Friday, April 8, 2016

Kayaking Natalbany River to North Pass Manchac, via Lake Maurepas (shuttle required)

Here's a fun trip I took with a couple of friends down the Natalbany River, across an edge of Lake Maurepas, over to the boat launch on Hwy 51 at the North Pass of Manchac. This is a one-way trip, so we did need to do a shuttle, but the drive time between the launch and take out was really short: maybe 20 minutes.

This trip was just about 16 miles, and 9 of that was on the Natalbany River, which is relaxed and easy paddling. We then spent about two miles on the Tickfaw River, very near the Prop Stop, which is a very popular bar, accessible only by boat. The Tickfaw River is quite a bit bigger, and on a warm, sunny day, you'll encounter larger, faster pleasure boats and, possibly, some jet skis. This traffic is mostly going to or from the bar, or perhaps showing off for the crowd at the bar, so it's important to pay attention and keep to one side or the other.  Then, you reach Lake Maurepas, cut across the northeastern edge of that, and head over to the boat launch on the North Pass of Manchac.  Every time I've paddled Lake Maurepas, it's been relatively calm. But do remember that it is a relatively large, but shallow lake. On some days the water is glassy smooth, but usually there is some energy to the water. Also remember that the "shores" of the lake are the marshy edges of a dying cypress forest. It's beautiful, and you'll see tons of birds. But watch for stumps just below the surface.  As you exit the river, and then as you approach North Pass and its boat launch, expect boat traffic to increase.

Here's the route:

We drove to the boat launch on Hwy 51, just above Middendorf's:

We left my car here, and then we drove our other vehicles to Springfield to this very rustic boat launch on Hwy 22, which did not charge us for launching our kayaks:

natalbandy river  boat launch

natalbandy river  boat launch

We somehow didn't plan out our shuttle situation very well, and at the takeout spot we realized we needed to squeeze all three kayaks onto my two-kayak roof rack. But we're resourceful, and I drove carefully:

Nick assessing the rig: Nick let me try out one of his boats, so two of these three kayaks were his.

The Natalbany River, like so many of the small rivers around here, is normally a very slow moving river. It's small enough that we only encountered small fishing boats,  and enjoyed a very relaxing, scenic trip as we made our way down river to the Tickfaw River, and then Lake Maurepas. 

natalbany river paddle

natalbany river kayak
It was hot and sunny, so we took a short break in the shade.
natalbany river kayak

As we expected, once we got to the Tickfaw River we began encountering larger, faster boats, and their wakes. It was still pretty early in the day---perhaps noon when we got to the Tickfaw--and traffic was by no means at a peak. I'm sure we would have dealt with much heavier, and much faster traffic 2 or 3 hours later. This is a very popular spot, and folks are having a good time.  A small group of kayakers will not always be noticed, so pay attention and expect some wake.
The banks of the Tickfaw are soft and marshy. Firm land is hard to come by, and when you do find it, it's probably private property. We did come across a couple of small bayous, and that's where we pulled over to eat lunch.

natalbany river kayak

Not exactly sure what this guy was, but I had to snap a shot.

Most of the boat traffic near the Prop Stop is actually coming from upriver to the Prop Stop, so traffic is actually a good bit lighter between the bar and Lake Maurepas. But again, these are often fairly large pleasure boats, and moving pretty fast. As you might expect, they really aren't looking out for kayaks on the water, so as I mentioned earlier, stay to the sides and listen for them as they approach. Within 2 miles or so, we came out on the lake, and just followed the marshy shore on our left as we headed southeast. We spent about 4 miles on the lake, and as we approached the eastern edge of the lake, we could to see I-55 and Hwy 51.

lake maurepas kayak

lake maurepas kayak

When you're coming across Lake Maurepas towards the boat launch at North Pass, it's likely you'll see the taller overpass that spans the the South Pass of Manchac, which (of course) is south of our destination. Instead, look for the very tall cell phone tower, and the not-quite-as-tall overpass that spans the North Pass. The phone tower is in the parking area of the boat launch that was our take out spot.
From the water, the direct route to the launch can be a little tricky. So aim for the cell tower and take a quick study of this image below:

My first time approaching the boat launch from Lake Maurepas, I ended up taking the left part of the fork at that little island in the picture above since I was basically using the high point of I-55 as my target. Instead, take the right fork, follow that, again with the cell tower as your target, and before long you'll see the launch as you come around the last curve.
Once at the launch, you can use the launch itself to take out, or you can pull up to the rocks right below I-55 and not deal with boat traffic.
And that's the trip! Don't forget, Middendorf's is a very short drive south. It's a great place to refuel after a great paddle!

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