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 are 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.
Swim Near a Lifeguard
For peace of mind, one of the best swimming spots is Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, the only lifeguarded public beach on the Russian River. A temporary dam creates a calm, wide swim zone just south of the historic steel-truss bridge from July through Labor Day. Clearly marked boundaries, a long, sandy beach and the watchful eyes of Regional Parks' lifeguards make Veterans Memorial Beach an ideal destination for families.
Kids in Life Vests, Always
Regional Parks' other Russian River beaches do not have full-time lifeguards on duty, so we strongly recommend swimmers at those beaches wear life vests, especially if you're not a strong swimmer or you'll be drinking alcohol. Children, of course, should always be in life vests when they're in the river.
Life Vests Available
Several years ago, Regional Parks launched a roving lifeguard patrol that stops by the busiest river beaches - Steelhead, Sunset, and Forestville River Access (Mom’s Beach) - with free loaner life vests Fridays through Mondays all summer. This team will fit you with a vest that you are welcome to use all day. Just drop it in the collection box when you leave. You typically will find a river patrol member with life vests in the beach parking area starting at noon. If you have kids with you, grab a vest for yourself too and model safe practices.
Friends Don't Let Friends Swim Drunk
Another safety concern 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, based on changing conditions, 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 properly dispose of litter. (That may mean packing out some 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 to reflect 2017 beach conditions.