Paddling on Lake Natoma is a cool experience

Paddling on Lake Natoma is a cool experience

By Stewart Savage

Cool water, a Delta breeze, and delightful scenery blend on Lake Natoma to give paddlers an experience to savor. Paddling is one activity that can be enjoyed solo or with family or friends.

Cool water, a Delta breeze, and delightful scenery blend on Lake Natoma to give paddlers an experience to savor. Paddling is one activity that can be enjoyed solo or with family or friends.

Lake Natoma’s 500 acres of surface water are formed by the expansion of the American River as Nimbus Dam backs up the river to slow the flows of water from Folsom Dam. The slender five-mile lake alongside the City of Folsom is a favorite of standup paddlers and kayakers.

This is a quiet lake, home to paddlers, rowers and sailors of small boats. In contrast to Folsom Lake, where waterskiing, wakeboarding and large sailboating are enjoyed, Lake Natoma has a 5 mph speed limit for motorized watercraft.

Visitors to Folsom can bring their own watercraft or rent them by the hour. There are four areas along the lake where you can launch kayaks and paddleboards. Negro Bar State Park, Willow Creek, and Nimbus Flat Natoma State Park, are managed by California State Parks, which charges $10 to help maintain the sites. Sacramento State Aquatic Center is a program of the Associated Students, Inc. It is funded by the California Department of Boating and Waterways, and also charges $10.


Greenback Lane ¼ mile west of Folsom Boulevard, Folsom

Across the lake from the Folsom Historic District and the Powerhouse State Historic Park is Negro Bar State Park. From the Historic District, a short drive over either the Rainbow Bridge or Lake Natoma Crossing will take you there.
Summer day hours are 6 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.
A large paved launch ramp with dock is next to a spacious parking lot. For rentals, turn right at the parking lot and park next to a large tree-shaded picnic area. Take the steps down to the sandy beach. Paddleboards and kayaks are available for rent Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Launching is directly from the beach.


13303 Folsom Boulevard, between Iron Point Road and Blue Ravine Road on west side, Folsom

Willow Creek is the smallest of the launch sites, and usually not crowded. Summer day use hours are 6 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week.
Paddlers launch their craft in a little cove in shallow water. Paddleboards and kayak are available for rent on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. during the summer season. Along the lake is a pleasant little picnic area.


1901 Hazel Avenue, first drive north of Highway 50, Gold River or Rancho Cordova

Nimbus Flat has boat launching year-round from the lakeshore on a short channel to the lake. It also has a car-top launch area. There is no rental booth at Nimbus Flat, but the Sacramento State Aquatic Center is next to the park. There is a large shady picnic area and a long beach at the park.
Hours are 6 a.m.-9 p.m. from April 1-Oct. 15.


1901 Hazel Avenue, second drive north of Highway 50, Gold River or Rancho Cordova

The next exit after Nimbus Flat is the entrance to Sacramento State Aquatic Center. This 8-acre complex has the largest stock of kayaks, paddleboards and other watercraft on the lake. The center has four docks, several classrooms, a beach, picnic tables and barbecues. From May through September, the center is open Monday-Sunday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Rentals are by the hour, pro-rated every 15 minutes. They include paddles and life jackets. Renters must be 18 or older or accompanied by an adult. No pets are allowed at the center, but they are welcome on a leash around the rest of the lake.
Sacramento State Aquatic Center is the home of the university Hornets women’s championship rowing program. The center hosts several rowing events throughout the year, so it’s a good idea to check the calendar to avoid the crowds,
Classes, including private classes, are available to the general public, and registrations can be made online. Special sunset paddle classes are held twice a month from the middle of March to the middle of October. The minimum age is 10.

On the lake

Lake Natoma can be enjoyed by paddlers of all ages and skill levels. On the five miles from Nimbus Dam upstream to the Folsom Prison property, paddlers pass a series of picturesque natural sights and, depending on the time of day and season, might sight the local birdlife: egrets, merganser ducks, herons, gulls, kingfishers, osprey, and even eagles.
Since the area surrounding Lake Natoma is part of Folsom Lake Recreation Area, paddlers glide by native trees and vegetation, home to several species of wildlife. The large wall of bluffs along the way has another sort of beauty, and also act as a windscreen, keeping the waters calm.
Along the way there are coves and islands where paddlers can stop to rest and enjoy the scenery.
Near Negro Bar State Park, paddlers will pass under Lake Natoma Crossing, the Rainbow Bridge and the Truss Bridge, which is restricted to bicycles and pedestrians. This area and the Sacramento State Aquatic Center/Nimbus Flat area are the two most popular areas on the lake. Upstream from the Truss Bridge, the waters narrow in a granite ravine to the Folsom Prison property, where public access ends.
Lake Natoma is one of the gems of the city of Folsom. The lake provides endless pleasure, exercise and relaxation close by the city. A great way to enjoy it is paddling on a board or in a kayak, whether in the calm of morning, the active daytime, or the serenity of evening.

Access is easy

One of the cool things that people appreciate about Folsom is that the city is compact. It doesn’t take long to get around to any of the city’s great features by car. But many people prefer taking advantage of the bicycle/pedestrian trail that is part of the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area and goes around Lake Natoma.
Access to this natural playland is easy. The trail has several access points around the lake and passes through all the boat launching sites. Bicycles can be rented from Folsom bike shops.
From Lake Natoma Inn, access to the trail is next to the inn. Negro Bar is a short distance across the river. Willow Creek is 2-3 miles downriver, and Nimbus Flat/ Sacramento State Aquatic Center is another two or three miles beyond. Picnic and viewing areas are located along the trail.
From Larkspur Landing and Hilton Garden Hotel, at Iron Point Road and Folsom Boulevard, Willow Creek is around one-quarter mile.
From Hampton Inn & Suites, Staybridge Suites, Courtyard Sacramento Folsom and Residence Inn Marriott Folsom, at E. Bidwell Street and Iron Point Road, access to the trail and launch sites is a short five-mile drive to Folsom Boulevard.
No matter how you get to Lake Natoma–on foot, by bicycle, or driving– you can enjoy the lake and surrounding area for an afternoon or several days–and come back often.


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