This original post was in March of 2010. We have visited many times since then and written many more posts. What a great place. There’s still trouble with the trail where the dam doesn’t quite keep out the Russian River in winter floods. The trees and bushes are bigger so that some of the benches are losing the view including a great one to Mt. St. Helena. Pay it a visit.
The Russian River Used to Run Through It
From late spring to fall, Riverfront Park provides an easy 2 mile walk around a lake. Plenty of wildflowers and native trees are there to admire.
In winter or spring, I’d suggest walking part of the way around, backtrack and walk the other part of the way around. And backtrack. Not the choice I made last Saturday.
Look at the trouble I got into walking across boulders? Not an easy endeavor. My knees hurt on each step, but I did it.
Riverfront Park is at 7821 Eastside Rd. in Windsor (though postal-wise Healdsburg) and covers 300 acres. Before it became a Sonoma County Regional Park with three lakes, there were gravel pits. And long before that the river ran through it. At some point in geological history the Russian River went west to the ocean instead of feeding into the Santa Rosa plain.
Now the park is a popular spot for fishing, horseback riding, dog walkers, casual bike riders and picnickers. Most of the trail is a wide dirt road and is fairly level. There are some soggy spots and some large gravel spots to ward off erosion.
Actually, seeing the river or getting to the river is not what the place is about.
But I’m ahead of myself.
The main parking lot for this park has been enlarged and facilities much improved over the last couple of years. A wide dirt trail to the right of a redwood grove is the start of about a 2 mi path that circles the largest lake.
The first part of the trail goes between redwoods and bays on the left and willows and box elder along the middle lake. In summer there’ll be chicory (small blue flowers) and daisies. At just over a quarter of a mile the trail splits around Lake Benoist.
I prefer going to the right in summer. This gets the hotter part of the trail over first and I can come back in the shade of the redwoods.
Off to the right is one of the recent (2009) improvements in the park, thanks in part to LandPaths. Several picnic tables are there awaiting the shade of recently planted native trees, including Western Dogwood.
At just over ½ mile and off to the right is a narrow trail that leads to several steps down to bench overlooking the river. Vinca blooms and Wildrose will be blooming. A walnut will soon shade the area. The river was slightly milky and not terrible attractive on this day. There is a steep muddy trail down to the river’s edge. That reminds me: Tick warning
Back to the main trail in a short distance is a trail that goes downhill and runs closer to the lake’s edge. We stayed on the main trail. The hill to the right is alive with Manroot, native blackberry in flower and blue elderberry. This box elder on the lakeside was full of dangling pollen-laden catkins.
It’s quite peaceful today with birds singing and the traffic at a minimum. We watched the slow flap of a heron flying from the nesting area across the lake.
The trail splits between high road and low road. We went down and left, meeting more fishermen. One claimed a catch and release of a 6lb bass. Near the dam, we realized that the trail was flooded out. Mike urged me on across the boulders. I did finally make it. But it was definitely not a pretty trip. Remember to walk halfway in one direction and then in the other direction.
Across this area is a nesting area for the Great Blue Heron. Signs caution to be quiet January to July.
The trail goes up a little, is muddy and at one point a creek crosses it. The reward is a bench with a view of a placid lake and Mt. St. Helena. The mountain is perfect in its own right and in reflection. Only a grebe and a kayak break the evenness.
Finally, we continued the walk. Many native species line the trail under the redwoods: thimbleberry, salmonberry, spice bush, poison oak, dogwood, bay and native blackberry. Squawking herons sounded from the treetops. A big leaf maple was abuzz with bees.
On the lake side are willows and planted alders. When we got to a point in the trail where we could see the lake better, we spotted coots and mallards. The lake is too deep to make many ducks happy, but we were happy to see them. An osprey flew overhead. It was an excellent note to leave the park on.
Revisited: January 2011. Wet and muddy, though it hadn’t rained in a while. One hawk and one hummingbird sited. Many people, mostly fisherman and horseback riders. Here’s a new bench – with memorial plaque and motto Live Fully and Love Truly.
See you on the trail!
Under a dark and cool Redwood grove: Picnic tables, grills, volleyball court. Reservations are needed for a large group area. One charming set of deep benches with coffee table would be an ideal spot for a poetry reading, if it wasn’t for the traffic.
Parking: $6 or Annual Pass. (oops, now $7 in 2014)
Directions: From the south, take Central Windsor exit off of Hwy 1. Go west on Windsor River Rd. In 2 mi turn left at Eastside Rd. From the north, get off 101 at Old Redwood Hwy. and at 1.8 mi turn onto Eastside and go 3.8 mi. Park entrance is at 7821 Eastside Rd – on the west side of the road.
Wheelchair access: Almost none. Gravel parking lot, pavement to bathroom and a deadend into the picnic grounds. Dirt road. Are there mountain wheelchairs? Like mountain bikes? It could be useful here.
Dogs: 6′ leash
Horseback riding: Trailer parking near entrance.
Fishing: Don’t catch steelhead or no salmon. But oh the bass!
Boating: No motors – or electric motor.
Swimming: NO. Not in the lakes. Nor on the trail.
Bathroom: Deluxe model, 2 stall flush toilets in the women’s, coldwater, water fountains.