an awesome place to explore all LA has to offer! Paddlers can peruse Fisherman’s Village along the coast, a strip of cute shops and restaurants. Marina Del Ray offers eight protected canals for smooth and ideal paddling.
Kayaking through Marina Del Ray is always an exhilarating experience; wildlife, including leopard sharks, can be spotted all around. This popular spot can get crowded, so it is recommended to get out on the water as soon as possible.
The Pro SUP Shopat Mother’s Beach offers stand-up paddleboards and kayak rentals ($30 an hour for a single, $40 for a double). Standard paddleboard rentals cost $30 an hour, and lessons are also offered. Marina Del Ray Boat Rentals also has tons of rental options ready to go right on the beach!
If launching your own boat, head to Mother’s Beach or Marina Del Ray Launch Ramp for free entry to the water.
How to Get There: Start on I-10 W towards Long Beach, then CA-1 S to Playa Vista onto Via Marina Rd.
Kern River Rafting
Rentals Available: No
Kern River Rafting offers a multitude of crazy white water rafting tours the whole family can enjoy! The river rafting tours explore the Upper, Lower, and Forks of the Kern River. Tours range from one day, to overnight, to two day rafting adventures.
Cruising through Class IV rapids, this adventure is not for the weak-hearted. Miles of rapids, waves, and rockfall scenery provide a beautiful backdrop for this epic journey.
Kayaking near Los Angeles doesn’t get more convenient than the L.A. River. Once the weather warms up, the L.A. River becomes open to the public for a summer of amazing paddles. There are two zones open for kayaking. First is The Elysian Valley zone in the the Glendale Narrows. The only part of the river without a concrete base, you will find grassy lands all around. This part of the river is swift-moving, with Class I and II rapids along the way.
The other zone open to the public is The Sepulveda Basin zone near Lake Balboa. This area of the river has calmer waters and tree-lined banks. For this new to paddling, this is a great place to start.
If looking to kayak in the Elysian Valley zone, you must launch you boat from Rattlesnake Park, a sandbar before the currents. If looking to launch near The Sepulveda Basin zone, there are many spots along the coast to enter and exit the river. Rental kayaks and boats are available atL.A. River Kayaks.
How to Get There: Start on E Olympic Blvd to S Santa Fe Ave. From there, head to E 26th St. to bring you to the river.
Located just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California,Catalina Island boasts coves and clear waters that make it ideal for spotting wildlife while kayaking. Observant paddlers can catch a glimpse of California’s state marine fish, golden orange garibaldis, in addition to leopard sharks, dolphins, and other marine life.
Catalina Island’s 52 miles of coastline can be explored on a solo journey or through the tons of guided tours on the island. Kayak and SUP rentals are available from DBOS, and are priced by the hour, giving you total control over how much time you want to spend exploring this beautiful place.
Although it takes a little planning to get to Catalina Island, the shorelines are accessible to all levels, making it a great island-getaway. This paddle offers a truly unique experience kayaking near the Los Angeles area without having to spend big bucks on a vacation.
How to Get There: You can get to Catalina Island by boat or helicopter. There are daily ferry departures from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point to Avalon and Two Harbors, and helicopters from Newport Beach.
Additional Resources for Kayaking in Los Angeles
What to Pack for Kayaking and Canoeing in Los Angeles
Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare men’s and women’s styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair ofsunglassesand croakies to keep them from falling off.
Hat: It’s best to keep the sun off of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip withthese cool water bottles.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringingsunscreen and bug spray in the boat with you to ward off any pests and sunburns.
Related Links to Canoeing and Kayaking in Los Angeles
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