Formed by a dam on the American River, Lake Natoma offers a wealth of swimming, water sports, and fishing opportunities just a 10-minute drive from downtown Rancho Cordova. While motorized boat traffic is allowed under the 5-mph speed limit, this 500-acre lake is really best suited for non-motorized recreation such as kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Four public boat launches provide easy and convenient access for put-in and take-out, and the Sacramento State Aquatic Center offers an impressive variety of water sports rentals and classes (see more below). Plentiful beaches and open spaces surrounding Lake Natoma, making it ideal for a relaxing day of water sports and picnicking or simply enjoying the tranquil scenery.
Those looking to fish can head to the public fishing platform at Nimbus Flat Recreation Area, at the end of the lake closest to Rancho Cordova. Fishing from your boat is also a favorite option here. Lake Natoma is best known for its abundant rainbow trout, though crappie, sunfish, bass, carp, and catfish populations all provide great opportunities for reeling in a prize fish. Please note that a valid California fishing license is required for fishing on Lake Natoma.
Sacramento State Aquatic Center
Created and managed through the local California State University, the Sacramento State Aquatic Center offers watersports classes, rentals, and youth programs for both students and the general public. Rentals for entry-level equipment such as canoes, sit-on-top kayaks, hydro bikes, and basic stand-up paddleboards are available to anyone. Meanwhile, visitors can rent more advanced vessels like windsurfers, river kayaks, rowing wherries, and a variety of sailboats after completing a class or a private lesson at the center.
SSAC’s class offerings include basic and advanced sailing, wakeboarding, and water skiing clinics, along with introductory windsurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, rowing, power boating, and jet-skiing lessons. Most of the classes take place over two to three days with a few hours of instruction on each, while most of the basic kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoeing lessons are one-day commitments.
Lower American River
Flowing out of the Nimbus Dam, directly through Rancho Cordova, and into Sacramento, the Lower portion of the American River is marked by calm water and abundant greenery. With such convenient access from town, the Lower American has become a favorite spot for fishing, swimming, and rafting. For the best swimming beaches complete with all the public park amenities, head to Sunrise Recreation Area. The park is split into two sections, the Lower and Upper, and both have beaches, parking lots, and walking and cycling paths. Meanwhile, only Upper Sunrise has a boat launch (this section of the Lower American is ideal for kayaking), and only Lower Sunrise features picnic areas and a fishing pond. Pedestrians and cyclists can easily cross the bridge from one side of the park to the other.
Taking a leisurely float down the river is another favorite pastime on the Lower American. Grab a kayak or raft and enjoy the gently moving water on the classic float tour route from Lower Sunrise to River Bend Park. Most people rent their rafts or kayaks and paddles from American River Raft Rentals, conveniently situated near the Lower Sunrise put-in. The company also operates shuttle services to pick you up at the end of your float and bring you back to your car.
South Fork of the American River
A bit farther east of Rancho Cordova, check out the scenic South Fork of the American River. The best way to enjoy the water here is by whitewater rafting. Several local outfitters provide beginner, family-friendly trips with guides on this beautiful section of the river through the rolling Sierra foothills. Gear up for fun, splashy rapids ranging up to Class III (out of V).
South Fork rafting itineraries are typically split into the 9-mile Upper Chili Bar section and the 12-mile Lower Gorge section. Either trip takes about half a day and requires meeting up with your rafting company in Lotus, California (a 40-minute drive from Rancho Cordova). Most tour operators offer a two-day option that combines a night of camping with rafting both river sections, which is ideal for those who seek the full outdoors experience. The rafting season on the South Fork typically lasts from April through September, with some weekend availability in October as well.
American River Water Trail
Just north of the state capital, the American River joins the Sacramento River, and on the lower section of the Sacramento, several groups have worked to create a new water trail for recreation. The American River Parkway Foundation, Visit Rancho Cordova, and Sacramento County have joined together for a new project to preserve and promote a 6.2-mile stretch of river by designating it as the American River Water Trail. The project would earn the Lower Sacramento River recreational stretch recognition through the National Water Trails System. This scenic section of the river is lined by forests and offers an excellent chance to see wildlife, including mule deer, coyotes, river otters, and great blue heron.
No matter where you end up boating, swimming, or fishing, the region around Rancho Cordova is filled with fun things to do both on and off the water. See for yourself why this has become such a popular destination for water-lovers.
Written by Matcha in partnership with Rancho Cordova, and edited by Kristen Achziger.