There are many different ways to explore landscapes. Some are easily enjoyed with the freedom and speed of a car.
With the recent opening of Sonora Pass (Highway 108) and Ebbets Pass (Highway 4), and the projected openings of the Glacier Point Road (May 3), Tioga Pass (Highway 120 -- May 11), and Kaiser Pass (May 20), easy auto access to the highest reaches of the Sierra is available again.
Automobiles are not only great for enjoying large stretches of beautiful country; they also get us closer to the parts that are best enjoyed on foot, bike, horseback, and water.
A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to explore Morro Bay by kayak. I hadn't paddled a kayak for years and I'd forgotten both how easy and how enjoyable it can be. Gliding quietly and near-effortlessly over the placid waters of the bay was exhilarating. Sea lions popped up near our kayaks as we cruised along.
If you're able to swim, all you have to do is choose an area with calm water and wear a lifejacket. It only takes a short time to figure out how to maneuver a kayak. Of course it's best to learn from someone with experience if you've never paddled before, and there are plenty of places to learn in California. Morro Bay is one of the best places -- it has flat water in good weather, great scenery, and several rental options. Closer to home, Moss Landing in Monterey Bay is also an excellent place to learn. The waters of the Elkhorn Slough provide a safe place to pick up the skills. For Moss Landing rentals and lessons, check out:
Kayak Connection: http://www.kayakconnection.com/ -- (831) 724-5692.
Monterey Bay Kayaks: http://www.montereybaykayaks.com/elkhorn_slough/ -- (831) 373-5357.
For Morro Bay kayak rentals and lessons, check out:
Kayak Horizons: http://www.kayakhorizons.com/ -- (805) 772-6444
Kayak Shack: http://www.morrobaykayakshack.com/ -- (805) 772-8796
Rock Kayak Co.: http://www.rockkayak.com/ -- (805) 772-2906
Sub Sea Tours and Kayaks: http://www.subseatours.com/morro-bay-rentals-kayak-canoe/ -- (805) 772-9463
Kayaks are a great way to enjoy familiar landscapes. A lake that you've seen many times looks different from the level of the water. With practice and acquired skill, kayaks can be used to explore rougher coastlines and roaring rivers. I haven't gotten to that level yet, but I came back from my Morro Bay trip wanting to buy my own kayak.
Throughout the summer, rentals are usually available 7 days a week. Although the weather can be great along the coast through much of the winter, fewer people visit and many rental places are only open on the weekends. Rentals for single kayaks tend to cost $10-15 for the first hour and about half as much for each additional hour. Double kayak rentals tend to fall in the $14-20 range for the first hour and half for each additional. Most rental places tend to open up about 9 or 10 a.m. and close in the late afternoon.
Some other iconic destinations in Central California with relatively easy waters where you can rent kayaks include Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, and Lake Tahoe. Close to home, kayaks can be rented at Lake McClure, Lake Yosemite, and Knight's Ferry.
Since you're likely to get at least partially wet while kayaking, wear water shoes or sandals and synthetic materials designed to dry out quickly. While paddling around Morro Bay we stopped a couple of times to get out and explore the sand dunes and water shoes came in handy.
During the summer a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are highly recommended. Many rental places offer waterproof containers for items you want to keep dry. If you have a waterproof camera or a way to keep a standard camera dry, you can get some great shots while you're on the water!
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org