If you’ve never given it a try, the Russian River is a great place to spend a few hours floating down stream. It’s free, it’s very shallow, and during the summer it’s very slow moving. This is not river rafting.
In the section between Steelhead Beach and Monte Rio the river is slow and steady. From Healdsburg to Steelhead you’re better off in a Kayake or Canoe where you can make up for the insanely slow river. The river depth is rarely overhead, and sometimes you may need to get up and walk it gets so shallow. It all depends on how much rain we’ve had and what time of year.
The best thing is a cheap (I’m talking $6 at Target) inflatable pool toy intertube. That way you can be more in the water. Be sure to bring canned beer and lots of sun screen, glass bottles are frowned upon. And water, yes water, don’t survive on beer alone.
Pick your start and end, leave a car at one end and drive to the other. If you only have one car, you can work with one of the local outfitters to shuttle you. If you don’t feel like being all the way in the water, rent a Kayak or Canoe. During the summer there are two summer dams that go in around Mid June. They are past Guerneville. You will need to portage (get out of the water and walk your butt around) the dams, it’s not a big deal.
Beware starting too late, as the headwind can be stronger than the current. This means that if the wind picks up, you will stop floating down stream and will need to paddle. For reference Steelhead to Guerneville (Stumptown or Johnson’s Beach), will take you 6+ hours, as we found out the hard way on the weekend of June 15, 2013. A better itinerary would have been to start at Mothers or Sunset beach. That would still have been 4+ hours, I’m guessing. In general, try to get on the water by 11 or 12 to avoid the wind. I’m not sure if the current is faster at certain times of the day as well — or what the water release schedule is upstream. If anyone has any information about that, please leave it in the comments.
On http://goo.gl/maps/65mD4 I’m trying to keep track of the different beaches and spots on the river where you can enter and exit while tubing.
The beach names some times differ from person to person. Please feel free to leave me new / different beach locations to add to the map in the comments below.
View Russian River Floating Spots in a larger map