Floating the Russian River is one of the most exciting things to do in the summer in the Sonoma County region of California. After living in San Francisco for 6 years, it became a fun annual trip to the river each year for me.

I’m writing this post because the first time I floated the Russian River it was a disaster. We didn’t plan ahead and things went awry.

For example, we bought tubes from Target that are meant for kiddie pools and wouldn’t blow up or plug up. Not sure how, but we didn’t bring food, only booze. We also didn’t bring an extra car and we didn’t know what we were doing. If it hadn’t been for kind people to offer to drive us back and duct tape our tube, we’d still be lost on the river.

The point of this post is to help you so you end up having a great day and don’t need to worry about the same thing we did on our first Russian River float trip.

While we’re at it, let’s be friends on Instagram!

Russian River Float Trip

Russian River Float Trip

1 – Navigating the Russian River

California has been in a serious drought for the past few years and California rivers have been lower than normal. In the past years the water has been extremely low at the Russian River, but don’t let this discourage you! Luckily, the current of the river still moves and you can still float. You might just have to get out of the water a couple of times to walk your tube through the shallow patches. I promise you that it’s still fun!

Russian River Float Trip
2 – Where to park and get in the river

I highly recommend doing the 2-mile stretch from Steelhead Beach to Sunset Beach. Originally I would have recommended doing the float to from Steelhead Beach to Mother’s Beach (now known as Forestville River Access). However, now, since so many people do this float per year, this tiny parking lot fills to the brim and makes the two-car shuttle situation pretty difficult. Not to mention it pisses off the local community.

It’s going to be a smart idea to either park one car at Sunset Beach river park and then leave another at Steelhead Beach. Another option is to park in Santa Rosa and ride the new Regional Parks River Shuttle! This is awesome and runs out to Steelhead and Sunset beaches in the summer on the weekends. Tickets case $5 roundtrip and is great—especially if you’ll be drinking. Keep in mind that during the pandemic, charter bus access was not allowed between river parks.

To park at Steelhead beach it will cost you $7 for the day for your car (credit or cash) and you just put the receipt in your window. Park in the first main parking lot by the bathrooms. Just know that these lots can fill up fast in the summer, so getting there early will be key (like 10 am on the weekend).

This particular stretch will take you about four and a half hours to float the entire distance. To enter the water you’ll walk down the path past the bathrooms and by the water.  Voila, you’re on your way to floating bliss.

If you want to float a portion that’s about 4.5 hours, but a bit less crowded, try floating Vacation Beach to Monte Rio Beach. Once you get to Monte Rio beach you’ll find concession stands with lunch options and there’s plenty of parking for cars.

Russian River Float Trip

3 – What supplies to bring

  • A sturdy tube preferably with cup holders. I get mine off of Amazon like this and this for couples.
  • Floating cooler (if you decide to drink on the way like we did). We got these, but you can also use an extra tube that has a mesh bottom for storing drinks. Just be wary of the alcohol rules on the river and bring lots of water and drink it! Also, be aware that alcohol consumption is not allowed on Steelhead and Sunset beaches or the beach at Forestville River Access. Please be mindful and respectful of this.
  • Duct tape and rope or heavy string (in case a tube has a hole or you want to tie on to friends)
  • Air mattress pump, hand help air pump, a battery-powered pump, and/or car charger with plug-in to blow everything up. We usually bring air mattress pumps to pump up in the bathroom outlets. However, sometimes they don’t work. Steelhead Beach installed seasonal inflation pumps that you may be able to use while you’re there. Make sure you have a different plan just in case. Usually, there are other people around if you get desperate and need to use their pumps!
  • Food, booze, and water
  • Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses (ones you don’t mind losing in case they fall in)
  • Some type of sandal. I always wear my Chaco water shoes so my feet don’t get scratched up when I need to walk in the water
  • Garbage bags, plastic bags, dry bags for phones, car keys, and driver’s licenses if you decide to bring them
  • GoPro, waterproof camera case
  • Life jackets

Russian River Float Trip

Russian River Float Trip

4. Leave time for set up

After you get to Steelhead Beach, you’ll need to bake in ample time for your group to get situated. Make sure you have enough time to find parking, blow up your tubes, use the restrooms, prep your coolers, apply sunscreen and make sure you drop your cars a the end (about a 5-minute drive). This can take a good chunk of time to set up. I recommend about 45-minutes to an hour for this prep time!

5. Be respectful and mindful

One thing to note about this area of the Russian River is a lot of people actually live around here. Nothing that annoys them more is for drunk people from San Francisco to come float the river on the weekends. Please try to mind your manners, respect the river, respect private property and clean up after yourself.

It will be important to haul all of your trash out (and tubes out) after your Russian River float trip as well. There are garbage cans for this at Sunset and Steelhead Beach parking lots. It’s imperative that you follow the “leave no trace” guidelines set forth by Sonoma County.

Russian River Float Trip

Most of all, have a good time on your Russian River float trip! After all, that’s what we’re here for. Just remember to respect the river and the locals that live here!

Russian River Float TripPIN IT:

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).