Don’t expect things to flow quickly if you canoe down the L.A. River

Photo by U.S. Army Corp of Engineers/Flickr

A proposal to open up the L.A River through Cypress Park and Elysian Valley to boating this summer conjures up images of a lazy afternoon spent drifting down stream. The reality, however, will be much different.  In fact, it sounds like anyone who attempts to kayak or canoe the approximately 2-1/2 mile section of the river south of Fletcher Drive will spend a lot of their time carrying and dragging their boat or riding in cars and shuttle buses.

“There will be paddling. There will be dragging,” said Walter Young with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, which will help provide security and maintenance during the pilot program. “This is a challenging trip.”

Young made his remarks during a recent meeting about  The L.A. River Recreational Zone,  which would open the river south of Fletcher Drive to canoeing, hiking and other recreational for a three-month period beginning Memorial Day.  But anyone anyone who thinks they will be able to float down the river on an inner-tube or race across it on a jet ski will be disappointed.  They are not allowed.  Only non-motorized canoes and kayaks will be permitted, and they can only enter and exit the river at specific points.

Getting those canoes into and out of the water will also be a complex and perhaps time-consuming process. While boats will enter the river near the Fletcher Drive bridge in Elysian Valley, some of the boaters will have to park their cars and trucks under the 5 Freeway near the Cypress Park Home Depot. Getting back to those vehicles will mean taking a shuttle bus that runs along Riverside Drive. The process may seen “cumbersome” but it’s not unusual for kayakers and canoists, Young.

But once those boaters get into the river, it’s not guaranteed the water will be deep enough to support a canoe or kayak. The boaters will have to prepare for a fair amount of portaging  to get across rocky crossing, Young said. In fact, Young said there will be a long walk from where the boaters have to exit the river and get to Oso Park, where a shuttle bus will take people back to their vehicles.

How long will this 2-1/2 mile long journey down the L.A. River take? Perhaps two to three hours – not including the shuttle ride  – for those are familiar with that section of the river, said, George Wolfe, President of L.A. River Expeditions. “More [time] if you’ve boated before but have never been through it; a whole lot more if you’ve never boated at all.”


  1. I’ve kayaked with LA River Expeditions over a year ago out in the valley. Even out there the water wasnt terribly deep, our kayaks scraped at times and we had to get out and walk across the slippery rocks more that twice. Overall it was a unique experience, we saw lots of native wildlife including a couple of herons. However, it felt like we were navigating the river just to prove that it could be done. It’s worth trying, but I’m not sure many will be making return trips.

  2. Doesn’t sound lika a great time!

  3. While I appreciate the efforts of environmentalists and others to establish the LA River as a “navigable waterway,” which helps qualify it for protection under the Clean Water Act, I kinda doubt there are going to be many folks taking up the opportunity. It sounds more like hiking … but with a canoe.

  4. This is a direct extension from the initial kayaking program that took place on the stretch of LA River through the Sepulveda Basin a couple summers ago, which was awesome, and proved to be very successful. This may seem like too much work to some, but I look forward to being able to participate in such a unique enterprise that can serve to show us our misbegotten waterway is something more than a drainage ditch.

    But in the meantime, there’s always waterbiking.

  5. One could use one of the many abandoned shopping buggies to cart the canoes when the sewer is too low to support a float.

    • in the past there have been a few things that we didn’t see eye to eye on Beanteam, but that is really funny.

  6. I’ll say it again: this whole idea is ludicrous. I am an experienced kayaker, and the River is about the last place I would ever consider launching a boat. Especially one that was my own. A wooden, plastic or fiberglass boat will be ruined by hitting and scraping on rocks or cement. An inflatable boat will last about 5 minutes. Add to the mix even a small number of inexperienced boaters, wading on slippery rocks, trying to keep their boat afloat, or falling and injuring themselves, and you’ve got a disaster. If there are any egrets or herons left in the River after a week of this nonsense, I can just picture them laughing their beautiful heads off at the insanity of us.

    Come on, people. Anyone who frequents the River on a regular basis knows that the Narrows is already home to myriad recreational activities. Here’s what you can already do to experience the River without putting yourself, the wildlife, or an expensive boat at risk: ride your bike or walk along the bank paths, both sides (for heart-stopping excitement and dodge-ball exercise, stroll the bike path at rush hour); walk down along the channel itself; sit and watch the water and wildlife at one of the several pocket parks or anywhere along the banks; explore the grounds of the old train yards (more fun when the old buildings were still there); chat with fellow strollers and people who live along the path; feed the ducks and appreciate the beauty of the bird life without intruding into their habitats; go fishing; take photos or paint pictures of a million wonderful views; picnic at Marsh Park or Rio de Los Angeles; fly a kite (there are places where the wind just rips through the channel); and you could even paint out some graffiti or pick up some trash! And, hey, the cellphone reception is actually pretty good down there, so go and tweet! Think of it this way: the River is yours to appreciate, not to conquer—the Army Corps has already done that for us, and introducing a few foolhardy kayakers aren’t the way to make the concrete disappear.

    And, while I’m at it, don’t you think that spending money on an activity that admittedly (see above) is going to attract no more than a few people is maybe kind of elitist? Unless there is (god forbid) a boat rental concession, only a select few boat owners are going to be able to take advantage of this activity. This seems to be a divisive and not very inclusive use of pubic property. Why not use whatever monies are allotted for this nonsense to fix up the path on the east side of the Narrows for pedestrian use? End of essay.

    • Sue, I think the point is to offer the public the option to go down the river if they would like to do so, not to “conquer” it or make the “concrete channel disappear.” Water flows and velocities like those often found in that stretch of the river are actually preferable for people who aren’t as “experienced” as yourself. And wouldn’t a boat rental actually reduce elitism by allowing people to enjoy one of your favorite recreational activities, but who don’t have the money to buy a kayak? There isn’t a surrogate for getting low in a boat and floating down a river in an urban environment. I’m sorry, but baseless conjecture and anecdotes delivered in a condescending tone don’t hold much water (pun intended).

  7. On the other hand, it has been said in the fly-fishing world where many battles over rivers have been waged, that ‘a river that has no friends is in danger,’ and I’ll add great danger.

    Unless some group like Nature Conservancy drops a load of heaven-sent, sudden moola, the LA River needs more friends. Even kayakers who will ruin boats.

  8. Last year, out of curiosity, I tried the city’s kayak program at Balboa Lake in the valley. Getting certified was a total ordeal:

    FIRST you must prove you can swim (Swim Verification), which means scheduling an appointment at a city pool to prove you can tread water while fully dressed for 10 minutes. This earns you a signed blue form.

    NEXT you take the blue form to Lake Balboa during business hours with a $25 check (no credit cards, no cash) to secure a spot for orientation, given sometime the following month (orientation is given one day a month).

    AFTER a month later, you bring the blue form to orientation and receive your basic instructions.

    LASTLY, if you ever want to go kayaking, you 1) have to get there before 9am and 2) use a lap pass ($60) which gets you 25 independent uses (of course, you can also use lap pass for city pool access throughout the city.)

    A novel adventure, but I spent way more effort out of the water than in it. If this is the way of it, I expect the pre-kayak certification/kayak hauling /portaging/shuttling to be dream-crushing and disappointing for the curious and uncertified kayaker.


  9. This could make a good mockumentary.

  10. A few months ago a buddy and myself kayaked all the way from the sepulveda dam to Los Feliz Bl. Its doable, we even capsized near where all the birds congregate at the north end of the bike bath. Standard canoe , no damage, except when we lost what was left of the whiskey when we capsized. Ended up walking through warm ankle deep water 3 miles where the river goes under the 134/5 area. We had a 2 man canoe. A single flat bottom raft would be much better, less draft.

  11. The Army Corps could possibly be convinced to let kayakers make a more navigable kayaking channel. I’ve been kayaking in urban rivers where the route was completely fabricated – I’m sure they could improve this one a great deal if some rocks and boulders got pushed around – even more if they created some check dams. I do agree, we can’t forget that there are other ways in which the river can be enjoyed and these should be promoted (we should add temporary summertime amenities to the banks), as most people will not be happy to portage in a river filled with urban trash.

  12. This may be a stupid question, but is there a way to use temporary dams much like they do in Tempe, AZ to create the Tempe Town Lake? That lake has changed the entire landscape of that city. It cools the air, and people do go out on boats. The LA river seems wide enough to me to be turned into a nice waterway with a little help.

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