Western Trips

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Russian River Kayaking / Things To Do In Northern California

russian river kayakers
Kayakers on the Russian River
Looking for fun and and low cost things to do in northern California? River kayaking is a popular sport and recreation activity in northern California and the Russian River is a great place to practice it. The Russian River has long been a northern California tourist destination. Being a relatively short drive north of San Francisco, many people have been able to enjoy the river on weekend getaways. The Russian River starts out from California's Mendocino County and winds it's way southward to around the town of Healdsburg where it then starts a westerly progression toward the Pacific Ocean. Over the centuries, the river had a variety of names. The native Indians of the region had named it "Ashokawna" meaning water to the east. Another name was "Bidapte" meaning big river. The Spaniards who had settlements just to the south of the Russian River even named it the "Rio Grande". Eventually, the name Russian River came from the Russians who had trading settlements in the area, most prominently Fort Ross of the Russian-American Company on the northern Pacific coast, north of the town of Jenner.

The million acre watershed of the Russian River is one of the largest in northern California. The 110 long mile river blends together a landscape of contrasts. You'll find steep mountains with coniferous forest, chaparral, and oak woodland on each side of wide flat river valleys.

mouth of russian river
Mouth of Russian River on Pacific Ocean at Jenner, CA
The lower Russian River is a most popular in spring and summer and into fall as the river is safe then for kayaking, boating and swimming, with a very gentle current. The Russian River has been and is a great vacation area for many people from around the world and kayaking and canoeing are two of it's biggest draws. As the Russian River winds through valleys of Sonoma Wine Country on it's lower portion, it offers a perfect river opportunity for kayakers of all levels. The lush redwood trees offer a great scenic backdrop and the Russian River is home to a wide variety of wildlife.

If you own your own kayak or canoe there are many excellent sites along the river to launch them. There are a host of canoe and kayak rental companies in many Russian River locales which offer a variety of trip options. Both single day and multi-day kayaking trips are offered. Simple kayak rentals are also available. On the lower river between Hwy 101 and the Pacific coast is the town of Guerneville which offers rentals for canoeing and kayaking adventures. In this section, many people start their river journey from Steelhead Beach, east of Guerneville, and travel downriver back to Guerneville. Depending on how many stops you make along the way, this route will give you a pleasant half day or more trip. There are several places to stop along the way and rest or enjoy a short picnic.

guerneville california
Guerneville California
Johnsons Beach in Guerneville during the summer months is popular for those who wish to rent a low priced kayak and paddle around in the general area. The beach area there is large and food and beverages are available. Many people spend the entire day at Johnsons Beach.

The Russian River has a lot of interesting history attached to it. The Russian River runs through the beautiful  Redwood country and therefore was quite attractive to the logging industry in the late 1800's. Before pioneer settlement, the Russian River canyon and its tributaries held some of the largest redwood trees found anywhere. Because of this, the early logging industry in this area flourished.

guerneville russian river bridge
Bridge over Russian River, Guerneville, CA
The boom of the logging industry was during the period of 1870 to 1910. One lower Russian River town, Guerneville picked up the nickname of Stumptown. In fact, the North Pacific Coast Railroad which was established in 1874 was busy carrying lumber south to Sausalito California and then across by ferry to San Francisco. Many redwoods were cut down from the 1860s to 1880s to construct houses and buildings in San Francisco and other surrounding bay area communities. River Road which runs from today's U.S. Hwy 101 westward to Jenner on the Pacific coast was once a logging railroad. When the lumber industry declined by the end of the 1800's, the River Road route became a tourist line and vacation resorts and other tourist lodgings were developed.Vineyards and orchards are now found in level areas along the river that are not developed for residences.

A large amount of passenger traffic, in addition to logging traffic, was also carried by the North Pacific Coast Railroad. The line ended in the north at Duncan Mills with a short spur line further north to Cazadaro. Duncan Mills boasted a large sawmill where flatbed rail cars were loaded up. The railroad operated up until 1935. At the start of the tourist boom, people crossed from San Francisco on the ferry boat, received their railroad tickets in Sausalito and rode north to the end of the line. The Russian River area in the redwoods attracted a lot of people who wanted to enjoy the river beaches, kayaking, canoeing and the fresh mild climate.

I hope you enjoy the Russian River as I have for years. It's a canoeing & kayaking paradise. It also makes a terrific combination road trip along with your Sonoma County winery tours and offers a lot of low cost outdoor recreation options for the entire family in one of the most scenic areas of northern California.