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Cruise Down the Sacramento River With Paddle California

06/22/2016 11:25PM ● By Sue Ralston

Paddling Paradise

July 2016
By Sue Ralston
Photo: Erin Claassen

Early this fall, a group of about 40 paddlers of all kinds will take a 100-mile trip down the Sacramento River, from Redding to Chico, enjoying the unique flora and fauna of the river while they travel. With four days of paddling and three nights of camping, they’ll clock about 25 miles each day, stopping along the river for lunch. 

The event, called Paddle California, has been going on for years, but is now being run by Chico-based Sacramento River Preservation Trust. “Our goal is to get people out on the river, experiencing it firsthand, in order to drive home the message that preservation is crucial,” says Lucas RossMerz, the trust’s program manager. 

The cost of the trip includes all meals, trained river guides, shuttling of all gear and a chartered van to transport participants back from Chico to Redding. Paddlers – using kayaks, canoes and even stand-up paddleboards – travel at a leisurely pace for about five to six hours a day. Experience isn’t required, but the group offers training clinics in advance for those who want to get their feet wet and gain some skills beforehand. Participants must know how to swim and must wear personal flotation devices while on the water. 

At 447 miles in length, the Sacramento is California’s largest river. It carries about a third of the state’s total surface runoff. The stretch traveled during the trip is considered safe, with no named rapids. With very little woody debris, it’s also smooth sailing most of the way. “It’s an awesome stretch of river. It’s amazing to have this kind of wilderness sandwiched in between the freeways. It’s not a remote section of the river, but it makes you think you’re in a remote area,” says Joe Arbuckle of Headwaters Adventure in Redding, which sponsors some gear swaps and partners with the river trust.

    The beauty and renown of the Sacramento draws not just locals to the paddle trip, but adventurers from the Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest and as far away as Canada and England. “It’s a special time because our group gets to know each other and they end up exchanging numbers and keeping in touch,” says RossMerz. And, he says, the river is higher and safer in the summer, with flows that he predicts will be “phenomenal” this year because Shasta Dam is full

        “The north end, just before Red Bluff, was my favorite part,” says Jay Henderson, anexperienced kayaker from Redding who went last year. “The water gets really smooth down near Chico. We turned off of the main river onto a slough, out of the main flow of the current and had our meal there. It was beautiful and peaceful.” Henderson also notes with appreciation that in the evenings, live music was provided by local musicians who met the group at its campsite.

Those who go on the trip can bring their own equipment or rent it. They’re offered ample opportunity to try out new gear, too. “We want to help people find the best equipment for their needs,” says RossMerz. “Maybe it’s someone’s first time trying the new carbon fiber paddles or a stand-up paddle board.”

When the paddlers come off the water to their campsites at night, there’s a catered dinner, entertainment and resource speakers. Last year, Bill Kuntz of the Bureau of Land Management spoke about the history and uses of the land and river. Part of the river trust’s mission in putting on Paddle California is to promote a healthy environment in which to do paddle sports. As they work to preserve threatened and endangered species, they also highlight the benefits of partnership between agencies and the paddle industry. Those who take the trip are offered the chance to engage with professional retailers to make sure they’re getting in the right boat to accomplish their goals as paddlers. 

“Every kid in Redding should be going down this river,” RossMerz says. “They should be touching, fishing, hiking this river. It’s a clean resource and an amazing place to learn. Once you learn, you open up the world; there’s always a river. It’s the line that connects us all together.” 

Paddle California 2016  • Sept. 29 – Oct. 2

Sacramento River Preservation Trust: (530) 345-1865