Nude Beaches & Rivers of 2005, their reviews
Sonoma County, WOHLER BRIDGE
Fast water, limited parking, and a past history of anti-nudity arrests don't
seem to be denting visits to the little nude beach near Wohler Bridge this year.
The Russian River is higher, and its current is running faster than usual, so
use extra caution at Wohler. Although Sonoma County has tried to discourage nude
beaching via passage of a tough ordinance and occasional raids by deputies,
their regular visits to the little clothing-optional glade near Wohler Bridge
ended years ago and now take place only when complaints are received. "We don't
have a patrol [for antinudity]," Diana Nolan, head of the Sonoma Sheriff's
Department's Guerneville substation, has told us. Visiting Wohler, though,
requires perseverance. Nearby parking is heavily restricted, and no nude
sunbathing takes place anywhere near the bridge. Users walk upstream along a
trail edged by redwoods to a small clearing that leads down to a small strip of
flat, soft sand and
river gravel spread out over maybe an eighth to
a quarter of a mile. These days Wohler gets scattered nude use on warm weekends
that tilts heavily (but far from completely) gay.
Legal status: Sonoma County Water Agency land purchased from the family of the
late actor Fred MacMurray in 1996.
How to find it: Take Highway 101 north past Santa Rosa to River Road, then go
west for 10 minutes to Wohler Road. Turn right and drive 1.4 miles to the
bridge, continue across, and look for parking where you can (and please send us
your input). Walk back to the side of the bridge closest to River Road on the
south side of the river (left if you're facing the ocean), where Wohler Road
first reaches the beach. Look for a steel fence and go through a green gate with
a large Keep Clear sign. An all-weather gravel trail to the nude beach and
beyond starts there. The Water Agency doesn't hassle bikers or hikers on the
path. The walk is easy and takes maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Follow the path as it
winds along to the right and take it upstream (away from the ocean) from the
bridge until you reach a small meadow, with a path that goes to the river's
edge, where you'll see nude sunbathers. If you come to a water collection
pumping area, you've gone too far.
The beach: An eighth- to quarter-mile-long ribbon of flat, soft sand and river
gravel, fun for sunbathing. Although watercrafts are constantly passing the
site, a few visitors occasionally wade. Sometimes folks set up a volleyball net
in the clearing.
The crowd: Nearly everyone's nude. Expect several dozen users on the hottest
weekend days. "I see hikers, bikers, couples, and mixed singles who enjoy the
beauty of the place and who usually skinny-dip and picnic at Wohler," says
Problems: Unusually fast water, subject to raids based on complaints, proximity
of canoeists and other watercraft users, path may be muddy following rainfall,
garbage, tight parking, long walk. Stay on trail and within clearing to avoid
An impressively deep swimming hole with some of the best sand on the river,
Sunset gets a few trickles of nude sunbathers on the hottest days, but they
usually stay in the bushy area above the long, gently sloping site. Otherwise,
it's strictly a suited site. Sunset is known locally as Hacienda Beach. Dogs
love it. And in the early morning, check for butterflies along the water's edge.
The last known citation was in 1999, when an arrest for lewd behavior took
Legal status: Public access area of private property. See Wohler Bridge entry
for enforcement policy.
How to find it: Go north on Highway 101, passing Santa Rosa, to River Road. Take
River Road west to its intersection with Sunset Avenue in the Hacienda District,
east of Guerneville and 2.1 miles east of the Korbel Winery. Park where you see
other cars pulled over on either side of River Road, then follow Sunset until
you get to the third No Parking sign, where an easy path leads to the river. At
the river, turn right and walk west (toward the ocean) about 100 feet. Just out
of the woods you'll come to a sandy hill usually frequented by a few people; the
next beach is Sunset.
The beach: A sloping beach with cool, deep water. Sunset's biggest charms are
its serenity and easy access. The walk there is incredible.
The crowd: Sometimes in the hundreds, more often in the dozens. We counted about
15 visitors, including families and children, plus a few dogs, on the beach or
in the water on a sunny weekend. Most users are suited.
Problems: Fast water this year, canoeists, rocks in the river (wear water
shoes), subject to visits by deputies, parking on Sunset Avenue prohibited,
limited nude use.
Blanket Beach is "about big enough for a single blanket," says a regular
visitor. Still, there are usually a few users at this sandy riverbank sunbathing
or swimming nude. During the warm months, it gets frequent nude use. Best time
to show up: weekdays. On weekends it's mostly clothed, used by a family or two
who wander down the trail from Sunset Beach.
Legal status: Public access land of private property. See Wohler Bridge entry.
How to find it: From Sunset Beach walk downstream about an eighth of a mile
(toward the ocean, or if you're facing the river, to the right) to a small
beach. If you arrive at the Rocks (see next entry), a quarter mile from Sunset,
you've passed it.
The beach: A sandy riverbank. Small!
The crowd: Expect a handful of nude visitors on warm summer weekdays; on
weekends, a clothed family or two – but no nudists – will usually be present.
Problems: Fast water this year, subject to visits by deputies upon complaint,
holds few people, needs better directions, nude use usually restricted to
Rock-jumping, nude and suited sunbathing, and swimming are the main activities
at the Rocks, located just downstream from Sunset Beach. Due to this year's
rapid currents, use caution.
Legal status: Public access land of private property. See Wohler Bridge entry.
How to find it: Follow the trail from Sunset downstream about a quarter mile.
The beach: A 200-foot-long, sandy riverbank with high rocks on one side and a
deep swimming hole. Some visitors jump off the rocks.
The crowd: "It's used by a mix of men, women, and couples," says frequent user
Tom. "No citations have ever been issued at this beach to my knowledge." Best
time to visit is late on weekdays. The rest of the time, says Tom, "it's pretty
busy with clothed vacation users."
Problems: Rapid currents, area subject to visits by deputies, nude use usually
limited to weekdays, needs better directions.
ELSEWHERE ON THE RUSSIAN RIVER
Sandy nooks along the Russian River frequently attract skinny-dippers who like
to make their own clothing-optional sunbathing "beaches." The water's higher and
faster than normal this year, and if local residents or passing river users
complain, you may be cited, so be doubly cautious when heading for these hidden
Legal status: Public access areas of private land. See Wohler Bridge entry.
How to find it: Take Highway 101 north to Healdsburg, north of Santa Rosa.
Favorite skinny-dipping locales that haven't been raided often include the
riverbanks off North Fitch Mountain Road and West Side Road, which parallels the
Russian River between Guerneville and Healdsburg, and Steelhead Beach, across
from the Rusty Nail Bar, in the Mirabel area of Guerneville. Reader Doug wrote
saying, "As long as people are well behaved, the locals don't mind" topless and
nude sunbathing off a hard-to-find path near 2500 North Fitch Mountain Road. We
investigated and were told by operators of a parking lot at 2636 North Fitch
Mountain that nudists seldom appear and when they do local residents are quick
to call deputies.
The beach: Sandy stretches of riverbank, except off North Fitch, which is gravel
The crowd: It will probably be just you!
Problems: Swift river current this year, needs better directions, open to view
by canoeists, possible raids by deputies, limited parking.
For decades, residents have enjoyed a half dozen old-fashioned skinny-dipping
holes near Cazadero. They also occasionally allow friends and local residents to
use the sites. As word has filtered out about the sites, residents have been
trying to run any visitors they don't know off their property. In particular,
owners are upset about the trash and noise created by out-of-towners. Use with
extreme caution, if at all.
Legal status: The area around the holes is private property. But what about the
water? It's a murky question. "Many property owners claim the water to the
middle of the river as their property," Sonoma County sheriff's deputy Paul
Gregg says. Lawyers who have researched these claims say that "if you can kayak
or paddle to a swimming hole, you can use it, but not the riverbank," he adds.
"But if you can't paddle to it, it's private property." When called to the
scene, deputies usually try to avoid controversy by urging visitors to leave.
See Wohler Bridge entry for policy, but if you have any questions about legal
issues, contact local authorities.
How to find it: Take Highway 101 north, past Santa Rosa, to River Road. Follow
River Road and Highway 116 west through Guerneville to the cutoff for Cazadero,
which is called Austin Creek Road. Turn left on Cazadero Highway and continue to
Cazadero. Hole one: In town, take Fort Ross Road west past Neistrath Road to
Bohan Dillon Road. (If you get to Meyers Grade Road, you've gone three miles too
far.) Turn right on Bohan Dillon, a dirt road that crosses a bridge. Park in the
meadow just before the bridge. Take the little trail that starts there through
the trees and bushes to the riverbank. Hole two: Look for cars pulled over off
Kings Ridge Road, which heads north from Cazadero.
The beach: Tiny riverbank swimming holes, usually ringed by private land.
The crowd: Use varies, often limited to just a few people, even on the hottest
days. More often, such places are deserted.
Problems: Faster than normal water this year; you'll probably be visited or
cited by a deputy if the property owner or a family member, friend, or passerby
complains; trash and noise; needs better directions.
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