Kayak the LA River. It’s True, Los Angeles Has A River!

Patti and Larry looking like they do this all the time. They don’t.

We heard about this well-kept secret two years ago, during the off season. Between Memorial Day and the end of September, you can kayak the LA River… cowabunga, we got the last booking of the season!

LA Has a “Major River!”

LA is a desert. The only water you may see is the ocean. Maybe a little real lake like Toluca Lake, hidden behind homes. Reservoirs. Pools. Fountains.

Yet the LA River is natural, albeit mostly cement. It’s headwaters are the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains, flowing 50-ish miles from Canoga Park through the San Fernando Valley and Downtown Los Angeles, eventually to the ocean via Long Beach. When the river was originally free-flowing, it flooded frequently, formed alluvial flood plains along its banks, and was unpredictable. Floods are not good for houses and streets. So after a series of early 20th century devastating floods, the city tamed it by directing it through a concrete channel on a fixed course.

Concrete Channel? Like in Grease?? That storm channel, yes.

It’s not all dry cement, however. There’s a sweet stretch of water and wildlife to experience, if you know where to go. Get yourself to Frogtown, just north of where the 5 and 2 freeways intersect to LA River Kayak Safari.

This is going right thru the city.

You’ll find dates, details, maps and costs for booking a kayak trip on the LA River Kayak Safari website.

Here’s The Other Stuff… Nothing Bad, I Promise

  • You’re wet the whole time. I’m embarrassed to admit neither Larry nor I truly grasped that. Truth be told, we probably thought it was going to a Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a slow float. We dummies.
  • Step into the water, onto slimy boulders, sit in water in your kayak the whole trip. Consider where you carry your wallet, keys and phone… and let them lock your stuff up before you even start. It’s splashy, too.
  • No selfies for us (locked up the dry phones) but one kind kayaker got in a few shots of us, thank you nice lady. This was three hours of being totally “present,” stretching our brains and arms.
  • The water moves at a good clip. Not “I’m gonna DIE” fast, but enough to keep me on edge. Some baby Rapid Waters made me think “what did I get us into?” Take a breath and go. We got Woo Hoo’d by fellow kayakers at the end of those stretches.
  • It’s a beach cruiser bike ride first up-river to the kayaks, and at the end, you drag the kayaks back up the concrete walls and roll them on little skateboards about 1/8 mile to the storage yard near where you parked.
  • About that “dragging the kayaks up the concrete walls” part… the guides clearly realized Larry and I were challenged with wet, sandy shoes and Old People Bodies, and gave us jobs of carrying some paddles whilst youngsters did more dragging. The materials are very clear about being able to carry 50 lbs of stuff… but our arms were noodles and our shoes were slippy slidey.
  • The guides are awesome. Never once were we made to feel like dorks, or drags. We were clearly the oldest participants – others were ages maybe 12 through 50? But it appeared most of the others weren’t such athletes, either.
  • You’re taught how to paddle to avoid boulders. Yett the boats are like horses that know you don’t know how to do this, and take you over pretty much Every Damn Boulder anyway. Bam. Slam. Get stuck on top of boulders. Someone shoves you off. Get stuck in a kayak cluster with others. They ram you, you ram them. Teamwork! Good times!!
  • Bring dry clothes for after. As per above, we {head shaking at myself} didn’t. Dripping, sopping wet and sandy. Like Tom Hanks dragging himself onto the deserted island in Cast Away. Well… not that bad, we drove home barefoot, sitting on our picnic blankets. Laughing. Talking about all our mistakes. Tired. It was awesome.
  • You might get bit by mosquitos, if that worries you, smear on bug repellant.
  • Once home, take a hot soapy shower. This is not pure water. It’s pretty, and you can see the bottom of the two-feet of water, but still has plenty of city cooties.

LA River Kayak Safari is at www.lariverkayaksafari.org.

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