Paddling outside the cove on a calm day, left. The river near its mouth, right. Photos by Meade Fischer

Paddling the Albion River and Cove makes a good fall adventure

By Meade Fischer

The Albion is a tidal river, which winds back into wooded areas and lush fields from the Mendocino County coast. While it looks much like wilderness, there are occasional signs warning against trespassing.

You can paddle about five or six miles up, until the river narrows and loses itself in a thicket of vegetation. Along the way, there are three very interesting floating houses.

The launch is from an RV and fishing park, and the parking is right next to the launch ramp. Last I checked, the parking was $5. The cove leads through narrow openings in the rocks to other coves, but some of those coves are pummeled by waves.

Trip Description

There is something primal and compelling about looking down on the Albion from the Highway 1 bridge towering high above the river at its mouth. The river ends at a steeply walled inlet bay, which always seems to be gray and misty. The buoy on the rock in the middle of the cove is constantly sounding its mournful cry against the foggy sea spirits that haunt the bay. The Albion itself is the color of a molten forest.

From the launch area, heading up river, within minutes you pass the boat docks and leave the coastal fog (if you’re lucky), and then the upstream camping area with kids and dogs and the hum of power equipment. Silence descends like a tropical night, and you are suddenly alone with only the half sunken remains of abandoned boats.

Then an old two-story house looms up in front of you. This is a houseboat as bizarre as anything from the golden days of Sausalito’s floating shanty town. A great assortment of rotting logs and timbers hold up this piece of apparently livable art. The sides are shingled on the first floor, and the second floor seemed mostly a collection of old wooden windows nailed together. Clothes in the windows mean that people do live there, and a small, vociferous herd of hostile terriers patrol the place under the no trespassing signs. The house rides so low that the entrance is only inches above the water line.

Farther up river, walled by redwoods, at a sharp bend there are a couple more odd dwellings. Two tiny buildings float a few yards apart. One looks like an igloo and is apparently for storage. The other is just big enough for a single bed and a place to sit and read. Privacy comes in all shapes and sizes.

Then all signs of civilization end, except for a sign a mile or so up river that warns against trespassers. There isn’t a building, a road or signs of agriculture in sight, so it’s hard to figure out what harm a trespasser might do. Of course, last summer there were a couple shootings nearby involving hikers that wandered onto an illegal pot farm on national forest land. That said, stick to the river and you should have no worries; though, I wouldn’t recommend watching “Deliverance” the night before.

Further up you’ll pass the upright bones of some pier or dock, gone long enough for small plants to take root in the rotting tops of the old pilings. Nature, as always, reclaiming what man abandons.

The river narrows and starts to actually flow, and it takes a bit of work to get over the shallow, moving water. It appears to be the end, but then it deepens again, and you paddle through a lush meadow that you can almost reach out and touch.

Suddenly the now tiny river runs into a thicket of dense brush, and it’s time to turn around and head back against the afternoon wind toward civilization.

From the launch ramp, you can also paddle past the boat docks and under the bridge toward the sea, to Albion Cove and beyond, depending on the size of the surf and your comfort zone.

Both sides of the mouth are lined with sea caves and pocket beaches, some just wide enough for two or three kayaks to land. Cut off from land access, these beaches are strewn with various shells, including abalone shells the size of dinner plates. It’s only when you notice waves starting to break on these beaches that you realize you are out of the cove.

On a recent trip with friends, we ventured beyond the still waters of the cove. It was a fairly calm day. However, every few minutes a set of three or four large waves rolled through and broke along the north side.

There was a narrow passage in the rocks from one cove to another smaller cove, and the larger waves were breaking in the passage. We decided to go for it between sets.

Once inside, our novice paddler was knocked out of his kayak and washed in among the rocks.

Then a big set came in, breaking Þrst outside and then reforming. Stuck in a narrow zone too small for four boats, we bobbed over feathering waves until the set passed. As soon as our overboard kayaker got back in, we pushed back through the passage.

Even on calm summer days, it is wise to always proceed with caution. However, if the waves are intimidating, there are still plenty of places to explore within the cove.

Special Advice

On any tidal river, it’s always good to check the tides. While the flow isn’t usually a problem, a large tidal difference, coupled with strong afternoon winds could be unpleasant. Be aware of no trespassing signs. If venturing out in the cove, look carefully for oncoming swells before you continue to neighboring coves.

How to Get There

Follow Highway 128 west out of Cloverdale, through Boonville and along the Navarro River to Highway 1. Go north about three miles, cross the high bridge over the Albion River and turn right down the steep road to the campground.