Big River, Again

I decided to paddle on Big River both days of my two-day visit to the Mendocino coast. It is a beautiful river and I hadn’t paddled all the way to the end on the first day. Mostly I wanted to watch the otters again.

I got out ahead of the 11:00 AM high tide Thursday morning. Unlike the day before, there were several other paddlers near the launch area under the bridge. I didn’t want human company, so I quickly paddled upstream far enough to have the company of only wild creatures.

In an hour I was further upstream than I had managed to get the day before, carried by the moon’s magic carpet ride—the flood tide.

The river narrowed quite quickly between steep and heavily wooded banks. There is practically no place to easily or safely exit a kayak to take a lunch or bathroom break. But it is very quiet and peaceful. A lovely Madrone tree leaned out over the river channel in search of sunlight.

I continued about three miles farther. I had to turn around where a tree had fallen across the river (more of a stream at this point) making further progress in a kayak complicated.

I saw pretty much the same cast of wild animal characters who had entertained me the day before. Many of them, like these Western Grebes, were in almost exactly the same place on the river that they had been the day before.

The otter family, though, had swum upstream more than a mile. They were not skittish in the least. I wondered if they recognized me from the day before and knew I would mind my manners, not approach them too closely, and just observe them.

They let me get within about ten meters. I watched their mutual grooming and snuggling.

Otters appeal to humans, I think, because they seem to enjoy communal full-body snuggling, like we may have enjoyed as young children, if lucky enough to grow up in a large, snuggly family.

This fellow, after crawling up on top of his buddy turned his head upside down and snoozed for a short while.

Note the upside down head of the fellow on top

I watched the otter family of six for a good half hour before leaving them to their antics. In a little more than three hours I paddled 12 miles, assisted each mile, both ways, by a current running in my direction.

If you plan a paddle here, check the tide charts so that you’re having lunch at high tide!

Here is a map of my journey on Big River.




Albion River

A trip to the Albion River can be a pleasant estuarine outing.

The Albion River is in Mendocino County a little north of the Navarro River (which California Highway 128 follows out to the Pacific).

The Albion stays open to the Pacificn in contrast to the Navarro, Gualala, and the Russian Rivers to the south—all of which have a tendency to close their mouths and become lagoons in the summer.

The Albion feels alive, as if it inhales and exhales briny water from the Eastern Pacific twice each day with the flooding and ebbing tidal currents.

Albion River Bridge

Highway One bridge over the Albion River

The Albion is home to familiar denizens of Northern California’s estuaries: Harbor Seals, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Osprey, Great Egrets, and Kingfishers, among much else.

It is the quiet that makes the Albion River so special.

An old road, unused since the area was logged off long ago, follows the north bank of the river. Remnants of the loggers’ docks and piers rot along the southern bank. Forests have grown back along the banks of the Albion.

As far as human noises go, all is quiet now save for the occasional drone of small aircraft passing overhead. You hear mostly birds: winds whistling in Cormorants’ wings; Ospreys whistling their delight in finding fish (and their splashing plunges into the river); Kingfishers scolding.

Soon after paddling upstream you leave modern human activity behind, save for a few empty houseboats moored quietly upstream.

Houseboat in Albion

The largest of the houseboats

When planning your paddling adventure on the Albion, here are some guidelines to keep ensure your trip is a success.

  1. Plan your trip to ride a flooding current upstream from the coastal launching area at the mouth.
  2. The Albion paddles best with about 3.5′ of water in it. (Less water than that and mudflats line the banks.) Don’t leave too early, and avoid launching after a minus tide.
  3. Remember that ebbing currents get going approximately 2 hours AFTER high tide. If you want to ride in on a flood, have lunch, and then ride the ebb back, look for a 5′ or better high tide that crests at about 10:00 to 10:30 AM.

Albion River, afternoon

Here’s the sign at the Albion Campground and Marina office:

Albion Signage

The current parking/kayak launching fee is $5.00 per adult. There is another campground a little further upstream along the northern bank, Schooner Landing.

Map of today’s trip: