Kayaking the Los Angeles River (Glendale Narrows) - August 2013

Recently, I was able to participate in a kayaking tour of the Los Angeles River with L.A. River Expeditions

Most of you may know the L.A. "river" as that runway for the car race in Grease (and similar scenes in other movies) and think "Kayaking? With no water?".

Things have changed thanks in part to L.A. River Expeditions. They explain their involvement in this important initiative on their website:
"Our original mission was to protect the Los Angeles River via the Clean Water Act by proving its navigability. We defended valuable watershed conservation laws by paddling the 51 miles of the river in canoes and kayaks, from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, on July 25th-27th, 2008. Two years later, in July 2010, our actions proved integral to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision that the entire L.A. River is a "traditional navigable waterway," giving it all the federal protections of a real river.
L.A. River Expeditions believes that the more people develop a relationship with the river, the more they will play an active role in its protection and revitalization."

Starting last year they led kayaking tours of a section of the river over a 10-week period (between Memorial Day and Labor Day). Spots on these tours were limited and I didn't hear about it in time to grab one but this year I was ready and got my ticket right away.

Here's where we were:

View L.A. River Pilot Recreation Zone - Summer 2013 in a larger map

The revitalization of the river and the plan to make a park on the shore (called the L.A. River Master Plan) is not without controversy. Some believe kayaking and rafting the river disrupts wildlife and pollutes the river. Others are concerned about how a park like this would increase property values in the area which is home to many lower income Angelenos who rent apartments there and might be forced to leave if rents increase. I'll definitely have my eye on the project as it moves forward. I hope they can come to some compromise with area residents.

I have to say I was a bit nervous. I'd never kayaked in a river before (only ocean marinas a couple of times) and the word "rapids" didn't reassure me. Plus, there was that 2 mile bike ride at the end - I hadn't ridden a bike since I was a kid! I really had no idea what to expect, but that's where the adventure comes in, right?

We arrived at the "put-in" spot, got geared up with life jackets and helmets, and took the kayaks down to the river. After a quick lesson we were out in the water with the 3 guides getting ready to begin the journey.

Before kayaking the river I was nervous I'd get stuck on rocks since the water level is low in many areas. After my first 2 minutes on the river I learned that I would indeed get stuck on rocks, many, many times but getting unstuck just took some hip action and scooting around on the kayak. The current isn't really strong enough to throw you out of the kayak if it gets stuck. Yes, there were rapids, but not waterfall-style ones and I never feared for my life.

The guides were really great about telling us when to stop so they could get out of their kayaks and steer us down the rapids one-by-one. At one point, we stopped to talk about the history of the river and the importance of its revitalization.

While parts of the river have concrete sides, other areas are all green and many birds and other wildlife were around. We saw at least one Great Blue Heron, cormorants, and 2 Green Herons (one of the only times I've seen them). There were also many other birds (swallows nesting?), butterflies and dragonflies.

Great Blue Heron and cormorant

Green Heron

It was pretty difficult at points but I learned to steer around rocks and had a great time being out on the water. It was very peaceful. At the end we loaded the kayak into a truck and grabbed the bikes to ride back to the starting point.

If you're interested in kayaking the river, I believe there are still some spots left this season and you can always go without the tour if you have your own raft or kayak. They said they even saw someone paddleboarding. I highly recommend it. Just be sure to go before it closes for the season on Labor Day.