Russian River below Healdsburg
This stretch makes a good introduction to downriver boating. It is close to population centers and usually available all summer long. The scenery is not dramatic, but after passing under highway 101, this stretch has a remote feeling amidst heavy vegetation.
Water is diverted from the Eel River to the East Fork Russian, providing spring and early-summer flow for the upstream runs. Sometimes in late summer the Eel diversion is reduced to a trickle, but even in drought years Sonoma Reservoir adds flow to this stretch.
Guided trips (with inflatable canoes) are available from SOAR Russian River Adventures in Healdsburg near the put-in. SOAR also provides shuttle service for people with their own boats.
Healdsburg has many fine establishments for eating and drinking. Accomodations are available up and down the Russian River valley. Camping is possible at the Alexander Valley Campground, and at the KOA on River Road south of Cloverdale. Healdsburg is less than two hours from San Francisco, so many people drive up just for the day. Upstream of this stretch is an excellent semi-wilderness run, the Russian River above Asti.
Hazard: When boating and especially when swimming, stay away from trees and branches hanging down in the water. These strainers can be lethal: the water goes thru them, but you do not. The force of current can trap you underwater.
To reach put-in coming from the south, exit highway 101 on the first Healdburg Avenue exit. (From the north, exit at Westside Avenue.) Proceed north, bending west, to an old steel bridge across the river, downstream from a railroad bridge. You can park on the left at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach Park, or cross the bridge and continue .1 mile to an outfitter's office on the right, where more secure parking is available. Because the shuttle is very short, you could lock a bicycle there and pay to park at put-in. You might find it more convenient to pay an outfitter for a lift to put-in.
To reach take-out from there, drive on either side of the river to Wohler Bridge. In summer the parking area there is gated and locked, so without arranged shuttle, you probably must continue to Mirabel Park on the south bank.
Map of Rivers