Anderson Marsh – Clear Lake Water Loop 2
July 15, 2023
By Holly Harris, Konocti Regional Trails Volunteer
A favorite among birdwatchers, this is a scenic loop around Indian Island into the tule marshes of Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, and traversing back into Cache Creek and the western shoreline of Clear Lake. Paddling at a leisurely pace, the jaunt takes about 3 hours and is a bird watcher’s paradise. While the marsh itself is quite calm, be aware that winds can whip up large waves in the open waters off Redbud Park.
The loop begins at Redbud Park in the city of Clearlake. As you head across the lake to the opposite side, an island emerges from the background. Indian Island was once a major village housing up to 300 people; it also was the political and religious center of the Koi Tribe for at least
8,000 years. While the island is now privately owned, a portion of these cultural resources are protected by the California State Park System through a conservation easement, and the island is included on the National Register of Historic Places. The extended Anderson Marsh area contains prehistoric archaeological resources that date back at least 10,000 years, making them among the oldest in California.
Paddle around the back side of the island and head south. To your right is the former McVicar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is now part of Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. A nice sandy beach off the tules is an inviting picnicking spot. Notice the volcanic rock of Indian Island; it is part of the formation known as Dacite of Thurston Creek. Lava eruptions and flows began approximately 450,000 years ago, forming the ridge you see to the west as you paddle south from 1 to 5. At this point, there is very little motorized boat traffic so kick back and enjoy the quiet, interspersed with sounds of nature. Rolling hills and vineyards are visible to the south – these hills are lava flows, part of the formation known as the Basaltic andesite of Round Top Mountain. Much younger in age, the flows started erupting roughly 125,000 years ago. Round Top Mountain is currently the site of a rock quarry; the vibrant red volcanic cinders are a favorite for landscaping.
You are passing the official marker to Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. From there you will paddle peacefully through the area informally dubbed “The Tule Maze.” Over the years, 84 percent of the original wetlands on Clear Lake have been lost. But here, 540 acres of tule marsh have been designated a natural preserve. This remaining tule marsh is vital to the ecosystem of the entire lake, providing protection, food, and breeding areas for many species of wildlife and also filtering water flowing into the lake.
Birds commonly seen are grebes, white pelicans, herons, coots, mallards, and egrets with the occasional sighting of bald eagle and peregrine falcon. This area is a grebe nesting
site. In the spring, please be especially aware of bird nests among the tule reeds and keep a respectful distance. Flocks of white pelicans also are a common sight at this location, particularly during the winter migratory season. At least 150 bird species use the marsh and surrounding area. During the spring, spawning carp—some the size of small logs—can be seen jumping, causing quite a stir in the tule beds.
Depending on the lake level, you can weave through the tule marsh by following any open channel of water to the entrance to another canal leg. However, you will need to return following the same route because there is no shortcut through the tule maze. Please note if you venture further into the “swamp forest,” it is easy to become lost. Be sure to follow the ridgelines and hills to orient yourself as you back out. The best time to visit is in the winter and spring months, due to higher water levels and large groups of migratory birds.
Heading back, you can veer east and paddle into the entrance of Cache Creek, which itself is another great adventure for a different day. Otherwise loop north around Garner Island, past the North Flat Day Use Area that offers another good picnic site, and then hug the shoreline until you arrive back at the Redbud Park boat ramp.