Napa's Wild Side
Explore the gentle Napa River with Napa Valley Paddle
It’s wine country’s Amazon. Cutting 50 miles through the famous Napa Valley and emptying into San Pablo Bay, the Napa River is an ecological—and recreational—delight. Of course, the best way to really get a sense of a river is to get out on it! And there’s no better place to get yourself set up for a marvelous and gentle do-it-yourself journey than with the experienced locals at Napa Valley Paddle. Since 2012 Drew Dickson has been running the kayak and paddleboard rental company.
He grew up right in the region and is passionate about the river’s incredible resurgence as a thriving ecosystem now sustaining plentiful wildlife. Napa Valley Paddle offers a variety of fantastic trips and makes recommendations based on season, tides, and a few other inside-knowledge tips. Go in a single kayak, a tandem, or on a paddleboard. Whichever vessel you choose, to really get a sense of the Napa River we recommend a one-way paddle from Kennedy Park to downtown Napa. Drew will get you on the river at the right time with the tides, as you’re in an estuary subject to the Bay’s influence.
You’ll be on the river for an hour or two, gliding past egrets, herons, grebes, kingfishers, and mallards. If you’re lucky, you might see a river otter or a beaver. This riparian habitat is important to the vitality of Napa Valley, but it wasn’t always this way. Drew’s father, Dave Dickson, led the charge in the nineties to restore the once derelict river. Polluted run-off from fertilizers and an old tannery, along with development of the riverbank, kept the Napa River from flourishing for several decades. But with dedicated restoration, a lot of the wildlife has come back, including the salmon.
Paddling gently up the Napa River you’ll get great views of Atlas Peak and Mount Veeder, and as you glide into downtown you’ll enjoy a unique perspective of Napa’s lively riverside restaurants and shops. We recommend going a bit past the Soscol Avenue bridge into a more wild side of the river where you may feel like you’ve been transported to Kauai with some of the lush foliage. Napa Valley Paddle will pick up your kayaks at an arranged spot.
You can leave from there on their water taxi, the cheekily named WooUber. However, since Stone Brewing is pretty much “right there” when you depart your paddle, we recommend grabbing a nice cold beer or hard seltzer and pairing it with a giant pretzel or a dish of mac & cheese at their patio overlooking the river (tip: ask for a spot in the garden area, a tucked-away section with river views and cozy Adirondacks to kick back in). Then catch a short ride-share back to Kennedy Park to complete the journey.
Book your trip with Napa Valley Paddle.
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