Los Angeles River. Some Angelenos actively avoid it. Others deny its existence. But it’s there. And it is beautiful. I recommend experiencing it on a kayak.
“Look at those black-necked stilts!” said our guide Steve Appleton, owner of LA River Kayak Safaris, pointing to a flock of delicate seabirds gliding a few inches above the water’s surface. Seated in my red kayak, I was too busy trying to navigate the next rapid, a narrow water trail that wound through a dense thicket of cattails.
“Sweep to the right!” Appleton gave the instructions.
Finally the water calmed down. As I looked around, I noticed local avians roaming along the banks. Above them was a lush canopy of native sandbar willows, which have a huge impact on the habitat, Appleton said.
You might not think of the Los Angeles River as a rip-roaring kayaking destination — after all, the channel is surrounded by buildings, train tracks and graffiti-lined walls — but you might be surprised. My recent excursion was a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city and a prime opportunity to learn about the importance of conservation. And it was a helluva ride.
“The LA River is a way to tell the story of Los Angeles’ history and to speculate about its future,” said Appleton, who is also deeply involved in the river’s restoration and revitalization (and actually owns 4.5 acres of it). “The part I enjoy most is the intimacy that results from kayaking together in this unlikely place of nature in the middle of the city.”
Interested in trying this educational escape? Here are answers to some questions you may have.
Wait, you can kayak on the LA River?
You can. Once an important water and food source for the native people of Los Angeles, the Tongwa, the LA River was previously free-flowing but received a makeover as a concrete channel after the devastating 1938 flood. For many years, it was considered too dry to even be considered a river, but in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a “conventional, navigable waterway.” The first official kayak tour took place in 2011, Led by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. This summer, the river will be open for kayaking, fishing and other activities until September 30.
OK, I’m intrigued. Where will I kayak?
Of the approximately 51-mile stretch of river from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, two sections can be navigated by kayak during the summer: a two-mile stretch in the Sepulveda Basin and a two-and-a-half-mile stretch. Elysian Valley, both managed by the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority since 2014. I chose an urban adventure through it frogtown, However the Sepulveda Basin section is also worth exploring and has a gentler and less urban feel.
Who will guide me?
has been recognized by MRCA (which often hosts special trips of its own), there are three official kayaking outfitters for the LA River:
LA River Kayak Safari: The organization leads two trips through the Elysian Valley stretch on weekends and one on Fridays. It takes organized groups to the river on Tuesdays and Thursdays (LA institutions). Native Ways 2 College And Hike Club recently went on a trip). The tours, which begin and end at Oso Park, cost $85 per person for a 2.5-hour experience that includes bike rides, history and environmental talks, training and plenty of time on the water.
LA River Expeditions: Founded by George Wolff when he a A three-day journey down the entire river In 2008 (which contributed to the EPA declaring the river “navigable”), LA River Expeditions currently offers Tour through both Elysian Valley and Sepulveda Basin With experienced guides. Sepulveda Basin excursions, which navigate shallow waters, are $50 per person and take place on Saturdays at 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Elysian Valley tours are $75 per person on select Saturdays at 11am and 2pm You can also arrange a private tour by contacting the team directly.
LA River Kayaks: Looking to go solo? LA River Kayaks rents equipment to kayakers comfortable exploring the river on their own, with dropoff and pickup points. There are two options: standardA 1.1-mile trip ($37.50), and experienced, including 2.5 miles ($57.50). Dr. Jeffrey Tipton, who runs the company, started the service after filming Wolf on his infamous 51-mile journey 15 years ago.
I have no kayaking experience – will I be able to do it? What should I bring?
Although being in good physical shape is recommended for any river romp, paddlers of all levels can kayak on the river. (Due to weight limits, check with your tour guide ahead of time if you are over 230 pounds.) My experience was exciting and peaceful. The rapids — Appleton ranked them from Class I to II — were manageable but surprisingly technical, as we had to navigate rock gardens, under low-hanging trees and around bamboo groves.
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 will get wet. Bring the appropriate gear for your phones, a dry bag and waterproof shoes (old tennis shoes work too). Most importantly, as Appleton says, “the most important criterion for the enjoyment of your trip is to be well-rounded.”
Is the water safe?
Pollution is a perennial concern for Angelenos, so residents can be wary of the river’s health. Fortunately, river safety and water quality are not only very important to the MRCA and outfitters, but are also actively monitored. Los Angeles Sanitation and Environmental staff sample and test the water twice a week and, based on bacteria levels, are assigned a color-coded status: green (good to go), yellow (proceed with caution). and red (off for all). Light beacons are also placed throughout the zone, along with the LA River Kayak Safari’s launch point, to indicate current reports. You can Stay updated here – It is especially important to do this after heavy rain. Appleton was proactive in alerting our group when bacteria levels were potentially unsafe, and we were only allowed on the water when the results were clear.
What will I see while kayaking?
In both kayaking areas, you’ll see an array of endemic waterfowl among the classic riparian vegetation (specifically, sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows). I saw ducks, coots and cormorants. Expect the usual ones mentioned above, as well as snowy egrets swooping under the willows, black-necked stilts strolling along the banks and Canada geese floating around. You’ll also likely spot what is the unofficial river mascot: the great blue heron, which is often seen stalking through the crowd. Aggressive arundo donax reeds. The urban birdwatcher’s paradise continues in the sky — look for feathered residents such as black-crowned night herons, red-winged blackbirds and even ospreys (large raptors that feed on local carp) as you Pass under bridges and around native and invasive plants, including those most important to conservation efforts.
What to do after the visit?
So you’ve just paddled the LA River — it’s time to celebrate and get your land legs back. In the Elysian Valley, head to local riverside spots such as Spoke Bicycle CafeWhich not only has great food, but also bikes for rent to continue your exploration, or Frogtown Brewery for Post-kaike cheers. At Sepulveda Basin, choose to further explore the recreation area surrounding the river – beautiful Anthony c. Lake Balboa at Belenson Park And SuihoEnA tranquil Japanese garden, come to mind.
Most importantly, after reflecting on your experience, consider getting involved in advocacy for the river. On tour, you’ll likely see the occasional plastic bag and piece of trash. It just serves as a reminder for the importance of water trail maintenance. Participate in the cleanup, as hosted by every Saturday Friends of the LA River, Or ask your tour guide about opportunities to help during your kayak trip. “This river is a work in progress, but it’s an inspiration for what restoration can do,” Appleton said.