Summer on the Russian River…. It's an iconic Sonoma County experience, and each year thousands of residents and visitors look forward to swimming, paddling, and tubing on this beautiful warm-weather playground.
However, playing in the river is not without risk. Yes, the water looks calm and inviting on a hot summer day, but there can be unseen hazards beneath the surface, including sudden drop offs, changing currents, snags and boulders. So at the risk of sounding like your mom, we ask you to please be safe out there.
Kids in Life Vests, Always
Most of Sonoma County's Russian River beaches do not have full-time lifeguards on duty, so we recommend swimmers wear life vests, especially if you're not a strong swimmer or you're drinking alcohol. Children always should be in life vests when they're in the river.
Borrow One of Our Life Vests
Regional Parks river safety program provides free life vests for visitors at the busiest river beaches - Steelhead, Sunset, Forestville River Access (Mom’s Beach) and Del Rio Woods. The life vests are available daily Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Just look for the life vest stand at the park, pick out a vest, use it all day, and drop it in the collection box when you leave. If you have kids with you, take a vest for yourself too and model safe practices.
Swim at Memorial Beach in Healdsburg
For peace of mind, one of the best swimming spots is Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, the only public beach on the Russian River staffed daily with lifeguards from July through Labor Day. A temporary dam creates a calm, wide swim zone just south of the historic steel-truss bridge. Clearly marked boundaries, a long, sandy beach and the watchful eyes of Regional Parks' lifeguards make Veterans Memorial Beach an ideal destination for families.
Friends Don't Let Friends Swim Drunk
Another safety issue we encounter on the river is excessive drinking. Alcohol and swimming are a dangerous mix, so please practice moderation when you’re enjoying a day at the beach. River swimming requires a lot of judgment calls, and you don't want your thinking impaired.
And, lastly, please be a good neighbor while visiting river communities. Respect private property near the beaches. Stay out of people’s yards, keep the noise down, and don't litter. (That may mean packing out trash to the parking lot or to your car.)
The Russian River truly is a treasure for us in Sonoma County, so let's enjoy it safely.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been updated annually to reflect beach conditions.