Adventure's Gold Coast

Kayaking, biking, hiking and gawking along the wild west's farthest shores

Navigating the sea-arch maze near Elk     Photo: Kurt Markus

THE GLORY OF MENDOCINO and Humboldt County seacoast is the dazzling union of big surf, big cliffs, big trees, and big mountains. It's so multifarious, there's no single, signature way to experience it all. While the Big River serves up a dreamy paddle amid rugged inland terrain, you won't want to travel that far north without savoring the bracing coastal hits as well. Take a bike, take your boots, take a kayak, take some car-camping indulgences and make a high time of it. Here are four ways I amused myself once I got my fill of the Big River.
SEA KAYAKING
The Pacific Coast off Elk

IT'S GAME TIME and a 16-knot wind is vaporizing the crests of seven-foot swells beyond a daunting surf that's crashing on Greenwood State Beach, across Highway 1 from the tiny village of Elk, 15 miles south of Mendocino. "She's a little rough, but we'll be fine," says Aaron Stauffer, the manager of Force 10 Ocean Whitewater Tours, a kayaking operation based in Elk. A minute later we're launching through the surf, and though I'm ptooeying saltwater, I'm also noticeably upright, beyond the breakers, and paddling toward an offshore rock. Aaron's piloting our 24-foot custom fiberglass tandem from behind, and that's the key to Force 10's operation: By running tandems, they put a strong engine and a ton of experience in a superstable boat with you. In the course of our four-mile paddle north to Cuffey's Cove and back, we shoot through arches into hidden coves, idle in dark caves, and arf back at stellar sea lions lollygagging on an offshore rock. Afterward, Stauffer admits that most summer days are quite calm. "But we can always find something intense," he says, like tucking into one of the many low-clearance caves rendered unapproachable on my tour. Force 10 runs coastal kayak day tours from May to November for $95. For more information, call 707-877-3505 or visit www.force10tours.com.

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