Gualala River in California

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

The name Gualala means, "where the waters meet" in the native tongue of the first settlers, the Kashia Pomo Native Americans, a name appropriate for the redwood-flanked Gualala River that empties into the Pacific Ocean from the forested hills to an elongated estuarial lagoon. The river's source is high in the California's coastal range watershed, and the main forks of the Gualala meander through 30,000 acres of privately owned redwood forest.

The Gualala supports an abundance of wildlife and is protected from motorized watercraft, providing a perfect setting for safe, self-guided paddling, past redwood forests, salt marshes and sandy beaches.

Paddlers can stop at quiet beaches accessible only by boat, for swimming, picnicking or lounging in the sun, catching glimpses of osprey, egret and heron, pelicans, mergansers and other waterfowl. Wildlife seen on the river includes white-tailed deer, raccoons, playful river otters, mink and large terrapin turtles sunning themselves on the banks.

In spring, the Gualala has enough depth and current (Class 1-2) to allow for "high-water" trips anywhere from 10-20 miles inland. In summer, the ocean waves build up the sand at the mouth of the Gualala River until it closes, and the sandbar becomes a natural dam through which the river and ocean waters filter with the tides. This phenomenon can occur as early as mid-May to as late as mid-July. When the mouth closes, the river backs up for several miles turning the river estuary into a closed lagoon and creating an elongated lake with imperceptible current, just perfect for novice boaters.

In late fall, the first major storms open the river mouth and the steelhead spawning season begins. The Gualala is a "catch-and-release" river and fishing is allowed from boats above the first confluence. Below the confluence of the north and south forks fishing is allowed from the riverbanks only.

Local outfitters offer kayaks and canoes for rent year-round and host Moonlight Flotillas in the closed estuary on the full moons of summer.


The variety of accommodations available range from campgrounds in the redwoods along the river, to nearby hotel and motel rooms, B & Bs and unique inns with cottages to luxurious rental homes in the redwood forest or along the coastal bluffs. There are also a wide range of restaurants to suit all tastes and pocketbooks. The village of Gualala offers a variety of services and amenities: supermarkets, pharmacy, bank, medical center, gas stations with auto repair, plus an abundance of shops and services.


The Gualala River runs through 30,000 acres of private forest, but no permits are required at public-access put-ins. The two campgrounds on the banks of the river charge for camping and a modest day-use fee for river access.


The Gualala River marks the county line between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, on northern California's Redwood Coast. Right on Shoreline Highway 1, about 3 hours north of San Francisco. Driving south on Hwy. 1, the Gualala River is about 1 1/2 hours from the village of Mendocino.


There are a number of public- access launch locations on the Gualala River. Local outfitter, Adventure Rents, provides maps and directions, rentals and shuttle service.


You may contact Adventure Rents, PO Box 489, Gualala CA 95445, 888-881-4386 or the Redwood Coast Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 199, Gualala CA 95445 , 800-778-5252.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location