Floating, Boating, Boarding and Swimming the Russing River...
When & Where: Boating in the Russian River Valley takes place on the Russian River, and the season runs from April through October, extended in years where there is little rain in the late fall and/or late spring.
During boating season, the Russian River has no white water, just a few currents here and there, an amiably gentle river for novices and a relaxing paddle for the experienced.
The winter river is another matter. Swift, dark, cold, and high, the river is unsafe and unsuitable for recreational boating.
How: Canoes and kayaks are the boats of choice, while inner tubes provide a lot of fun. All are available for rent or you can bring your own:
- Boat Rentals: The season of operation for boat rentals varies from year to year, depending upon when boating becomes safe in the spring and when it becomes unsafe in the fall. If boat rentals are not offered, you can assume the river is not suitable for boating. There are both canoe and kayak rentals along the Russian River; some offer shuttles for pickup, others will deliver kayaks to you and retrieve them at the end of the rental.
- Bringing Your Own Boats: If you are traveling with your own kayaks or canoes, there are free boat launches in Guerneville at Johnson's Beach, Monte Rio at the Monte Rio Public Beach, and Healdsburg at the Healdsburg Memorial Beach. There is plenty of parking at these locations. To the east of Guerneville you can launch at Steelhead Beach in Forestville where there is a day use fee. At the mouth of the river in Jenner, there is a small boat launch next to the Visitor's Center. Along the coast from Jenner to Bodega Bay, the paths down to the beaches tend to be long and steep, but you can launch anywhere you can carry your boat. There are no day use fees at these beaches.
Boating to See Wildlife: The best way to see Russian River wildlife is by kayak. Birds are plentiful as dozens of species are found here, among them ospreys, red-tail hawks, kingfishers, kites, all types of herons, egrets, cormorants, swallows, crows, turkey vultures, ducks, and geese, along with brown pelicans at the mouth of the river in the fall. From Duncans Mills to the mouth of the river you may encounter harbor seals venturing from their nursery in the estuary. River otters slide down the banks and turtles sun on logs anywhere along the river; deer come down to drink, as do mountain lions although such a sighting is rare indeed. Bobcats are sighted on the hills above the river.
And Swimming! The Russian River is clean, safe, and swimmable from mid-May through September. There are public access beaches for swimming in Guerneville, Monte Rio, Forestville and Healdsburg, along with private beaches along the river. Many vacation rentals provide access to neighborhood beaches or have their own docks. Beaches tend to be a mixture of gravel and sandy areas, varying greatly each year as the winter river re-distributes the sand and gravel.
There is little to no current at the beaches and the river is generally shallow for some distance from the beaches. A channel with gentle current runs on the non-beach side of the river, switching from side to side along the way. Summer dams, installed in mid-June and dismantled in late September to early October, provide a stable water level for boating and swimming. Many homes on the river have docks which cannot be installed until the dams bring up the water level.
Note: Although children don't seem to mind the gravel at the beaches, adults might want to avoid the ouch factor and invest in an inexpensive pair of river shoes, available in stores on Main Street in Guerneville.
Bodega Bay Kayak
1580 East Shore Drive (Blue Whale Shopping Center), Bodega Bay
Single and tandem sea kayaks for rent; guided tours; instruction
Burke's Canoe Trips
8600 River Road, Forestville
Canoe rentals with shuttle pickup in Guerneville. Early spring through fall
Church and First Streets, Guerneville
Swimming and hourly canoe, kayak, paddle boat, and tube rentals, boat launch, once the county allows the dams to go in, usually in June. Kiddy swimming lagoon; lifeguard. Open 10am to 6 PM daily. Free parking
Monte Rio Public Beach
Downtown Monte Rio at the Monte Rio Bridge
Swimming and hourly paddleboat, kayak, and canoe rentals on the upstream side of the bridge; dog friendly beach on the downstream side of the bridge
King's Sport & Tackle
16258 Main Street, Guerneville
Canoes and kayaks for rent; delivery can be arranged.
Mr. Canoe's Paddlesports
PO Box 1555, Forestville
Canoe and kayak sales; escorted kayak and canoe adventures; classes
Lotus Kayak Rentals
Near the Sea Gull gift shop in central Jenner
Hourly kayak rentals for exploring the estuary. Open 9 a. m.-1 p.m. weekends and holidays
River's Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips
13840 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg
Full and half day rentals; overnight trips and package trips combined with camping available; shuttle provided
Russian River Adventures
20 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg
Deluxe inflatable canoes provide rides down a pristine, secluded part of the Russian River; shuttle from Wohler Bridge; gourmet lunches can be included. This part of the river is very quiet; there are no other canoe or kayak rentals here, and Russian River Adventures limits the number of canoes per day. Dogs are welcome.
Russian River Outfitters
25375 Steelhead Blvd/PO Box 99, Duncans Mills, CA
877-RR KAYAK (775-2925); 707-865-9080
Aquaterra Kayaks rented by hour or day, tours available. Your dog is welcome to sit on top with you. Just 4.5 miles from the coast, this part of the river is wide with little development. You may well see harbor seals and ocean birds as well as a great variety of birds. You can kayak to Jenner-by-The-Sea where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean and the Outfitters will shuttle you back to Duncans Mills.
PO Box 39, Jenner, California 95450
707-865-2249 or Toll Free: 1- 888- 865-2249
Custom half-day and full-day kayak/hiking tours; also three-hour instructional paddle for beginners