Two kayakers travel down the Petaluma River at sunset in Sonoma County
Petaluma River

The Rivers of Sonoma County

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Sonoma County is blessed with three rivers: the Russian River, which runs through a large portion of the county and is arguably the most well known; the Gualala River, on the northern border separating Sonoma from Mendocino County; and the Petaluma River, which connects to San Pablo Bay and thence to the San Francisco Bay in the south.

Together, we can protect and preserve the beauty and natural resources of Sonoma County for generations to come. Check out our page on Sustainable Travel, and look over the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

The Russian River Redwoods, Wineries and Relaxation

The Russian River resort area is a vacation destination surrounded by ancient redwoods in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, just a few miles from the spectacular Sonoma Coast. Surrounded by towering redwood trees, the Russian River resort destination beckons travelers to explore, play, or just relax.

Two paddleboarders at Johnsons BeachThis region has catered to travelers since the railroad linked it to San Francisco in 1877. Visitors today find charming towns - ForestvilleRio NidoGuernevilleMonte RioCazadero, and Duncans Mills - filled with local shops and galleries. Enjoy a cup of coffee, a homemade pastry, or a farm-to-table lunch in a region known for great wines and locally made foods. A wide array of lodging means this area is affordable for almost any budget, from camping to luxury, and everything in between.

Here are some more resources to plan your visit to the Russian River:

The Petaluma River - Connecting to San Francisco

A person paddleboards in the Petaluma River in Sonoma County
Petaluma River

In southern Sonoma County, the Petaluma River snakes through tidal lands and pastures, linking the San Pablo and San Francisco bays with Sonoma County. Before the Golden Gate Bridge connected Sonoma County to San Francisco (via Marin County) many visitors and products were shipped by boat to the landing in Petaluma.
Today the Petaluma River provides a charming place to stroll in the town of Petaluma through Victorian-era buildings filled with wine country restaurants, art galleries, and excellent boutiques. The river itself is actually a tidal slough, rising and falling with the waters that come through the Golden Gate, some 20 miles to the south. 

Activities along the river include boating, kayaking, stand-up paddling, or bird-watching in the wetlands along the Pacific Flyway. 

The Gualala River - Sea Ranch, Forests and Quiet

The Gualala River winds down to the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County
Gualala River

In northern Sonoma County, the Gualala River forms the border with neighboring Mendocino County. Historically, the river served a crucial role in the Northern California lumber industry. Today it's an excellent recreation area for camping, wading, fishing, swimming, and splashing. You can enjoy beaches and wildlife viewing where the river enters the Pacific Ocean.

The nearby Sonoma County community of Sea Ranch includes the architecturally whimsical Sea Ranch Chapel as well as six coastal access trails, while Gualala itself has shops, restaurants, visitor information, and the impressive Gualala Arts Center. The Gualala Point Regional Park includes an information center with details on Native American history as well as the natural environment of the area.

Here are some great resources to help you plan your river adventure:

See Sonoma County's safety tips for water activities here.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez