The Russian River, California
Forest Hiking, River Paddling, Wine Tasting, and Pacific Splendor
Just north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento, the Russian River offers visitors a grand natural getaway. Redwood forests, river-scapes, Sonoma wine county, and the special sparkle of the Pacific coastline come together to make the Russian River an exceptional travel destination.
The town of Guerneville is called the "Heart of the Russian River," and it's just a short distance from many of the area's finest wineries. Be sure to take a leisurely stroll down Guerneville's Main Street, where shopping venues cover every imaginable interest - from sporting goods, books and videos to jewelry, antiques, and flowers. At Johnson's Beach and Resort, you can rent chairs, sun umbrellas, kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, and inner tubes - for playtime at the river.
Kayaking and canoeing are perfect ways to experience the Russian River, a scenic 70-mile span of water that stretches from just above Cloverdale to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner. Paddlers on the river find beaches to explore, fishing spots to try, and wildlife (such as turtles, bobcats, tree frogs and mallard ducks) to observe. Due to seasonal fluctuations of the river's water levels and currents, family paddle trips including children are best planned during 'tamer' months between May and September. If you drop a fishing line in the Russian River, you might catch a steelhead in the fall, a shad in springtime, and smallmouth bass or bluegill during the summer season.
Your Russian River trip is incomplete until you spend some quality time in Sonoma's wine country. Consider going on tasting tours at the wineries along Dry Creek and Westside Roads. Dry Creek stretches from just north of Healdsburg through the Dry Creek Valley to Lake Sonoma. Westside is a winding two-lane road from Guerneville to Healdsburg that cuts through the center of wine country, traverses the Russian River, and passes through redwood forests. Sonoma's large number of grape-growing microclimates and soils are reflected in the great variety of local vineyards and wines produced.
In and around Healdsburg, you can taste organic wines made with hillside-grown grapes at Porter Creek Winery on Westside Road. The J Winery features deftly planned food and wine pairings at the tasting bar, and Bella Winery and Caves hosts zinfandel tastings inside (you guessed it) a wine cave that's located underneath their Lily Hill Vineyard. At the historic Korbel Champagne Cellars, you can learn how 'the bubbly' is made. If you'd rather pedal a bike than drive a car through Sonoma's wine country, guided or self-directed cycling tours may be arranged through outfitters in Healdsburg.
Explore California's Sonoma Coast.
Jenner is ideally situated on the cliffs that overlook the Russian River as it meets and greets the Pacific Ocean. The river mouth is a wonderful spot for kayaking in the estuary or observing the antics of harbor seals and pups at the Goat RockPark seal colony. On Highway 1 just north of Jenner, there's easy access to the Coast Vista Trail, where you can gaze over the edge of the continent.
Visitors fortunate enough to arrive at the Sonoma Coast State Beaches can hear pounding waves, breathe fresh sea air, feel sand between toes, and see the natural magic of tide pools, driftwood, secret coves, and inspiring sunsets. If you decide to try Pacific fishing, you might catch a salmon, halibut, rock cod, or albacore tuna.
Hiking and birding (think in terms of snowy egrets, great blue herons, and red-tailed hawks) are other favorite pastimes on state-protected Sonoma Coast beaches, which stretch all the way from Jenner on the northern end to Bodega Head at the southern tip. The entrance to Bodega Harbor is the best place for sighting Pacific grey whales. Whale watching talks by marine experts are offered seasonally at the head, or you can reserve a slot on one of the whale-watching boat tours that departs from Porto Bodega.
Fort Ross State Historic Park is located on California Highway 1, just 11 miles north of Jenner. The former Imperial Russian settlement and permanent trading post at the fort was established in 1812 – with a backdrop of amazing Pacific seascapes and redwood forests. The buildings and exhibits at the park tell stories about the Russian otter hunters who traveled from Alaska to live and work at the compound. Park displays likewise share facts about early California Ranch-era residents, and the culture and customs of the Kashaya tribe - the first people known to have lived on the land around the settlement. Significantly, Fort Ross was the southernmost point of Russian occupation in the Pacific Northwest.
Sequoia trees in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve's temperate rainforest are commonly called coast redwoods, and they are recognized as the tallest living things on earth. They grow 250 feet or more in height, their trunks have a diameter of 12 -16 feet, and they live anywhere from 500 – 1000 (occasionally even 2000) years. In addition to a forest full of Sequoia trees, Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve contains a visitor center, nature trails (some accessible), picnic facilities, and an outdoor amphitheater. Most reserve highlights are located along the Pioneer Nature Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that's primarily flat and level. The Parson Jones' Tree (tallest tree at Armstrong) measures 310 feet in height. The Colonel Armstrong Tree (oldest tree), is more than 1,400 years old. The famous Icicle Tree is so named due to its unique burl formations. As an alternative to hiking and biking, you can arrange trail rides on horseback through the redwoods, coastal mountains, and meadows at Armstrong Woods Pack Station in Guerneville.
Austin Creek State Reserve, which is located just above Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, features 6,000 acres of grassy hills, wide-open woodlands, and meadows. Try to visit both reserves if you can, to see how Austin Creek's landscape contrasts sharply with Armstrong's thick redwood forest.
From the logging town of Cazadero, you can follow the highway up into the coastal foothills to visit Lake Sonoma, a body of water surrounded by vineyards. Lake Sonoma encompasses 2,700 acres with 50 miles of shoreline width where boaters, anglers, bikers, and hunters access the watery playground.
In addition to boasting an abundance of quality spas, galleries, shops, markets, and so forth, towns and villages around the Russian River have an impressive variety of restaurants. River's End in Jenner offers delectable seafood, poultry, and vegetable dishes, plus awesome views of the Russian River. Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar in Healdsburg serves tasty food at reasonable prices. Willi's calamari is tender and the lobster rolls are the real deal. Raymond's Bakery in Cazadero is the place to go for pizza, and Canneti's Roadhouse in Forestville is tops for inventive Italian fare.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Russian River Chamber of Commerce
16209 First Street
Guerneville, CA 95446
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"The Russian River, California"
Paula Loehr, R.N., B.A., worked in the fields of community health and nursing education, and was a school health nurse at the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels before becoming a fulltime journalist. Her writing specialties include family tr...