Middle Reach of the Russian River

One of the many perks of living in beautiful Sonoma County is having the Russian River at our doorstep. In addition to feeding numerous highly-acclaimed Russian River Valley vineyards, it offers an amazing riparian playground for us to enjoy.

The Russian River is the second largest river in the Greater San Francisco Bay area (after the Sacramento River) and was originally called the Ashokawna river by the Pomo Indians, which means “east water place.” In the early 19th century it began to be called the Slavyanka River (meaning “slav river” or “russian river”) by Ivan Kuskov of the Russian American Trading Company. They established three ranches near Fort Ross, one of which, the Kostromitinov Ranch, was along the Russian River near the mouth of Willow Creek. The redwoods that lined its banks attracted loggers to the river in the late 19th century. The Russian River has its origins at the Laughlin Range near Willits and is a southward flowing river that drains into Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.

If you’re into kayaking, boarding or rafting, here’s a little known but delightful section which you can access just below the Healdsburg Memorial Beach Dam that my wife and I recently discovered. The route is about 8 miles or so with the last mile at the level of the fish ladder dam below Wohler Bridge. This makes for good progress with a gentle fall for most of the ride and exposes a beautiful stretch of the river, in particular if you are a bird watcher…..

If you do not have a professional raft, rubber ducky or hard-shell Kayak you will be restricted from entering the river at Memorial Beach.  You can rent very sturdy inflatable Rafts for 1 to 3 people from Russian River Adventures, (RRA) (707) 433-5599, 20 Healdsburg Avenue near the Healdsburg Bridge. They provide parking and return from Wohler Bridge for a reasonable fee.

Keep Russian River Adventures on your speed dial—they are fantastic and a great resource for anyone interested in fun on the river. My wife and I had our own inflatable Kayak but for a small fee they brought our truck down to the Wohler Bridge Education Center where we were able to load our raft up and take off for home without the “Two Car Tango”.

This is a great service by RRA, because the education center parking area is closed to the public during the “Tourist Season” (to protect the downstream fish ladder dam). The parking area opens up for fishing season late fall thru the winter.

This is an idyllic scenic stretch of the Russian River that is relatively quiet and not bordered by roads or river front homes, etc.  Our day on the river was so enjoyable and made even moreso by an encounter with a very inquisitive Common Egret as tall as me!

–Mark Stevens, August 2019