Russian River

Healdsburg to Jenner. A few of my friends and I are looking to do an easy Kayaking camping trip in a couple weeks. We figured we would put in at Healdsburg in the morning and camp the first night near Forestville. Second night, we figured we could camp near Guerneville and the third night, camp down near Jenner.

Anyone do this trip? Should we schedule an extra day? Is there anything we need to know about this river? Camping recommendations?


High storage capacity boat?
With all the great wineries there, I’d have the boat pretty loaded up!

Sorry, I’ve only been there in my ex-neighbor’s Toyota Avalon (a boat of a different sort).

You need to be aware of river water levels. I’ve seen boat trips from Healdsburg all the way down to Jenner in various stages, so it’s possible. What varies is the water level. If low, it’s a pretty rocky voyage! If high, it can be very swift. In some storms it’s flood speed! So you need to know the levels for when you’re going.

rain supplied
Russian Rover is mostly rain supplied, not dam supplied, water. As such, it gets very low in the dry season (now). Here are some water reports.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if this level is paddlable, but suspect if it is, it would be with a lot of scraping on rocks.

You may want to consider the Sacramento River in some stretch between Redding and Chico. This is dam supplied, so has more reliable water sources. there is a commercial trip that does the 100ish miles from Redding to Chico in October with details at You could possibly use the info to make a trip that matches your distance and timing.

good info
Thanks for the information. I’m new to the area, so I’m still finding my way around. I’ll look into the Sacramento river for this trip and save the Russian river for next year after the predicted “El Niño”.

the bay

– Last Updated: Sep-24-15 4:54 PM EST –

How about the backwaters of the bay? There are estuaries between antioch and stockton. there are estuaries around skaggs island also. Bothin Marsh preserve in mill valley is another option. There's also a campground somewhere nearby, though I can't remember where. More experienced paddlers go to Angel island. However, Angel island is in the actual bay, which is damn dangerous at times. Just last week a friend of mine had pretty gnarly time when fog was blown in by a gale taking the visibility down to near nothing. The actual bay is too dangerous for my tastes, but the areas I mentioned are more sheltered and farther from the "currents of death from hell" that whip under the golden gate bridge.

This gives you an idea of the surface currents:

paddled it 3-4 times and frankly, it’s a bit boring. River when I saw it in July was LOW. Wait for a wet year before trying it.

Sacramento River: the best section to paddle is out of Redding (below Shasta Dam) to Red Bluff. Or head on down to Balls Ferry for a total of 32 miles. Fall is a great time to go. Sadly, our rivers are not in good shape due to 4-5 years of drought. Have you considered Oregon? Some amazing rivers to paddle! I’ve been on the Rogue and Deschutes and both are outstanding for a camp/paddle.
Bay Area Sea Kayakers maintains an excellent website that has tons of information for trip planning.

The Russian River
is something I’ve done a couple of times, but it isn’t a favorite. It’s best in the mornings as the afternoon winds come up the river from the mouth (Jenner) and can make the rest of the paddle a slog. There is a low head dam that must be portaged, but I can’t remember the actual location of this.

The water will be very low and this, as others have stated, is not a good time of year to paddle there.

As you approach Jenner, the ocean encroaches and creates a wide bay. There should be plenty of wildlife at that point, but the river itself has little wildlife to view. The water is fairly murky (the bottom is all soft silt and it doesn’t stay put), so there is no real visibility through the water.

The Sacramento from Redding-Red Bluff is a better bet and has moving (cold) water, including (modest) white water, eddys, and an active sheriff’s department that helps ensure safety on the river. Fishing is possible in the (many) flats, but you must use barbless hooks (crimp them down is the easiest method, but replacing hooks on lures is better for compliance). You will see enforcement on the river and canoes and kayaks are not exempt from same.

I’ll reinforce the idea of contacting BASK and Sea Trek (Sea Trek being the outfitter most closely associated with the club, located in Sausalito). There are some excellent paddles in the area and along the coast all the way down to (my favorite) Monterey Bay (including Carmel - though that gets pretty rocky and rough with few good exits to shore).


The delta has changeable currents that are not completely natural. When the canal pumps turn on, they can actually reverse the current in the region and create some really confused conditions.

Been there when the current reversed once and it was very strange. Also made for a very long paddle since I’d planned on traveling with the current :).


Oregon sound great
But we’ll probably have to do that next year.

Sac River Questions
I’m looking into Sacramento River more closely. I just picked up a book “Paddling Northern California” and I’m going to check out

This started out as a trip for me and a buddy from work. Just something to do. But a couple more friends have asked to come along now and are looking to me to set this up. They’ve already taken the time off from work. So I feel obligated to figure this out.

How is camping along side the Sacramento river? Are there campgrounds? How many miles can 4 novice kayakers expect to go per day at a leisurely pace? A couple of the kayaks in the group are the sit on top type, will these be OK?

some current, mild rapids
the link i had earlier for a paddle along there did list a few possible campgrounds. I haven’t done the stretch yet myself, so can’t comment. I have been thinking of doing it solo from Redding to SF, and figured I would just find some guerrilla campsites, but that isn’t always possible for groups. You could call the paddle organizer and ask them about the camping options?

There is some current along that stretch. Expect the water to be going from 1 to 3 mph, which adds to your speed. So if they normally would paddle 10 miles, then likely this would bring it up to 15-20.

There are supposed to be some mild rapids in the stretch, so be prepared. Class II type stuff.

There isn’t much
in the way of “organized” campgrounds, but there are some. What we always did was land at one of the river islands and practiced low impact camping and all that entails. A sea kayak can carry everything you need if you pack well, but stuff must be pretty water tight (lots of dry bags) if you don’t want an uncomfortable night.

I haven’t done this in a few years, but we used to take 20+ boys scouts down the river in this way (I didn’t lead these trips, I just played sweeper in my kayak). Fun outings.


As for the conditions
there are lots of eddies along the side of the river. In high water, the rapids may or may not be there. In low water, some class II (a section called “China Rapids” is the most turbulent, but is also the last set of whitewater on the river) on occasion.

I did this several times in a 17’ sea kayak and it was a kick, but the scouts were in canoes and handled it fine (for the most part - some rescues were involved). I don’t think a SOT will do any worse than that.

10-15 miles is an easy distance to make. We were able to haul out at 4-5 in the afternoon and have a few hours to set up and rest before dinner.


Russian R
This river is really crowded until the off-season like now. Check the flow, but you are not likely to have enough water this year until the rains come.

I have paddled the Sacto River a lot over the years. It always has enough flow. Fall would be a great time to go. Redding to Red Bluff is the best trip for people with some moving water experience. It has lots of riffles a couple of rapids which can be lined by the in experienced. Watch out for fishing boats. The king salmon are in now.

There are plenty of easier trips below Red Bluff that are still a lot of fun. Everyone I have taken on the Sacto has been pleasantly surprised. Camp on the islands or endless sandbars. There are a couple of State Parks with more facilities.

Watch out for vehicle break-ins especially around Redding. There is a large drug trade and vehicles parked overnight are at risk. Do not leave anything of value in your vehicles and pay some one to watch them at a campground, RV park or fish camp.