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Humboldt Bay in California

Trip Overview

Humboldt Bay is located on California's North Coast, about 270 miles north of San Francisco and 90 miles south of the Oregon Border. It is the largest bay between Coos Bay and San Francisco Bay. This is an area rich in history, and Eureka, settled in 1850 has many beautifully restored (and some not so) Victorian Homes. There is so much to do in the area that it rates as a destination, even if one only paddles for a day or two within the Bay. It's about a 5-hour drive north of San Francisco. About 80,000 people live within the area.

Humboldt Bay includes Arcata Bay, to the north, Humboldt Bay proper (between Eureka and Fields Landing), and the South Bay (south of Fields Landing). Although appearing very large on the map, large parts of the Bay are mud flats, and eel grass beds. Deep-water access (for large boats) extends from the mouth of the Bay (between the North and South Spits) to the Woodley Island Marina, on the north, and Fields Landing on the south.

For a kayaker, there are many interesting trips to take within Humboldt Bay. I'm a beginner with a general-purpose boat (the Walden Scout), not a sea kayaker. So the trips that I describe here are for beginners, or those more experienced kayakers who can enjoy more sheltered bay paddling.

Large parts of the Bay are included within the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and it's a prime spot for bird watching and observing marine life. It's also a working bay, and one will see large ocean going vessels loaded with logs and pulp, and many small fishing vessels headed out to sea and back.

The entrance to Humboldt Bay is well known to mariners for its "breaking bar" and tales are told of fisherman being stuck outside the mouth to the bay for several days waiting for the break to settle so they could return to their homes. When the swells on the ocean are large (say, 20' or so), a great trip to take (not in a kayak!) is to the North Spit, where you can stand near the sea wall and observe waves fifteen feet high, a fury, within spitting distance. Many locals do the same, it is really awesome.

There are many other things to do locally, and for further information you might visit for a information on local attractions and accommodations.

Now, to the kayaking. But first.

Since Humboldt Bay is partly exposed to the ocean, it's a good idea to check the weather, tide, and sea conditions before venturing out on the water. Locally, the National Weather Service, which maintains a large office at Woodley Island, can be contacted by phone, or stop in their office for information on weather and sea conditions. Tide tables are published in the newspaper or can be purchased for less than a dollar at local sporting goods stores. Of course, the information is available on the net, at$station=46022 (swells at the Eel River Buoy, 20 miles off shore), (Humboldt Bay Tides), and (Eureka office of the National Weather Service).

Once you've checked the tides, the seas, and the weather, three fine places to kayak within Humboldt Bay include Indian Island (just north of Eureka), the south end of the North Spit, and the area between Fields Landing and the entrance to Humboldt Bay. In addition, brave and experienced sea kayakers might want to venture outside the Bay, and those interested in bird watching might want to consider the far southern end of the Bay, adjacent to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (The Refuge also includes Indian Island.)

Indian Island is a short trip (two hours or so) that begins at the Woodley Island Marina. For those who do not own their boats, Humboats (, rents kayaks at Woodley Island. From the marina, proceed west, around the tip of Woodley Island, then northeast, toward Indian Island. The middle of Indian Island is bisected by a slough that provides a fine, sheltered paddle. The best time to do this trip is about an hour before high tide. Under those conditions, the current will carry you from the west end of Woodley Island to the head of the slough on Indian Island, then the tide will turn right about when you get to the head of the slough. This will allow the tide to carry you back to the Marina, at least most of the way. On this trip, like most on the Bay, you'll want to bring binoculars, since it's a part of the National Wildlife refuge, with good reason.

The South end of the North Spit, aka the Samoa Peninsula, provides the Samoa Boat Ramp County Park. This is a trip that can be made during any tide conditions, but should not be made when the swells are too large offshore. If those conditions exist, your best bet is the Indian Island trip (above) or perhaps a trip toward the south end of South Bay.

Even though the Samoa ramp is sheltered, under rough conditions there can be treacherous currents and standing waves which beginners should definitely avoid. Under most conditions, however, the Samoa Ramp provides sheltered access past the Coast Guard Reservation and toward the mouth of Humboldt Bay. What's nice about this trip is that under good conditions one can get out on fairly large swells, still within the Bay, with relative safety. It's also adjacent to the main channel for the Bay (the North Bay Channel) so it's a good place to observe large ships passing in and out the Bay.

A third paddle on Humboldt Bay puts in at the Fields Landing Public boat launch, and explores the eel grass beds between the launch and the north end of the South Spit. In this area there are many harbor seals. Last time I paddled out this area, I saw at least 100. There are also lots of birds, and good views of the sheltered side of the South Spit.

If one ventures toward the mouth of the Bay from Fields Landing the water gradually gets rougher, until (at least for me) it's time to turn back. The aspect of this trip that always impresses me is that as you get closer to the entrance to the Bay, you can actually see and feel the energy from the ocean waves in the water increasing. Often the water near Fields Landing will be still and smooth, but when you get to the seawall near the South Spit, even on a calm day, the water shows such complex wave patterns that it's unpredictable and quite exciting.

For further information about kayaking around Humboldt Bay, readers might want to contact Humboats at The maps that I use on the trips are the USGS Eureka and Fields Landing 7.5 minute Quadrangles. Humboldt Bay also has its own chart, available from NOAA or from chart vendors on the web, or marine supply dealers in Eureka. Another useful resource, on the web is at, which has nautical charts available for free viewing and purchase. Maps of the areas discussed in this article are included on the authors web site at


Many accomodations are available within Eureka, including bed and breakfast, budget motels, camping.


Eureka is located along US Highway 101, about 270 miles north of San Francisco (about 5 hours driving time).


Eureka Chamber of Commerce, or


Humboldt Bay NOAA Chart, USGS 7.5 Minute Quadrangles for Eureka and Fields Landing, CA.

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip