Photo Credit Lyrinda Snyderman
the Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park
consult a tide log, to maximize the push of the
river in your favor each
way, instead of fighting
the incoming tide and gusty headwinds. Paddling
against the tide is possible, but it will require a
great deal more effort. Tidal effects go eight miles
Big River is an extremely enjoyable paddling destination for people of all sizes and ages. Even novice kayakers can navigate the river easily. There are no forks, so you cannot get lost. You can spend hours paddling along the river bank. It provides a pleasant, peaceful adventure on one of Mendocino County's prettiest rivers.
The river opens up onto a beautiful ocean beach, which at low tide you can hike out to and explore caves. Paddling out to the bay can be very tricky with strong currents, narrow, shallow opening, and incoming waves. The Big River empties into the Pacific Ocean and provides quite an astonishing contrast to the nearby coast. Here, time slows down, and the forest atmosphere prevails. Walking the beaches and tide pools is a great way to spend an afternoon. And the sunsets, of course, will be breathtaking.
The Big River wetlands include a wide range of habitats. It is home to an amazing array of wildlife, including river otter, black bear, beaver, mountain lion, bobcat, gray fox and harbor seal. The river is a haven for 22 species of fish, and over 130 bird species have been sighted to date, including Osprey, Northern Spotted Owl, Golden Eagle, Purple Martin, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and several species that are rare or threatened.
As the birds fly by
overhead, they head for a spacious wetland area that
has been preserved for their use. Osprey, Great
Blues and several other species of herons, and
innumerable wild and feral ducks use this as their
primary feeding and resting area.
Mendocino Headlands State Park, with its unique blend of peaceful trails, rugged coastline, and secluded beaches, features miles of hiking and biking trails that wind along the cliffs, giving outdoor enthusiasts spectacular views of sea arches and towering redwood forests. Nature has found the perfect protected spot for these magnificent trees to flourish.
There's a wide, well-maintained old logging trail that follows the right bank of the river for mman and nature live in harmony.
In any season, a visit to the Mendocino Headlands State Park will provide a memorable experience. Whether you visit in the spring to see the wildflowers bloom, or paddle on a crisp fall day, paddling Big River’s tranquil waters rejuvenates the powers of solitude and nature.
It’s that magical moment in the deep woods when the morning sun first cuts through the thick underbrush to cover the landscape with its warm rays. It's rare when you can truly get away from it all, yet be so close to Mendocino.
Resources: Rentals are available at Catch-a-Canoe on the south side of the river, reached by turning east on Comptche Ukiah road south of Big River bridge, and then, after a few hundred feet, turning north on the old Highway One and driving to the parking area where the old bridge used to be. Make sure you call ahead, since it is important to time your excursion to the tide.
Catch-a-Canoe address: Coast Highway and Comptche Ukiah Road, PO Box 487, Mendocino, CA 95460, 800-331-8884, 707-937-5615.
USE CAUTION WHEN PADDLING ON A RIVER:
As fun and exciting as it may be to kayak on a river, don’t forget that paddling on a river entails an amount of risk due to the elements of nature. Rivers have different behaviors throughout the year. River flows can be impacted by runoff from storms, snow melt and by the daily ebb and flow of the ocean tides. What once was flat water can quickly become Class I to Class III rapids after a recent storm, which is best left to paddlers who have the skills to maneuver around rocks, and strainers and who know how to read water. The drought in California has also affected the water level on many rivers in California. Paddlers should stay up-to-date on the conditions that affect paddling a river, such as river height and discharge, tidal schedules, river flows and current weather activity. Call before departing for current water level conditions. When paddling on a river, always go with two people who are familiar with the river. Why two? In case something happens to one of them, you won’t be left paddling down a river alone.