Paddleboarding at Spring Lake

Stand Up Paddleboarding in Sonoma County

By Suzie Rodriguez

Stand-up paddleboarding—often referred to as “SUP”— is becoming one of the nation’s fastest-growing outdoor activities. It’s certainly popular in Sonoma County, where the Russian River, several lakes, and Bodega Bay provide diverse adventures for paddleboarders.

Some of the best paddleboarding adventures can be found within Sonoma County Regional Parks:

Paddleboarding on the Russian River

Paddleboarding at steelhead beachJohn Menth, owner of Russian River Paddle Boards— and a Sonoma County native who grew up playing in and on the Russian River — believes that these eight locations are among the best possible spots anywhere for stand-up paddleboarding.

Riverfront Park is at the top of my list,” he says of the park west of Windsor. “It’s got Lake Benoist, an isolated, undisturbed lake with nesting herons and egrets in trees. The clarity of the lake right now is unsurpassed. It just takes my breath away, especially when morning mist is dancing on the water. And you can leave the lake, carry the board up over the trail and enter the Russian River for a whole different experience.

“Second to that, I’d say Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach. It’s a convenient location, and it’s perfect for beginners — they love that area, with the wider stretch of Russian River and buoy lines. It’s close to the parking lot, too, so if they have their own boards or are renting, it’s a quick walk down to the water.”

Guided Paddleboard Tours

Russian River Paddleboard tourMenth’s business offers three guided tours geared to beginning and intermediate paddlers, with all equipment provided and water-safety orientations.

The “River Paddle & Wildlife” tour takes paddlers along an isolated stretch of the Russian River, where fish are easy to see, and past rich riparian habitat filled with birds and other wildlife. The early morning “Benoist Mist” tour takes place on the lake’s calm waters amidst gorgeous views. At nearly 2 miles, the “Healdsburg to Del Rio Woods Adventure” on the Russian River offers an energetic workout.

Russian River Paddle Boards also rents high-quality inflatable boards for periods ranging from one hour ($30) to all day ($90.) “I set them up at the water’s edge,” Menth says. “The only thing they need to do is bring the board back to my shop in Windsor.”

Paddleboarding at Spring Lake

Another of Menth's paddling recommendations is Spring Lake Regional Park, with its placid, beautiful lake in northeast Santa Rosa. Spring Lake is ideal for beginning paddleboarders because of its convenient location, compact size and popularity. 

While paddlers at Riverfront's Lake Benoist may have the water all to themselves, paddlers at Spring Lake likely will share the lake with other paddlers, which may give beginners peace of mind. Paddleboard rentals ($20/hour) are available at the Lakeside Grill concession daily through the summer and on weekends in early fall. 

Paddleboarding on Bodega Bay

Man paddleboarding in the oceanMenth recommends Doran Regional Park on Bodega Bay for more experienced paddlers only. Doran is on a long spit of sand with the open bay on one side and Bodega Harbor on the other. Paddlers can ply their craft on either side. Menth said some might prefer the harbor side because it offers destinations, like the marinas, the mudflats, and Bodega Bay's businesses and restaurants.

Paddlers considering Doran Beach should pay careful attention to weather. “Paddlers need to be informed about wind, tide and surf conditions. All must be favorable and calm to have an enjoyable experience. The ocean temperature demands a wetsuit for the beginner, but an experienced paddler who doesn’t intend to spend a lot of time in the water probably won’t need one in summer and early fall.”

Bodega Bay Surf Shack is another local outfitter for paddling Bodega Harbor, and its paddleboard rentals include wetsuits and lessons.

For more information about Sonoma County's lakes, river and coast, visit sonomacountyparks.org.

About the Author

Suzie Rodriguez is a Sonoma-based writer, editor, lifelong outdoors enthusiast and past president of Bay Area Travel Writers.

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