Between the Pacific Ocean and California’s eastern deserts, bordering Nevada and Arizona, surprisingly there are a few places to go out for a paddle. The Salton Sea is the largest body of water in the area for a paddle while the Arizona/California border the mighty Colorado River flows southbound. Other smaller lakes and state recreation areas dot the southern California landscape providing a refuge from the summer heat and an outdoor playground for active folks.

Easy Kayaking Spots in Southern California

Lake Hemet, Lake Havasu, and Lake Cuyamaca are great places for leisurely paddles, first-timers, and those with children. The calm waters are perfect for getting a safe outdoor experience. 

Lake Hemet

Hemet Lake is a beautiful space perfect for a paddle with the family. The area is home to great hikes that nature lovers will enjoy. Wildlife is plentiful- be on the lookout for mountain lions, mule deer, and bears. Fishing is also popular with a healthy population of bluegill and bass.

Where to launch:

Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu shares a border with both western Arizona and eastern California. It is fed by the Colorado River and is popular for boating, water sports, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Many come to the area to see the famous London Bridge. Those on a paddle should be warned that there are water skiers and wakeboarders so maintain your distance.

Where to launch:

Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca is a great place for kayaking with the waters being surrounded by oak and pine trees. The area is more peaceful than others in the county making it an ideal place for a paddle in silence. Note fishing from your kayak can be done between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Fishing from the shoreline is permitted year-round.

Where to launch:

Imperial Refuge Wilderness 

Located in the Sonoran Desert, the Imperial Refuge Wilderness is a pleasant surprise given its lush river in the middle of the hottest and driest conditions in the US. The area is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and was stability as a refuge wilderness in 1990.

Where to launch:

Difficult and Technical Kayaking in Southern California

The locations listed below are good for those with some experience. The sheet size of the Salton Sea means some wind exposure and changes in weather conditions that might make it more difficult to paddle. Regardless of where you choose to go always check local conditions.

Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Salton Sea State Recreation Area covers an area of 14 miles and is popular for camping, fishing, and paddling. The most popular corner is the northeastern side. A paddle here gives a unique perspective to the desert landscape and its wildlife. Birders will enjoy the large flocks and different types of birds.

Where to launch:

Diamond Valley Lake

Diamond Valley Lake is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in California. It is popular for black bass fishing but also has bluegill, sunfish, rainbow trout, and catfish. Small kayaks, such as the Tandem Canoe, are not allowed. Touring and recreational kayaks with seating for all passengers inside the boat must be at least 10 feet long and capable of transporting two or more people. Sit-on-top kayaks are prohibited.

Where to launch:

Colorado River

The Colorado River is 1450 miles long, the sixth-longest waterway in the US, and passes through seven states. It runs on the southeastern border of California and the western part of Arizona before going through Mexico and emptying out in the Gulf of California. The river is a great refuge for the desert cities that dot Riverside County and the surrounding areas and is popular for boating, camping, and fishing. 

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National / State Park Kayaking Spots near Southeastern California

Southeastern California has many state recreation areas. The most popular is Big Bear Lake Recreation Area. The others listed below are smaller, intimate recreation areas but great for a paddle.

Lake Perris State Recreation Area

Lake Perris State Recreation Area is home to an artificial lake in Moreno Valley. The park offers a number of outdoor activities including fishing, boating, paddling, swimming, bird watching and hiking. A short drive from Riverside makes it a local favorite.

Where to launch:

Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area

Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area hosts a shallow lake. Located in San Bernadino Mountains desert foothills the area is a common getaway for those seeking nature. Wildlife is present so keep your eyes out for deer and many types of birds. Those on a paddle may want to bring out the fishing gear as there are opportunities to catch your next meal.

Where to launch:

Yucaipa Regional Park

Yucaipa Regional Park is a popular beach in the summertime when swimmers dot the lagoon and play on the water slides. Just outside of Oak Glen, Redlands the area hosts three different lakes. Kayaks can opt for some fishing as the lakes are stocked with trout between November and April and catch between May and September. 

Where to launch: 

Big Bear Lake Recreation Area

Big Bear Lake Recreation Area is an excellent place for swimming, fishing, and camping. The area is popular for its scenic beauty and easy access. There are several hiking trails in the area, as well as a playground and picnic tables. Kayakers will enjoy the many lakes and streams in the area. Canoe and paddleboat rentals are also available around the lake.

*SUP Friendly

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Recommended Kayaking Tours in The Rockies

Bear Lake Kayak or Canoe – Seward

Families will enjoy the calm waters of Bear Lake and be surrounded by sockeye salmon as they paddle. The area is home to black and brown bears and your guide will be able to point them out for you. This tour is perfect for those wanting a leisurely paddle or one with the kids. 

Need to Know for  Southern California

California is the third-largest state in the United States. The eastern border of the state is defined by the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The southern border is defined by the Tehachapi Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains. The northern border is defined by the California-Oregon border. The state has a diverse landscape, with coastal plains in the west, mountains and high desert in the east, and Central Valley in the middle. The Central Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Southeastern California includes Mohave County, San Bernandino, and Riverside County. Mohave is characterized by desert landscape and hot weather.  While San Bernandino and Riverside County are known for more pleasant weather.

When to Visit South East California

Beyond going for a paddle there are many events in the area. The most popular events include the Coachella Music Festival in April and the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films in July. Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is hosted in the month of June. While the Riverside County Fair is held each February.

Weather in San Bernandino

San Bernadino County is located in southern California and has a typical Mediterranean climate or dry-summer subtropical climate. There are two main seasons, a dry season from April to October, and a wet season from November to March. The weather is warm and dry during the day, with average temperatures ranging from 18-25 degrees Celsius, and cool at night. The climate is perfect for kayaking during the dry season when the days are sunny and the water is calm.

If you find yourself in Palm Springs, the desert areas of California, or the Sonoran Desert the weather gets drastically warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. The Sonoran Desert is a region located in the northwestern part of Mexico and the southwestern United States. The region experiences very hot summers and mild winters. The average high temperature in July is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low temperature in January is 34 degrees Fahrenheit. The region also experiences very little rainfall, with an average of fewer than 10 inches per year. This lack of rainfall contributes to the desert’s hot and dry climate.

Our recommendation is to paddle during spring and fall to beat the heat. Winter is great too as there aren’t any crowds.

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