Seasonal River Patterns

Seasonal River Patterns

Spring Flows…

In the spring the mouth of the river usually closes so that we can open by memorial day or even sooner. Please check our website or call 707-884-4386 for more information as to when our season begins. As spring moves towards summer, the storm season subsides, the water turns blue-green from chocolate brown, and the current begins to slow, as less water comes down from the watershed. Gravel bars appear; channels narrow and can be tricky to maneuver in the current. “High-water” paddles from Twin Bridges to the North/South fork confluence are available to folks with intermediate experience and above, either guided or in small groups as paddlers are miles from civilization on this section. No single or couples please. There is safety in numbers!

Summer Closure…

Although the timing differs each year, usually between mid-May and early in July, high tides and strong waves push sand at the mouth of the Gualala River higher and higher until it blocks the tidal flow, and the sandbar extends to become a natural dam through which the river and ocean filter imperceptibly with the tides. When the mouth closes, the river backs up for several miles turning into an elongated lake, crystal clear and current free - perfect for novice boaters - and marvelous for paddling, swimming and picnicking along the river banks.

Late Summer Levels…

Over the course of the summer, the water levels drop, until by late summer, gravel bars again appear that require brief portages. There is no need to carry the boats; Adventure Rents provides lines to their boats pulling them across the shallow spots. Kids seem to revel in getting to wade in this beautiful redwood riverbed ON PURPOSE, and we encourage parents and other adults to get in touch with their ‘inner child’ and delight in this natural phenomenon that is part of the Gualala River’s natural cycle. Remember that portaging is optional and there are still several areas for smooth paddling! Our only caution is that this is a gravel-bottomed riverbed and bare feet are discouraged.

Fall “re-fill…”

In fall, high tides and storms at sea cause waves to break over the sandbar and re-fill the river with ocean water, but this wave action coming from the ocean does not open the river mouth. Thus, boaters in the autumn may experience higher water conditions than did summer visitors! The Gualala River estuary is in the migratory path of many birds and waterfowl. Birders in particular enjoy the quieter fall with the fuller river. Egret and Great Blue Heron winter on the Gualala and are plentiful along the riverbanks. We are happy to arrange group floats with early launch times to capture those “early birds”. Boating in fall is by reservation only.

Winter Storms…

Eventually, the rains of late fall/early winter arrive. The first storms serve to fill up the river to its rim, covering any remaining gravel bars and even spreading into the marshes and low dunes on the east side of the Gualala Point sandbar. As the full estuary awaits the breach in the sandbar, steelhead smolts that have been waiting for an exit out to sea and mature steelhead waiting for the opportunity to enter the river to spawn, become a constantly moving ‘buffet’ for seals, otter and several species of avian, including osprey and pelicans. Historically, the Gualala Hotel Bar was the perfect place to sit and make bets on when the pressure of the brimming river would blow open the mouth. Finally, starting with a trickle…then a shallow stream…the river carves a miniature Grand Canyon rift into the sandbar and standing waves several feet high form at the inner mouth and narrow channel as the estuary empties, sometimes in no more that a half hour! The tremendous current is too strong to be paddled against, so as the river fills to brimming once the rains come, Adventure Rents ceases operation for the season. Once a world-class Salmon and Steelhead fishery, the Gualala River is now open to catch-and-release Steelhead fishing from the opening of the river mouth until March 31. Fisherfolk who wish to access higher pools may hire Adventure Rents for drift boat shuttles.

“There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.”
Water Rat in “The Wind In The Willows” by Kenneth Grahame