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Tubing on the Russian River

Tubing the Russian River: How to plan a float trip

By Matt Hyles & Janelle Wetzstein

Floating down the Russian River is one of Sonoma County's most popular summer activities - for both visitors and locals. But a tubing adventure can go flat in no time if you don't plan ahead. Here are our do's and don'ts for a successful float trip. 

Travel the best route

The only Russian River tubing route we really recommend is the 2-mile stretch from Steelhead Beach to Sunset Beach in Forestville. Other float routes pose issues, which we’ll address later in this post.

Arrange transportation between parks

You don't want to finish a nice, long float and have to walk back to your car along the narrow shoulder of River Road, with traffic speeding past. One option is to park one car at Sunset Beach, then drive the other to Steelhead Beach and park there to start your trip. Or you can park at El Molino High School and ride the Regional Parks River Shuttle, which runs every 30 minutes out to Steelhead and Sunset beaches on summer weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Tickets are $5 round trip. 

Regional Parks River Shuttle map

If you plan to park your own cars, know that lots at both river parks fill early during the summer and are temporarily closed once all the parking spots are taken. (Parking is $10 per vehicle during the peak summer season or free for Regional Parks members.) If you plan to arrive at Steelhead or Sunset after 10 a.m. on a summer weekend, the shuttle is your best option. Charter bus access, including drop offs and pick ups, is not allowed in the river parks.

Start early

It takes about five minutes to drive from Steelhead Beach to Sunset Beach but four and a half hours to float that distance. Plan to be at Steelhead by 10 a.m. and on the water by 11 a.m. at the latest. Plan to arrive even earlier if it's a weekend, holiday, or the temperature will be over 90 degrees.

We cannot stress enough just how slow the Russian River flows in the summer. On average, it moves at about a half-mile per hour, which means you can travel faster walking on shore then you can floating on water. When winds pick up in the early evening, the current can push you upstream. So get an early start.

group of friends blowing up tubes

Plan for prep time 

Once you get to Steelhead, you'll need to inflate your floats, prep your coolers, apply sunscreen, use the restroom, double-check that you have your car keys, take the pre-float group selfie, etc. Anticipate at least an hour to get things in order. To make it easier, you can now rent a tube at Steelhead Beach, rather than bring your own - tube rentals can be booked in advance online at

There's no place to store valuables on the shuttle or at the parks. If you are floating the river, you will need to keep your keys, phone and other belongings with you on the water.

Bring supplies

In addition to your floats, you'll need a hand- or car-powered air pump or you may be able to use a seasonal inflation pump installed at Steelhead Beach. You'll also want to bring a cooler with food and drinks, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, water shoes, life jackets, car keys, driver’s licenses, cell phones, a dry bag, a garbage bag and other necessities.

Stay hydrated and know the alcohol rules

Bring lots of water. Drink lots of water. Even a few hours in midday sun can lead to dehydration and heatstroke. Alcohol is dehydrating, so drink even more water if alcohol is consumed. To help alleviate the impacts of partying on river communities, alcohol consumption is not allowed on Steelhead and Sunset beaches or on the beach at Forestville River Access.

Mind your manners

Respect the areas you pass. Don't trespass. Keep the noise down. Residents and other visitors will appreciate your efforts. Restrooms are available at Sunset Beach, Forestville River Access, and Steelhead Beach. Use them.

Take your float home 

Please don't abandon your raft or tube on the beach when your trip is over. All abandoned floats have to be thrown away at the end of the day. Follow "Leave No Trace" guidelines and pack out all of your trash, including your raft or tube. 

Tube Rentals

You can now rent a tube at Steelhead Beach, rather than bring your own! Tube rentals can be booked in advance online at

Don’t stay out too long

Any trip over five hours is too long to be on the river. Trust us. After five hours, you will want a break from your tube. Hunger, thirst, sunburn, and the call of nature will have you ready to exit the river after five hours.

Don't expect solitude

Tubing on the Russian River is a popular activity, and the river can get quite crowded with float groups. Don't expect a quiet experience on weekends.

crowded river beach during summer

Stick with this route

We don't recommend floating from Steelhead Beach to Forestville River Access (informally known as Mom's Beach) because the tiny parking lot at Forestville fills almost immediately on summer weekends, making a two-car shuttle difficult. Due to lot size, the river shuttle does not service Forestville River Access.

And don't attempt to start a float at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach because there is nowhere to pull out until you reach Riverfront Regional Park, which will take you six and a half hours.

Similar issues arise along other routes, including having to walk parts of the journey or hitting areas where the flow is so slow you'll have to walk with your tube or paddle with your hands.  

Have a good time

Tubing on the Russian River can be a fun, memorable experience if you plan ahead. Stick to this advice, and you are well on your way to a great float experience in Sonoma County.

Relaxing on the Russian River


Park and ride the Regional Parks River Shuttle, which runs out to Steelhead and Sunset beaches on summer weekends. Tickets are $5 round trip.

Parking at Steelhead and Sunset beaches is $10 per vehicle during the peak summer season or free for Regional Parks members. Parking for vehicles with 10 or more passengers is $1 per person. Charter buses are not allowed.

Matt Hyles is a ranger with Sonoma County Regional Parks. Janelle Wetzstein is a former marketing specialist with Sonoma County Regional Parks.

This post was updated May 2024.