I picked Estero Americano as an interesting SUP spot solely based on Google Earth. I also knew that kayakers enjoyed the Estero. I am happy to report that it can be done with a stand up paddleboard, too. Not only can it be done, but it was one of the most beautiful, peaceful, amazing paddles I have found so far here in Northern California. It's not challenging or extreme, but it is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. There is something to be said about not encountering another human being for hours. On this particular day (in January no less!), the wind was calm, there was an abundance of wildlife and and the beautiful blue skies were breathtaking. An added bonus - it was unseasonably warm, so the only attire I needed consisted of a T-shirt and shorts (and my Five Fingers shoes).
You probably can't see this in this postage stamp size photo, but those white specks are egrets. The Estero was lined with these beautiful birds on my SUP trip. There are many other types of birds in the area, but my bird watching knowledge is limited to recognizing the obvious ones. A camera with a good telephoto zoom lens would capture excellent photos for the avid birder.
If you don't have stand up paddle board, a kayak will take you down the Estero as well. You will have to bring your own. There are no kayak rentals for at least 6 miles, and for that you would have to go to Bodega Bay.
I've learned from experience that you do not want to be anywhere near an opening to the ocean on a kayak or stand up paddleboard during a strong ebb tide (tide going out). The force of the ebb tide creates a strong current that can carry you out to sea. The mouth of the Estero Americano is one such place where that can happen. The most dangerous time is between a high high tide and a low low tide and at or near max current. Know your moon visibility and be particularly careful when the moon is full, near full, new or near new anywhere other than high in the sky. (This piece of advice is for those who still tell time with a sundial.) More importantly, know how to read the tide tables and current tables, and take them seriously!
Often the mouth of the Estero will have a sand bar which protects against the strong ebb flow, but that is not always the case, and sometimes it will be open to the sea. And besides, you won't know whether it is there or not until you are approaching the mouth. If you want to play it safe, time your paddle downstream so that you are paddling down near the mouth during the flood tide (tide coming in). Or paddle when the tide differential between low and high is small, and test the strength of the current by paddling back upstream periodically when you are getting close to the mouth.
There is no danger during most of the length of the Estero - it's not exactly a Class V river. Near the mouth is the only place where caution is advised.
Check the tide tables for Bodega Harbor Entrance so you will know what to expect. There are parts of the Estero that are very shallow at low tide. You can't tell from this photo, but at this point, the depth of the water was about 4 inches. Had I been in a kayak, I would have hit mud and would have had to wait with a good book for the tide to come in. Fortunately, I was not on a kayak, but on my stand up paddle board, which requires less clearance than a kayak. Still, I had only a few inches of water, so I had to move to the front of the board to keep my fin out of the mud, and actually had to dig into the mud with my paddle to get myself through all that murky stuff. When I returned to this spot going upstream, the tide was coming in, and I had plenty of clearance.
As a point of reference, on this day, low tide at Bodega Harbor Entrance was 1.9 feet at 6:32 am and high tide would be 5.9 feet at 12:17 pm. I'm guessing that tidal adjustment at this point in the photo is maybe one hour later, possibly two. I launched at 9:00 am. With a kayak, launching at 10:00 am on that day would have been better.
35 Reviews and Opinions
This is so off the beaten path, you may not see another soul. There is no major city close by. San Francisco is at least 1-1/2 hours away. Santa Rosa is 30 minutes away. Bodega Bay, which is six miles away, with a population of 1,400 is the closest "metropolis", but most people there are golfing or hanging out at the beach or playing bridge in their house on the fairway. They aren't cruising down the Estero. When I was there on a Saturday, I came across only 7 kayakers. Which was just dandy as far I was concerned.
The Estero Americano is 6 miles long from the put-in point to the Bodega Bay. I didn't have time to do the full length, but I made it this far. When I got home, I saw on Google Maps that I made it about 3/4 of the way, so about 4 miles downstream. It took me roughly one hour to get to this point. A kayak should take less time, since a kayaker has twice (or four times) as many paddle blades as a stand up paddler. I will come back soon and do the full 12 mile round trip.
Carry water and snacks (or a lunch) with you. There are no bistros, pubs, wine bars or watering holes along the way.
Favorite thing: These bovine residents are more numerous than the two-legged types. The main industry around the Estero is dairy. Both sides of the Estero are lined with grazing lands. Potato farming was also common from 1850 to 1950. Together, the potato farms and grazing led to soil erosion, which caused about 1 million cubic yards of sediment to be dumped into the Estero, forever changing the habitat. As a result, marshlands were reduced, and many species of fish can no longer survive in the Estero. Efforts are underway to manage the habitat, but it may never be restored to its original state.