Floating / Tubing the Russian River – a Map of Beaches

Written by max on 2013-05-29


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

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18 replies to “Floating / Tubing the Russian River – a Map of Beaches

  1. stacey

    Thanks for this helpful map. It’s the only one I could find that really showed exactly where the beaches are! We’re trying Burke’s on July 5th canoeing as it’s the first time on this river but I hope to go back on my own in a tube or get our own canoe so I can take my dog with me eventually……now we know all the spots we can launch it on our own.

  2. Kristin

    Awesome info – thanks! Hope it’s ok to pick gour brain. We are going on a canoe trip thru Burkes. I think it goes from Forestville to Guernville. I am wondering if someone leaves Burkes in their own boat/tube, is there a place about 25-50% down Burkes route where someone can leave a car, then get out river at that point and leave in their car, while the rest of the canoes continue on to the endpoint at Burkes shuttles?


  3. Vanessa

    Thank for all the helpful advice. Does anyone know of a good camp ground to stay at around this area?

  4. Lisa

    Best resource on Russian River tubing I’ve found on the internet. THANK YOU!

  5. Lisa

    One question for you – is parking easy to find at Steelhead, Mother’s, and Sunset beach?

  6. Post Author max

    Hi Lisa, thanks. The advice from other users in the comments helps a lot too, since I’ve only done it a handful of times. Every time I’ve been to Steelhead the parking lot has been about half full. I think it’s $7 to park, free to drop off. I’m not sure about the others.

  7. Carlee

    Thank you so much! No other website has ‘floating’ type of information. Question though; what companies or company offer shuttle service to different areas and what are the details? I couldn’t find anything.

    Thanks again!

  8. Will

    Going to do this in a few weeks, and looking for a 4-5 hour float – is it really 3 hours from Steelhead to Mothers, and then only 4 more hours from there to Johnsons? The first leg seems to be about 5X shorter than the second leg, but only takes an hour less?

    Any recommendations for what would be a good, relaxing, but not painfully slow 4-5 hour float?


  9. Anonymous

    We did Steelhead Beach to the bridge at Odd Fellows Road on Saturday July 25, 2015 and it took us 7 hours. We were moving very slow (< 1mph) for most of the trip, but some others on the water that day who have done trips in the past said the river was moving slower than normal, so I would imagine this was slightly unusual. We had planned to make it Johnson's Beach and left a car there, but were getting tired of swimming along our 'raft island' (yes we connected 8 rafts plus a raft/cooler full of beer) to combat the wind so decided to get out early and send two from the group to grab the car at the end and shuttle the other drivers back to Steelhead. It did seem like people who didn't connect their rafts to others' were moving more quickly, so that's a thought…also after we dumped some of the melted ice from the cooler that seemed to make the swimming easier. I would definitely recommend planning a shorter trip in mid-summer, you can always stop along the way and make your trip take longer if the river is flowing more quickly (plenty of great stopping points!), but it's not as convenient if you have to get out early. We had hoped to be on the water by 10am, but underestimated the time it would take to inflate rafts, fill the cooler, shuttle the car to the end, etc. and therefore didn't get on the water until about 11am, finishing at Odd Fellow's Bridge at 6pm. Apply sunscreen early, and often, bring lots of water, snacks, and enjoy the water! We had a blast, but could have benefited from a shorter trip plan. Thanks Max for your info!

  10. Post Author max

    Thanks for posting that feedback — 7 hours is way too long, that must have been brutal! I guess that’s what super-drought does for us, eh?


  11. Renata

    For the past few years I would always go steelhead to sunset and BBQ back at steelhead at the end. I wanted to try something new this year and I heard from Johnsons beach to stumptown it was a good trip, still slow but no need to get up and walk some parts. I was wondering if anyone has any feedback for that route and if anyone knows if there are BBQ pits at Johnson’s beach.

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  14. Michelle

    Has anyone tried floating Russian River this year yet? I have a trip planned for the end of July and am wondering the best in/out for around 4/5hr float day.

  15. Tim

    How long would it take to start in Healdsburg (Hwy 101) and actively paddle kayaks (not a float trip) to Burkes?

  16. Karen

    I need HELP! My first time ever tubing in the Russian River. I have zero sense of direction and have no clue how to do this. We got a house near Johnson’s Beach. I’m thinking the smartest thing is to drive to a beach then float toward Johnson Beach. Where should I start for a 4-5 hour float?

  17. Brandon

    Hi All! I’m planning a float trip on 9/12 and would love some advice!

    We have an airbnb right on the river off Guernville (with private dock), so we were thinking we could avoid the large crowds starting at Steelhead Beach and instead, start from Johnson’s beach. Has anyone done Johnson’s beach to Guernville/Vacation Beach? How long would that take approximately? Is there any current to help us out?

    Any info would be much appreciated! Thanks!

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