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Mendocino SUP Getaway

I grew up going to Mendocino, at the very least, a couple of times a year. Mom and Dad would pack up the old Vista Cruiser and head up to the Seafoam Lodge for a weekend of abalone diving, bacon and eggs cooked on the beach, epic struggles in and out of 7mm neoprene and dinnertime feasts of whatever we could pull out of the sea. I loved those getaways when I was a kid and to this very weekend, I still do.

Things have changed a little in the past fifty years (I think I may have just dated myself): I no longer dive for abs (mainly because the driving force behind the activity was my father who is now resting for eternity in one of our favorite coves) and the Seafoam Lodge is now permanently closed and on the market. But the beauty of the Mendocino Coast is one thing that has remained a constant.

On our last couple of trips, Molly and I have made sure to bring some SUPs (stand up paddleboards), paddles and pfds. With their simplicity and ease of use, the SUPs have allowed us to discover places I had never ventured to when I was younger.

There are three main rivers around Mendocino: the Albion, Noyo and Big River – all of which are fantastic places to take your SUP. They all have relatively easy access (although the Noyo harbor can be difficult to find a place to park) and they all have plenty of calm, tide influenced flat water.

Heading up Hwy 1, North of the Navarro river, you’ll hit the Albion first. This beautiful little harbor is a favorite place for kayak fisherman with its great campground and easy access both upstream and and out to the ocean. You access the river from the north side via Albion River North Side Road and drive down to Schooners Landing Marina. As with all three of these rivers you want to keep the tide and wind in mind when planning your paddle. Except during high flows you’ll feel the current from the tide more than the current of the river. I’ve paddled a couple of miles up the Albion and am really not sure just how far you can go but it’s certainly worth exploring. There’s a floating house a ways up – right in the middle of the river – that looks like something the Stamper family would have lived in (give me the origin of that reference and I will send you a hat!). The water is usually an aqua green and you can often see seals way up river.

Next on the list is the Big River which is just south of Mendocino and has an access road that is clearly marked north of the Hwy 1 bridge over the river. Again, I’m not completely sure just how far you can venture on this one but from the maps it looks like you could paddle 9 to10 miles up river. There is also a trail / old logging road (now a nature trail closed to vehicles) that follows the river for at least 9 miles. This past weekend, the water was very clear and we saw our fair share of both otters and seals. We took a nice paddle on this one early in the AM and then headed to Patterson’s Pub in Mendocino for a big breakfast and the best Bloody Mary’s money can buy!

If you head north about 7 miles to Ft. Bragg you’ll drive over the Noyo River just before you hit town. This is a pretty developed harbor with the prerequisite number of restaurants and fish markets. Parking is a bit of an issue – I dropped Molly and the boards off at the boat ramp and then drove the van out towards the mouth where there was easier parking and walked back. The paddle up the Noyo isn’t as long as the other two rivers. It gets narrow and shallow a couple of miles up but it is still beautiful and well worth the effort. Along the way you’ll pass Dolphin Isle Marina where our friends Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne run Liquid Fusion Kayaking, a great local resource for both classes and tours. After getting off the water, be sure to head to the North Coast Brewing Company for some really great beer and equally mediocre food.

The beauty of this little SUP stay-cation is that it’s pretty darned close, not too pricy, has plenty of good food and if the weather turns and you can’t SUP there are plenty of other things to do. All three rivers are different as my brother and myself and for the more adventurous there is plenty of open ocean available. Unless you plan on catching some waves (not a great area to SUP surf) I would recommend touring style boards with flexible fins. Until it closed in 2010 we always stayed at the Seafoam Lodge because of it’s great location and the fact they allowed dogs. This last trip Molly and I booked a room at the Shoreline Cottages in Ft. Bragg. Maybe it didn’t have the ocean views or the lifetime of memories of our old haunt, but it was very reasonable, had a full kitchen and is over the top dog friendly. Besides, we can always make new memories.

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