A Noyo River kayak tour plus dinner with a view
A Noyo River kayak tour with Liquid Fusion Kayaks is a slow-paced 1½-hour easy kayak tour designed for all ages and abilities. Expect to see river otters, sea lions, seals, osprey, loons and a host of other wildlife, not to mention enjoy a peaceful outing on the water.
It was a deliciously warm late afternoon on the Noyo River as my kayak slipped away from the boat launch at Dolphin Isle Marina and RV Park in Fort Bragg, Calif. Fingers of sunlight filtered through the trees along the shore, dancing colorfully across the feathers of a nearby group of mallard ducks paddling lazily in the green water.
Just overhead, my eyes noticed an osprey looking down — perhaps wondering if it were worth the effort to go after a fish. Just off my bow, a harbor seal poked its head out of the water and eyed me as I raised my camera to see about capturing a quick portrait – ah, but he slipped underwater before I could click the shutter. I’d only been floating on the water for a few minutes, and yet I was already captivated by the magic of this river.
The Noyo River Meander
Therese Iknoian and I were here to paddle — well, really more like meander as the name says — for a couple of hours with Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne of Liquid Fusion Kayaks. The couple, both expert kayakers who can handle the most challenging of water, began offering the Noyo Meander to share a section of their Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, paddling backyard that is underappreciated, yet teaming with wildlife.
The Noyo Meander is billed as a placid water paddle, where you can wear your street clothes and enjoy an easy, comfortable kayak in a tandem, or single kayak (your choice). No getting wet – unless you splash a paddle mate! If you want, Cate and Jeff will be all too happy to teach you a few kayaking tricks and tips, too, but that’s really not the purpose of the meander. It’s really all about messing about in boats, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the natural world around you … and there’s a lot of nature to see.
Want to learn about the ecology of the shoreline or the natural history of the river? Kate is a wealth of knowledge, easily shared with no sense of ego. And Jeff, this former marine and member of a mountain rescue team, is just a delight to be around. He has a childlike enthusiasm for sharing the sighting of an osprey, or a loon, or a sea lion, or even a common warbler, even though he’s seen them all a thousand times before. The love for the water, the Noyo, the wildlife, this place … it is indeed infectious.
As we paddled away from the harbor and up the river, the water was calm, at times flat and glassy. The only constant sounds were the quiet splash of paddles dipping into and out of the river. Here and there, a Pacific loon would charm us with a clumsy take-off, wings flapping and feet splashing the water as it tried to fly away when our kayaks drifted too close.
After about 45 minutes, we paddled under a bridge over which the “A&W logging road” crossed (yes, it is named for an A&W Drive-In that used to be located in town on the road). And just like that, it was time to turn around.
The water was growing darker as the sun was setting behind the trees. We drifted quietly, every now and then dipping a paddle into the water to draw it along the kayak and propel the boats gently forward. This was indeed a liquid meander, and it was wonderful.
As if on cue, to keep the magic of the late afternoon going, a sea lion lifted its head above the water near my kayak and snorted. We watched it dive and then resurface as it headed upstream, perhaps in search of fish, perhaps on a meander of its own.
And just like that, we were back where we started, paddling the kayaks back to shore and pulling our boats out of the water.
Time for dinner at Noyo Harbor Inn
We said goodbye to Cate and Jeff, and headed off for part two of our Noyo River adventure – dinner at the HarborView Bistro & Bar at Noyo Harbor Inn. We’d made reservations for dinner following our paddle, anticipating it to be a perfect place to escape and relax over amazing food prepared by Executive Chef Fabrice Dubuc.
And it was every bit that … and more. Sitting on a sheltered outdoor deck under heat lamps was a wonderful respite from all the COVID craziness in the world, all with perfectly distanced tables, safety measures in place, personal lavender-infused sanitizing spray at each table (you get to take it with you), and the staff all wearing masks. For the winter, the inn has created a heated and tented area on the lawn too, which sounds perfect.
The paella I had was delectable as was the NOYO Caesar salad with citrus fruit, parmesan crostini and avocado – oh my! And the view overlooking the Noyo Harbor is simply spectacular, with the serenading sounds of barking sea lions. It is a world away and delightful.
When planning your Mendocino visit, you will also want to read
- Anderson Valley wineries you need to visit on a California road trip
- California railbiking: pedaling Skunk Train railbikes in Mendocino
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: rhododendrons, ocean views, whales
- A Mendocino Coast road trip: outdoors, art, food, wine & history
You’ll also need a place to stay:
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