Baylands kayaking

kayaking lesson and practice paddling

beginners or experienced

hawk flying

“The 1,940-acre Baylands Preserve is one of the largest tracts of undisturbed marshland remaining in the San Francisco Bay.
Fifteen miles of multi-use trails provide access to a unique mixture of tidal and fresh water habitats.

Many consider this area to be one of the best bird watching areas on the west coast.
The preserve has a substantial resident population of birds as well as being a major migratory stopover on the Pacific Flyway.”

Great Blue heron at pond


Baylands is about a 16 minute drive from the De Anza campus.

We do our paddling at the Sailing Station, launching off the dock shown in white on the map below:
simple map


De Anza Outdoor Club has done a kayaking lesson and practice paddling
at Baylands Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, 8 a.m. and on Sunday, May 14, 2023, 8 a.m.

We will go again Oct. 22, 2023, 8 a.m.


This lesson will be $35 club members, $45 other students.

$15 of this will be totaled and split towards a credit for a future club event within one year.

The split will be based on time spent (especially among those who arrive on time) to unload kayaks,
put paddles together, bring the kayaks down the launch ramp

and among those who stay at the end of the event until all the chores are finished,
including, but not limited to,
bringing the boats/paddles/lifejackets back up the launch ramp to the trailer,
hosing off the paddles.
hosing off boats and reloading them, tying them down on the trailer,
repacking paddles and lifejackets.


The club provides the kayaks and all the gear,
but you could bring your bike for after our kayaking, as there are miles of bike paths.

(A local recreation company charges $149 – $169 for a kayaking lesson and tour.
Another company offers a lesson and paddling for $119 for “XYZ” Members, $149 for non-members.
Places in Monterey charge $40 per person for a kayak rental with no lesson.)

No kayaking experience is needed for this event.
The trip is designed for first timers, but people with experience kayaking also join us,
especially if they want to introduce friends to kayaking.
(Some students have done kayaking lessons with the Outdoor Club many times!)


You do not have to know how to swim (even strong swimmers must wear a fully zipped lifejacket), but if you don’t know how to swim, De Anza College has a class for you.

There are small, medium and large lifejackets.
De Anza College Risk Management requires the use of the lifejackets, securely strapped / zippered, even for strong swimmers.

We are not sure why so many people at our kayaking practices put their lifejacket on inside out.
The guy on the left models a lifejacket with the straps that buckle shut on the inside, the guy on the right has the same model of lifejacket on properly.

2 people model lifejackets


Sorry, no, there is not any place you can just come and watch the kayaking. The trail along the bay in view of where we kayak is too far way to hear what we are talking about, or even to see many details. You can’t be near the trailer when we are unloading or loading gear, and would be in our way when we carry the kayaks down the launch ramp and get them in the water.

We will wear masks when / where required, and washing our hands regularly has always been a good idea.

If the college again requires COVID vaccinations and boosters for students and faculty participating in on-campus classes we will comply with the rule. People on some previous trips shared vaccination info. They told each other they are fully vaccinated (and showed their proof of vaccination cards) because they only wanted fully vaccinated people in their carpools.

Carpools are arranged by individual students, not by the club or the college.

After you look through this webpage, please carefully read
the Bayland’s kayak lesson and practice paddling sample trip agreement

and then look at:

(THE HOW TO SIGN UP PAGE LINKED TO BELOW WILL BE UPDATED FOR THE OCTOBER 2023 TRIP CLOSER TO THE DATE.) How to sign up for the May 2023 kayak lesson and practice paddling at Baylands Preserve

Only currently enrolled De Anza students, (part or full-time faculty, full time staff) can go on club events. Even though Foothill is in the same district, enrollment or employment at Foothill does not qualify anyone to go with us. People who want to go on an event between quarters (for example spring break or winter break) must have been enrolled the previous quarter, or already be enrolled in the following quarter. Faculty are subject to various rules depending on whether they are full time, ten month, part time, on sabbatical or Article 19 and should contact the club advisor well in advance of an event they want to participate in.



For our kayaking lesson, we use the kind of kayaks that your legs are NOT stuck in
(and you would not need to know how to do an “Eskimo Roll” if they tip over).

The kayaks we use are like small canoes, for relatively flat water lake or reservoir use, not swift rivers or out in the ocean.

The paddles, one shaft with blades at either end, will be adjusted for true kayak paddling with blades offset at right angles to each other
(see photo below of paddlers on Colter Bay during our Grand Teton trip between summer and fall quarter, using one of the same kayaks we use at Baylands). two people in a kayak

We can start with a practice using the paddles before we even go out on the water
(we can often use a vacant part of the parking lot):

line of people with paddles in motion

For most of our kayak touring and lessons we go 2 people per boat. Once people get used to paddling, they quickly figure out that if they can paddle simultaneously (both people paddle on the right hand side, then both paddle on the left hand side), they will go faster (and then their paddle blades won’t bump against each other). It can work quite well to have the person in the front (bow) of the boat paddle, and the person in the rear (stern) tries to match them, dipping their paddle in the water and pulling through the water at the same time.

In the photo on the left below, the two kayakers have not yet figured out how to consistently paddle simultaneously,
in the photo on the right, the two paddlers are better at paddling simultaneously:



We carry the kayaks from the parking lot down the upper ramp and line them up in a row on one side of the ramp, leaving space on the other side for other people to bring their craft back and forth:

kayaks in a row In the photo above you can see, at the end of the closest kayak, one of the built-in black plastic handles we carry them with. The seats in the kayaks are folded down at this point so the paddles fit in and won’t slide out as they are being carried.

Once all the kayaks are lined up on the upper ramp, we start bring them down to the lower ramp /dock to launch them
(a few at a time so we don’t take up all the space on the lower ramp / dock and other people will be able to find space to launch).

We place each kayak on the lower dock with the bow (front end) facing out towards the part of the bay we will paddle in, set the paddles on the dock, fold the seat backs up into position, and a minimum two people lift them down to the water:

two photos side by side of two people lifting a kayak in to water

One at a time, the two people who will paddle a tandem kayak get into the boat. There are people on the dock holding on to each end of the kayak to keep it next to the dock and as stable as possible. Each person getting into the kayak starts by keeping all their weight on the dock (either on one foot or on their knee), gets one foot into the boat, gets one hand on the far side / edge of the kayak, then shifts their weight and sits down into the boat. We give detailed instructions before people try this and as they do it. (To sign up for this trip you will need to certify that you are fully capable of participating in this activity without assistance, including being able to stand on a dock and get into a kayak in the water that is moving at least some and then getting out of the kayak and back to the dock.)

side by side pictures of woman climbing into a kayak
entering boat

If we have many kayakers, the first to launch need to stay in close vicinity of the dock until everyone is launched.


Here, kayakers are departing the Baylands dock:

kayaks departing dock

kayaks underway from dock

kayakers at baylands october 2022
In May 2023 we shared the bay we paddle in with a standup paddleboarder:
kayakers and stand up paddle boardkayaks and paddleboard
The section of the bay we paddle in is away from boat traffic, and the slough is wide enough, (at high tide) for plenty of room to practice paddling.
People get accomplished at two two paddlers matching their paddling strokes,
can try paddling backwards,
try fast paddling,
try paddling a figure eight,
and experiment with one person paddling right and left and the other paddling only on one side get a feel for handing this type of kayak.

wide section of bay to paddle


3 tandem kayaks at baylands preserve


tandem kayak in race


When we return from our kayaking, one person in a boat can push another person’s boat to hold it to the dock edge while the occupant climbs out. Usually we choose someone experienced at it to be the first person to get out of their boat back on the dock, so they can then help others.

three kayaks at dock, one person climbing out



Why do we always go so early in the morning?

On a windy afternoon you might see sailboarders, as at the left on the bay beyond the dock:
boardwalk to dock

And that afternoon wind is why we aim for an early morning adventure when we can also expect lots of parking spaces available in the (free) parking lot next to the dock we launch from.

We also need to aim for a high tide.
Below see the water level around the dock we launch from, with plenty of water at high tide, and lots of mud at low tide:

Bring: Chapstick,
good waterproof sunscreen (remember to put some on on top of your legs if they are bare),
unbreakable water bottle
(especially to be able to rinse salt water out of your mouth if you end up in the bay – which is not likely),
sunglasses and croakies or other eyewear retainers,
hat with a brim to keep sun out of your eyes,
windbreaker, long sleeve polypropylene and/or other warm sweater.

Possibly a hooded rain jacket, which works to stay warmer if it gets windy (or if we get sprinkles / rain).

Possibly towel(s), change of clothes and shoes for afterwards in case you get wet.

Maybe gloves or mittens and a knit hat (or even a swim cap) to put on to stay warmer.


— Wear:
-Lifejacket (provided and required: you must wear it all the time, and it must stay zipped).
If you have a favorite lifejacket, feel free to bring it.

Wear loose clothes you can easily move your arms and bend your legs in.

On your feet: closed-toed shoes with enough tread left on the bottoms and enough ankle support that you can help carry your kayak. Example: old tennis shoes that can get wet. No flip flops!

Be sure to take car keys and things out of your pockets so you won’t lose them in the slough.

There might be a limited number of drybags to keep gear relatively safe, one-per-boat not one-per-person. Lots of people bring binoculars or cameras, but there is some risk of getting them wet, or even losing them. Some people bring a waterproof disposable camera and small water bottle in a fanny pack.

your own boat or stand-up-paddle-board, racing kayak, anything rigged for sailing, swamp buggy, inflatable craft, etc.


When you walk out on the dock and look to the right, you can see some of the slough where the water gets shallower.
end of dock


We won’t likely see Bat Rays, (but they might splash water at the surface),
and people must not poke in the mud trying to find them:
bay rays

A trip member saw 2 bunnies hop out of a bunch of bushes, run across the parking lot next to the dock we launch from and into another bunch of shrubbery.

People have watched a Tern hover with wing beats like a hummingbird and then dive down into the water to get a fish.

On a May trip we saw at least 30 sparrows flying back and forth along the surface of the water near us catching bugs.

We have seen flocks of Pelicans, sometimes 25 to 50 or more, flying overhead in a V shape or a wavering line. Their size is difficult to judge from below them, but they have a wingspan of 8 or more feet, wider tip-of-wing to tip-of-wing than the humans watching them are tall.

flock of pelicans flying

and always there are seagulls:
sea gull flying

shorebird sign

Audubon Society Birding Guide to Palo Alto Baylands

“Birding at the Palo Alto Baylands is easy and convenient. Saltwater, brackish water, and freshwater, along with a diversity of trees, bushes, and native plants provide habitat for an abundance of sightings and behaviors by no less than 50+ bird species including shorebirds, waders, passerines, raptors, ducks, geese, not to mention gulls… ”

row of birds along shore
The birding guide has pictures and descriptions of these birds:

“As you walk along the boardwalk keep an eye out for raptors, both in the air and perched on the electrical towers. Possibilities include Red-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kites, Turkey Vultures, and Peregrine Falcons, possibly even a Bald Eagle. Lower, flying directly over the marsh, Northern Harriers scan the pickleweed for prey . . . you may spot Great and Snowy Egrets, and Great Blue Herons, while being serenaded by Song Sparrows . . . Harriet Mundy Marsh: Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets nest here in spring and summer months. Greater Yellowlegs, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, and Killdeer frequent here. In the distance note how Common Ravens may use electrical towers for nests . . . lagoon: Western and occasionally Clark’s Grebes can be seen here as well as Least Sandpipers, lingering winter migratory ducks, and year round Mallards and Ruddy Ducks . . . In spring and staying through the summer Bullock’s Orioles, and Mourning and Eurasian Collared-Doves may be spotted here. Anna’s Hummingbirds, year-round residences . . . Common Yellowthroat . . . Palo Alto Duck Pond: During the summer a few American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants might visit the pond. Pied-billed Grebes nest in the area and you may see their young here and it’s a good place to spot Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons . . . American Avocets can be spotted, feeding in the mud. Long-billed Curlews, Willets, American Coots, Black-necked Stilts, and Killdeer may be spotted as well.


Three photos of Peregrine Falcons:

pond with grasses

Preserve rules include:

15 mph speed limit on park roads.
No collecting of plants or animals.
No feeding animals, birds.
Because planes landing at the Palo Alto airport fly nearby, no kites or drones.

sign about overhead airplane flight path

Here, a plane coming in for a landing as seen from the dock:

plane landing

“One portable, unisex ADA-accessible restroom is located in the parking lot.
Other restrooms are located throughout the Preserve.”

thin line of various colors of rocks
Driving Directions:
(CSAA says it is 12.3 miles / 16 minutes from De Anza College to the preserve.)

From De Anza College take 85 north to 101, then 101 north. Once you are in Palo Alto, from Highway 101 take the Embarcadero Road/Oregon Expressway exit, (exit 402).

Do not go on Oregon Expressway, but further up the exit road, turn east onto Embarcadero Road.

You will go past a golf links and the Palo Alto airport on your left.

The road will narrow to 2 lanes as it reaches the park boundary.

road intersection

You make a left at the stop sign and continue on into the Preserve on Embarcadero Road until it ends at the boat launch parking lot.
(On a map you are looking for 2775 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303.)


The 15 mph speed limit (or even slower) is especially important to follow in the dirt and gravel parking lot where we meet, to not stir up as much dust into the air.
thin line of various colors of rocks
These are photos of reloading the kayaks on the trailer from a previous trip for some beginners’ practice.

On the trip pictured below we had some no-shows so we only unloaded and used nine of the ten tandem (two-person) kayaks,
and there was one on top as we started the reloading.

The trailer has a built-in metal padlocked box big enough for the paddles and at least some of the lifejackets. Start by putting the paddles and not-too-wet lifejackets in the bin first. (Or on some trips, for example the Grand Teton National Park trip, we pack, cable and padlock the lifejackets in the ends of the kayaks in case they do not dry out completely.)

loading paddles:

Load from the top down so you can stand below the top ones more easily as you put them on.

loading kayaks nov 2:

A strong person might think s/he can lift one kayak on by themself, but it’s just not safe. We require at least two and prefer to have three or four people under each as they are lifted off of or up on the trailer.

Yes, you will be supervised while you are doing this and might be asked to slow down as needed.

loading kayaks 2004 1:

loading kayaks nov 3:

loading kayaks nov 6:

loading kayaks nov 7:

And when they are all on, they are lashed and locked on.

loading kayaks nov 8: lashing kayaks:

The kayak strapping is always double-checked after they are put on.


These kayaks are also used on the between-summer-and-fall-quarter trip to Grand Teton National park,
Grand Tetons kayaking

Going kayaking at sunrise on the Grand Teton National Park trip requires getting up while it is still dark to hook up the kayak trailer for towing:

Mila and crew move kayak trailer: people pulling a kayak trailer into posistion to hook it up to a S U V


(Links to all Outdoor Club Coming Attractions are here.)


and also perhaps of interest:

Road trip advice and etiquette

Why you should wear a lifejacket.

mallard and chick swimming