Photo Credit: Jim Snyder
Riparian Oak Forests on the Cosumnes River
Northern California is a goldmine of spectacular paddling getaways, and the Cosumnes River is one of the best. Those who have experienced paddling this magical river count it among their most cherished memories. The Cosumnes River Preserve lies nestled between Sacramento and Stockton, before the Cosumnes River enters the delta and flows to the Pacific Ocean. This sprawling scenic waterway is home to California's largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state of California. Paddlers can quietly glide through the lush woodland as the meandering river winds through a 6700-acre preserve filled with wildlife.
While California has plenty of rapids to delight the whitewater kayaker, many rewarding experiences can also be found paddling calmer flat water routes with jaw dropping scenery. The leisurely, quiet nature of flat water kayaking also lends itself to a wide array of wildlife viewing and photographing. Imagine it’s a warm, idyllic spring day, with just the tiniest hint of a cool breeze, and you’re drifting through an incredible riparian corridor as only paddlers can. A screeching bird dives from the treetops and soars past you, as you watch it glide over the hidden sloughs.
Around the next bend, you might see a beaver as you paddle through the wetlands in search of the abundant wildlife. The best time to observe waterfowl is during the winter months, either at sunrise or sunset. It's that magic moment when the sun envelops nature with a mystical glow. The water surface is momentarily turned to fire, and casts its warm, reflected rays over the feeding waterfowl. Geese, more than other species of waterfowl, seem to capture our imaginations. Who has not felt a sense of awe at the sight of migrating flights in long, undulating lines or great V's as they pass high overhead? Such idyllic scenes can be captured by the camera for a lifetime of memories. Exploring wildlife with a telephoto lens is a marvelous way to photograph the many species of birds and untold numbers of otters, beaver and turtles that make the Cosumnes Preserve their home.
The Cosumnes River is the last free-flowing river from the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Central Valley. It is the only remaining unregulated river on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas. The Cosumnes River Preserve was created to safeguard this extraordinary countryside. The Cosumnes River Preserve is over 46,000 acres. The majority of the preserve stretches east to west along the Cosumnes River corridor, between Interstate 5 and Highway 99.
The put-in is located at the Cosumnes River Preserve where the Cosumnes River meets the tidelands of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. The Cosumnes River Preserve has a boat ramp, small dock, and canoe/kayak launching area just south of the visitor parking lot. You can unload at the upper parking lot in designated areas, and park your vehicle. Follow the paved path at the northeast corner of the visitor parking lot to reach the dock. Due to the 200 yard distance from the parking lot to the launch, paddlers are encouraged to use carts or wheels, which are available for lending at the visitor center. There are limited parking spaces so you might want to arrive early.
The visitor center is open and staffed by volunteers on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including holidays. The visitor center is open on weekdays, but hours may vary. There are public restrooms, free parking and no launch fee. The river has only rest stops and no other facilities.
Nature’s splendor can be enjoyed by outdoorsmen of varied interests. Some sit quietly in their kayak, watching patiently for the first nibble. On such carefree days friends gather to fish awhile, then after a pleasurable day of fishing, anglers head home, silently paddling along the shore during that peaceful time just before sunset, experiencing a sense of pure contentment. Fishing at the preserve is allowed only from a boat on the waters of the main channel of the Cosumnes River and sloughs accessible from the Mokelumne River, but fishing from the banks, bridge, or along the roadway is not permitted.