Skip to Content
Two women floating on the Russian River

Playing it safe on the Russian River

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 

Girl in Life Vest on the Russian River

Most of Sonoma County's Russian River beaches do not have full-time lifeguards on duty, so we strongly recommend swimmers wear life vests, especially if you're not a strong swimmer or you're drinking alcohol. Children should always 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), Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach and Del Rio Woods. The life vests are available daily throughout the summer. Just look for the life vest stand, pick out a vest, use it all day, and drop it at the stand 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 regularly with lifeguards from Memorial Day weekend 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.  

Friends Don't Let Friends Swim Drunk 

Friends Relaxing on the Russian River

  • Another safety issue we encounter on the river is excessive drinking. No alcohol consumption is allowed at Steelhead Beach, Sunset Beach, Forestville River Access, Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach and Guerneville River Park. 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 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 annually to reflect beach conditions.