Days of Dogs and Water
where can you let your dog romp at the river or coast these days without worrying about destroying the ecology or inviting disapproving looks? Unless you own the landscape it can get a little tricky.
By: Frank Robertson
May 21, 2012
A dog running on a beach at the Russian River knows it doesn’t get much better —unless it’s a beach at the Sonoma Coast.
But where can you let your dog romp at the river or coast these days without worrying about destroying the ecology or inviting disapproving looks? Unless you own the landscape it can get a little tricky. It pays to ask around.
Through the grapevine we know that Dillon Beach at the Pacific Ocean near Tomales Bay is a legendary “doggie heaven,” as more than one blogger has noted online.
“Dogs off-leash are OK at Dillon,” says Lisa of Hayward.
“Our wonderful Weimaraner loves it here,” says Anonymous. “It does not get better for dogs.”
Dillon Beach is actually in Marin County, but easy to get to from western Sonoma County by driving out Bodega Highway and turning left at Valley Ford Freestone Road. There’s a wealth of information on the Internet these days regarding dog-friendly accommodations whether it’s hotels, restaurants or swimming holes. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a few good Russian River dog beaches by heart, having lived a long time in Guerneville accompanied by canines who would almost rather swim
Our Airedale, Roxy, rest in peace, liked to swim in the river downstream of Odd Fellows Park Road, where a summer bridge spans the river between River Road and Highway 116 just east of Korbel Champagne Cellars.
You can usually walk along the river here on trails that anglers make through the tangle of riparian forest. Eventually you’ll come to a sandy beach bordered by trees and a steep rock cliff. The beach was still intact the last time I was there. But don’t forget: River beaches move and change with the flow. There’s a new beach in Guernewood Park where gravel has built up in recent years, but one good flood could wash
it all downstream.
Miss Roxo used to swim down the river with her jaws clamped around a big stick that she’d drag onto the beach across from Korbel’s vineyard. It’s a sunny spot where summer kayakers and canoeists often stop to picnic.
Landing on a river beach with your dog in a boat can be a meaning-of-life moment. One year when my house flooded and I lost my job (all on the same day), I got over it by paddling my canoe down to Vacation Beach every morning with Rita, our first Airedale, who would ride standing up in the bow—a lookout in search of land.
She liked to jump ashore at the Vacation Beach summer crossing and beach-comb for treasure—picnic scraps or a dead carp. Once, she swam up to a family of otters, one of whom dove under and nipped her just firmly enough to make an inquisitive Airedale bark and paddle rapidly back
to shore. Rita was then forever wary of that spot.
Vacation Beach is kind of a hidden jewel among the summer facilities maintained by the Russian River Recreation and Park District. To get there, turn off Highway 116 on Summer Crossing Road west of Guerneville. There’s a summer dam and a parking area right next to the river that will be surging over the dam’s wooden beams with a satisfying roar.
This is a good place to launch a canoe or a kayak and float down to Monte Rio, where dogs are OK off-leash west of the Monte Rio Bridge. You can also rent a canoe or a kayak at the Monte Rio Beach and take your dog with you.
“My dogs and I absolutely love this beach,” says Evelyn of Fairfield in a Yelp review. “I love to swim with them and the water here is not very deep and is crystal clear and the surrounding redwoods are beautiful and serene.”
The River Recreation & Park District maintains another dog-friendly River beach at the old Guernewood Park summer crossing west of Guerneville. The Sonoma County Road Department no longer installs a crossing there (too expensive) which makes the beach quieter and
To get there from Guerneville cross the river in town on the Highway 116 bridge, turn right on Neeley Road and then veer right on Guernewood Lane. The old summer bridge is still there, down the road on the right where there’s parking and
A peninsular stretch of land juts out into the river here for maybe two hundred yards, a big willow-covered sand dune with trails and a small beach on the river across from the confluence of Hulbert Creek.
In the summer when the Vacation Beach dam is in, the Russian River is a lake here and is usually busy with kayakers paddling from Guerneville to Monte Rio.
With or without the summer dam installed there’s a good leash-optional dog beach across the River at Dubrava, so-named for the Dubrava Village riverfront condominium project on Highway 116.
Nearly ten acres of undeveloped open space and old second-growth redwoods remain quietly in charge here where an upscale resort hotel has been planned for 30 years. Check out the old brick chimneys and fireplace—all that remains of the old Guernewood Park Hotel.
For now Dubrava serves as the neighborhood dog park and a favored destination for anglers when the salmon are running. Sometimes the homeless camp out in the dense riverside foliage
Ray, our current Airedale, is pretty lukewarm about actually getting his feet wet, but he likes to see other dogs splashing in water. He’s made many friends: Molly, Nutso, Dennis and other Dubrava regulars who like to run around and eat grass and wade into the River to swim or get a drink.
Dogs going Coastal
Dog owners at the coast seem to know how and when to pick their spots.
“I only come out here on weekdays,” said a woman walking with her dog one afternoon at Bodega Bay’s Doran Park
It was an overcast day in late winter when not so many people are at Doran, a good place to run or walk with your dog on a long bayside beach that’s also popular with equestrians on horseback and packs of bobbing surfers in black wetsuits.
Off-season weekdays are definitely the best time for dogs along the Sonoma Coast State Park, a series of beaches separated by rock bluffs and headlands stretching for 17 miles from Bodega Bay to Russian Gulch north of Jenner.
“Beachcombers, fishermen, sunbathers and picnickers can access the beach from more than a dozen points along Coast Highway,” says the park’s visitor guide, but dogs aren’t always welcome even on a leash.
No dogs are allowed on the beach at Jenner’s Goat Rock Beach because protected harbor seals haul out on the sandbar where the Russian River meets the ocean. Dogs aren’t allowed on Salmon Creek Beach either,
owing to the presence of the snowy plover, a protected species of bird.
The western snowy plover is listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act as a threatened species “because of loss of nesting habitat,” says the state parks guide. “Habitat loss is the result of human development, invasion of European beach grass and predation by ravens, foxes and domestic dogs and cats.” Too many people, in other words.
Dogs on a leash are OK at most state park beaches, with Blind Beach south of Jenner a singularly popular
Not all the state park’s beaches are named. Farther down Highway One past Shell Beach, north of Wright’s Beach, are two unnamed beaches where dog people go. I’ve taken my dog there at times when we’re the only ones around.
It’s best to go when the tide is out because there’s more beach to walk on and less danger of a sleeper wave taking you or your pet out to sea. Turn off the highway at Carlevaro Way and you’ll see the beach trails at the cul-de-sacs.
Russian River Getaways, the vacation rental business in Guerneville, has a lot of good information about dog-friendly beaches at the River and the coast on a website, russianriverdogs.com.
The canines and their humans always seem to like it when someone new shows up.
Dogs at the Riverside
Sonoma County’s Regional Parks Department maintains several Russian River beaches where dogs are allowed on leash.
One of the best ones is in Windsor where I have taken long walks with my dog around the lakes at Riverfront Regional Park on Eastside Road.
Cloverdale River Park is worth exploring; it’s 73 acres on McCray Road.
Forestville River Access (also known as Mom’s Beach) is off River Road on River Drive just east of the Hacienda Bridge.
Guerneville River Park is a pleasant and often little-used, six-acre riverside meadow beneath the new Highway 116 bridge and the historic old Guerneville Bridge.
Steelhead Beach in Forestville offers 26 acres of River frontage with cool trails looping through the riparian forest.
“I bring my dogs here all the time,” said Danielle of Concord. “You’re supposed to have them on a leash and rangers definitely come by, especially during the summer months, so I just walk down the trail about a mile and let my dogs play on a deserted beach.”
Healdsburg’s Veterans Memorial Beach allows dogs, but not in the river or on the beach. In Healdsburg the best bet for getting your dogs to water (leash or no leash) may be Larry Laba’s Russian River Adventures, where they rent inflatable rubber kayaks in which to float downstream in the summer with your dogs and a cooler full of ice and beer.
“Thank you so much for being dog-friendly!” a River adventurer wrote on the website. “You don’t know how much fun my family and our dog had yesterday. Not only did our Golden run and swim all day, she is tired today. We look forward to coming back!”