Russian River is California's premier leisure canoeing destination. Just north of San Francisco but beware and take some precautions.
April through October (7 months)
The river is slow-moving and safe during the canoeing season. If coming with children try to plan your trip in the mid-May through mid-September period. The shoulder periods of the season are excellent for the outdoor adventurers.
November through March (5 months)
During the winter the river rises, increases flow and hides branches and other snares. Canoeing the river during the winter is not advised unless you are very experienced.
The Russian River does occasionally flood. Summer visitors should not worry about flooding as the floods occur only after severe winter storms. However, the worst floods put Main Street under several feet of water. Major floods occur with a frequency of about nine years. Immediately after a flood, access to the area is typically controlled and only residents are permitted to enter.
Some of the Guerneville businesses will display markings on their walls to record the water levels of the biggest floods. They exhibited these marks like badges of distinction.
Flood stage is reached when the water level at the Guerneville Bridge rises to 32’ feet. At this level, some roads in the area become inaccessible. At 40’ many roads are cut off, and many cabins and some business are inundated. At 46’ Main Street in Guerneville is flooded.
The three worst floods on record are:
1986 - 48.8’
1995 - 48.0’
1955 - 47.6’
Dams have been constructed to help control flooding. However, the two worst floods on record occurred after the completion of the dams. The most likely reason for an increase in water levels in recent floods is unmitigated development upstream. As subdivisions and commercial developments occur, water from rainfall during storms will no longer be absorbed by the land or slowed by vegetation. Instead, the water will flow over payments and into the storm collection system and quickly inundate the river. The enormous expansion of wineries in the area also contributes to the increase in flooding. Water will run off vineyards quicker than land covered with indigenous vegetation. The expansion of wineries has also created erosion issues, as soil is carried into the river from the exposed earth of the vineyards. As the developers and wealthy wineries have far more political clout and resources to influence policy makers than the small business and residents downstream, the situation will likely continue.
The Russian River is prone to flooding pretty drastically every several years or so. Apparently the native american name for the river had to do with how fast the river level can rise and fall (I need to find out that name!). This photo shows the level after about 2 inches of rain in 24 hours. Must have been towards high tide. ;-)