Five Great Fall Family Adventures on the Russian River

The Russian River is such a great summertime destination but friends often ask us—is it worth visiting during Fall and Winter? Doesn’t it flood every winter? The fall season is my favorite time of year on the Russian River because the crowds are gone but the Indian Summer gives us another month or two of fun. Here are some of our favorite things to do in the off-season.

It is November now as I write this post and just two weeks ago I was still swimming in the river. It was brisk for sure and the kids would only wade up to their knees but the sun was still beaming down us and the temperature was in the low 80’s. Whether you call it an Indian Summer or just SF’s weirdo seasons, the upshot is that the summer lasts an extra month or two past the start of school season which traditionally marks the end of high season on the river.

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Fall Swimming, Beach Lounging, and Fishing

After the seasonal dams come out in mid-September, the water levels drop and expose new beaches that have been hidden all summer, many of which have deeper spots that are still swimmable.

Local Advice: The Sandy Russian River Beach

Dubrava Beach is a good example, this is the only sandy beach on the river and the full reach of sand is only accessible during the fall. The water speeds are generally pretty mild but be sure the plan on drifting downstream. After the first major rain storm the water speed will pick up to unsafe levels but by then it is usually too cold for the beach anyway.

Bonus: Steelhead Trout at the Lucky Bend

Dubrava beach also happens to be located on the Lucky Bend so named by anglers who cast from shore to the deep water along the opposite shore. Steelhead is in season October 1 through April 30. Check the Fish & Wildlife Low-Flow Hotline at 707-944-5533 before going fishing on the Russian River.

Dubrava Beach
 if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 Highway 116 @ Old Monte Rio Road 
 if_Info_372922 Parking lot on south side of 116

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Paddling Monte Rio to Jenner

There are several nice stretches of river that make for a fun day of paddling but the best time to make a run down to the estuary is during the fall when the water is flowing and you only have to share the river with the green herons and otters. The distance is about 9 miles so depending on your paddling strength, water speed, and if the estuary is open to the ocean, your river time could be about a half day adventure. The river is wide at this point so the trip is suitable for older kids who can swim. There will be some riffles that you will probably need to drag the boats over. Be sure to go early because afternoon winds can make for slow going in the estuary.

Local Advice: Car Shuttle Logistics

The best put in location is at the Monte Rio Public Beach. Your car should be safe at this location while you are paddling since it is popular and has good visibility in the parking lot. Similarly the Jenner Visitor’s Center has a popular parking lot with good visibility.

Bonus: Après-paddle Vittles

Cafe Aquatica is right next to the Jenner Visitor’s Center and has a great deck where you can relax with a refreshment or a cup of hot chocolate depending on the weather.

Put in: if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 Monte Rio Boat Launch

Takeout: if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 Jenner Boat Launch

Après-paddle: Cafe Aquatica
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 10439 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

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Hiking Under a Redwood Umbrella

Redwood forests are amazing and they seem to come alive during a sprinkle. The dense canopy provides shelter from the rain for you and the critters. The water also saturates the color of the green boughs above your head and the red carpet beneath your feet.

Local Advice: Two Redwood Groves for Kids

Both Armstrong Woods in Guerneville and Land Path’s Grove of Old Trees in Occidental have nature trails that are perfect for toddlers and take about an hour to meander around.
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Bonus: Beat the Heat in Fall

Austin Creek State Recreation Area is usually way too hot during the summer to have a pleasant hike. However, in the fall and winter this beautiful valley behind Armstrong woods is refreshing change of pace. Starting a Gilliam Creek Trailhead, follow Schoolhouse Creek to Gilliam Creek, and return by East Austin Creek Fire Road. This 4.4 mile loop is a bit steep on the return. Our 6 year old hiked the whole thing but our 4 year old needed a ride for the last mile and a half.
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if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 17000 Armstrong Woods Road Guerneville CA 95446

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Grove of Old Trees
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 17599 Fitzpatrick Ln, Occidental, CA 95465

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Austin Creek State Recreation Area
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 End of Armstrong Woods Road

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Art Trails Adventure

If you’ve been to Guerneville during the summer and thought the 1st Friday Art Walk was fun, you’ll be happy to know that this barely scratches the surface of Sonoma County’s extensive art community. The Sebastopol Center for the Arts has organized a great event for the last 30 years called the Sonoma County Art Trail in October that links open studios and art events with art lovers.

Local Advice: Make it Fun for Kids

Kids are natural artists but driving between open studios is not a great recipe for fun so we prefer to make it into a scavenger hunt and have the kids collect ideas and inspiration for their next masterpiece or for drawing during the drive to the next spot. This is great activity for a fall day with scattered showers.

Bonus: Hands-on Art

Make it into a full art themed adventure by taking your newfound inspiration to an art class as the grand finale to your art odessey:

  1. Sebastopol Center for the Arts offers adult drop in classes in ceramics, drawing, meditation, and movement.
  2. Charles M. Schulz Museum has frequent kids art & crafts activities.
  3. Children’s Museum of Sonoma County hosts Art Spark every Saturday 10-11am where the kids can explore different kinds of art making.
Sonoma County Art Trail
Sebastopol Center for the Arts
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
if_360-Document_Home_2124263 http://sonomacountyarttrails.org

Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 2301 Hardies Ln, Santa Rosa
if_360-Document_Home_2124263 www.schulzmuseum.org

Children's Museum of Sonoma County
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa
if_360-Document_Home_2124263 www.cmosc.org

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Fall Apple Harvest

Sonoma County, especially West County, is all about agriculture and the fall is harvest time. You may have heard that Highway 116 is called the Gravenstein Highway; well it is named after the apple region that is bisects. Luther Burbank, a famous horticulturist from Sebastopol and Santa Rosa praised the apple,

“It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.”

Gravenstein apples are the first to ripen in August followed by grapes and other apples in September and October. Both grapes and apples are ripe in October and November and apple picking is a great family adventure.

Local Advice: A Family U-Pick Apple Odyssey

Forget Apple Hill, 7×7 recently did a great article on everything to do with apples in Sonoma. However, you can do our recommended condensed family-friendly version in a single day.

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch 
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 13128 Occidental Rd., Sebastopol

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Luther Burbank Experiment Farm 
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 7777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Horse and Plow 
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 1272 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Ace California Cider 
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 2064 Gravenstein Hwy N., Sebastopol

if_360-Document_Home_2124263 Mom's Apple Pie 
if_00-ELASTOFONT-STORE-READY_map-maker3_2703072 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol

Did we miss your favorite fall adventure in Sonoma County or the Russian River? Let us know in the comments. Cheers!

This local insight brought to you by your hosts at Lucky Bend Lookout; a modern yet family-friendly Russian River vacation home. Check our availability and book online or call Sarah at 415-516-6961 to reserve.

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