Exploring the Beauty of Kayaking on the Russian River

The Russian River, nestled in the Sonoma and Mendocino counties just north of San Francisco, is a California summer hotspot. With its meandering path through picturesque forests and past numerous wineries, including those with majestic redwood trees, the river beckons visitors to engage in a variety of water activities. From kayaking and canoeing to swimming, floating, and simply relaxing, the Russian River offers the perfect setting for a memorable summer adventure.


This area caters to both families and individuals seeking outdoor fun. Along the river’s edge, numerous sandbars provide idyllic spots to set up camp for a barbeque or a delightful picnic. Unlike the boisterous spring break parties that characterize Lake Havasu, the river culture here is generally friendly and more relaxed. There is plenty of fun to be had in this welcoming environment.

Discovering the Best Stretch of the Russian River

Considered the most popular section of the Russian River, the stretch from Healdsburg to the river outlet into the ocean is easily accessible and caters to summer vacations and water activities.

Photo credit: RussianRiver.com

During the summer, the river typically becomes shallow and narrow. In fact, there are areas where you can stand and walk instead of relying solely on your kayak. Of course, there are deeper spots where you can enjoy a refreshing swim. To avoid any potential mishaps, it is recommended to use a kayak or similar shallow watercraft to explore the river’s wonders without getting too close to the riverbed.

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As you navigate along the river, you’ll encounter numerous rope swings and houses with docks. Motorized boats are scarce, although they are allowed. On popular weekends like the 4th of July, the air is filled with music from individual picnic parties and pontoon boats lazily gliding along the river.

Embarking on your Kayaking Journey from Guerneville

Guerneville, often referred to as the heart of the Russian River, is one of the largest towns in the lower region of the river. However, with a population of only 4,500 people, it retains a charming and nostalgic atmosphere. Surrounded by trees and accessible via a single main road, Guerneville feels like a time capsule from the 1950s, making it an ideal destination for a family getaway.


Modern-day Guerneville caters to the influx of tourists with a variety of cute cottage accommodations, diverse culinary options, and outdoor activities. Additionally, the town boasts a strong PRIDE movement, with hotels specifically designed to cater to the LGBT community. For more information on accommodations and restaurants in the area, check out UpStreamPaddle.

Where to Rent Your Kayak

Johnson’s Beach

Located in downtown Guerneville, Johnson’s Beach is within walking distance from any accommodation in the area. It is the ideal place to rent kayaks due to its convenient location. Imagine waking up, grabbing a picnic sandwich from the local Safeway, and strolling over to the beach to embark on your kayaking journey. Kayaks can be reserved in advance or rented directly from the boat house upon arrival.

  • Johnson’s Beach entry is free ($5 for parking)
  • Kayak rentals cost $40 per day
  • Open daily from June 17 to September 8, from 10 am to 6 pm
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Burke’s Canoes

Another popular option is Burke’s Canoes, situated further upstream near Forestville. While Burke’s offers a complementary shuttle service for those who prefer paddling downstream, reaching the location from Guerneville requires a short drive.

Setting Your Course

When renting from Johnson’s Beach, keep in mind that there is a dam in the river at the beach for swimming purposes, preventing downstream paddling. However, you are free to kayak in any direction along the river as long as you return by the end of your rental period.

Remember to bring along waterproof sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays while on the water. While the current is relatively gentle, kayaking upstream will take more time and effort as you battle against the flow. Look out for an old railroad bridge upstream of Johnson’s Beach – it serves as a valuable landmark, indicating that you’re almost back.


While Johnson’s Beach requires the use of lifejackets throughout your kayak trip, once you pass the railroad bridge, you’ll be out of sight and free to explore the river at your own pace. To fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the river, follow the water’s course for approximately 4-5 miles until you reach Korbel Winery. This scenic spot is perfect for a relaxing picnic and a refreshing swim.

Allow roughly 1.5-2 hours to reach Korbel Winery if you paddle continuously at a good pace. Along the way, you’ll encounter two expansive sandbars with lively groups of people enjoying the sun and water. The river’s twists and turns may make it challenging to pinpoint our favorite spot near Korbel, so keep an eye out for those ideal locations on either side of the river.

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Spend a Day Kayaking Along The Russian River

This section of the river is particularly appealing because it is conveniently located halfway between Guerneville and Forestville. Additionally, since it’s near the winery, it tends to be less frequented by locals, offering you a more private and intimate experience.

From here, you can choose to continue upstream to explore more of the river’s wonders or head back to Johnson’s Beach. As you paddle back in the afternoon, you may encounter stronger winds, creating some resistance even though you are now going with the current. Nevertheless, the return trip should be faster than the initial journey, allowing you to relish the memories of a fantastic day on the Russian River.

To experience the magic of kayaking on the Russian River, visit UpStreamPaddle and plan your adventure today!