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Kayaking and Paddling the Petaluma River: The Ultimate Guide

Kayakers enjoy paddling the petaluma river under a blue sky

Can You Kayak on the Petaluma River?

Yes, the Petaluma River offers wonderful kayaking opportunities for paddlers of all ages and abilities.


Where Do You Kayak on the Petaluma River?

There are three main ‘put-ins’ along the Petaluma River:

  1. The Float House
    In downtown Petaluma, this family-and-beginner-friendly destination is a great place to get your feet wet (so to speak) with paddle sports. It’s along a section of the river near the center of town. Kayaking this section of the Petaluma River is less about a destination and more about getting familiar with a kayak and having a social experience. Be advised it can be windy in the afternoons and is often crowded. The downtown location also means it’s more challenging to park.
  2. Petaluma Marina
    From the marina, if you go in the morning you can ride the tide into town for lunch then paddle with the wind at your back on the return trip. Or, ride downriver to Lakeville Landing, which takes you through a scenic stretch of Sonoma Valley landscape and a more rural, nature-focused experience. Directly off of Highway 101, Petaluma Marina is easy to access, with plenty of parking.
  3. Lakeville Landing
    This launch location offers the most rural Petaluma River kayaking experience, taking you through Sonoma wine country. It is found 15 minutes off the freeway. 

Is the Petaluma River Safe to Swim In?

No, according to the California Water Boards, the Petaluma River contains unsafe levels of bacteria and excessive algae growth that make it unsafe for swimming. However, kayaking and paddleboarding are safe on the Petaluma River. 


Best Times of Year to Paddle the Petaluma River

The Petaluma River is accessible to paddlers year-round, with Spring being the windiest season. The water temperature remains milder throughout the year, as compared to coastal kayaking destinations, allowing for plenty of time on the water. 

Thanks to prevailing afternoon winds, it’s advisable to get on the water earlier in the day and plan your route to take advantage of both the tides and wind direction. Twice yearly, Bay Area paddlers have the opportunity to ride the King Tide on the Petaluma River, when coastal tides raise the water level and boost the flow of the river making for a thrilling and unique excursion. Paddlers start at Lakeville Landing or Petaluma Marina and travel to San Pablo Bay. 


Is the Petaluma River Safe for Beginning Kayakers?

Yes, because of its flat water and generally mild currents, the Petaluma River is a great place for beginning kayakers and paddleboarders.


Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing Along the Petaluma River

For the best birdwatching, you’ll want to head south toward Lakeville Landing where you can find Great Blue Herons and Egrets plus more waterfowl and shorebirds as you get closer to San Pablo Bay and the briny ocean air.


What to Wear While Kayaking and Paddling the Petaluma River

As with any active outdoor activity, non-cotton layers, including performance fabrics and merino wool are your best option because they wick moisture and regulate body temperature best. A waterproof jacket and pants are helpful in cooler months when staying dry is paramount. Sunscreen, sunglasses, or a hat are advisable year-round on the Petaluma River, due to UV rays reflecting off the surface of the river. Finally, waterproof shoes or sandals are recommended, as well as any appropriate safety gear recommended or required by your tour guide or outfitter. 


Are Kayaking and Paddling Tours Available for the Petaluma River?

Yes, there are paddling tours along the Petaluma River, from experiencing the King Tides to tranquil Petaluma River Marsh tours and several self-guided adventure options. Multiple outfitters provide rentals, guides, shuttle service, and specific tours in the Petaluma area.


Other Tips to Make the Most of Your Petaluma River Kayaking Experience

  • Afternoon winds blow off the Pacific, through the Petaluma Gap and downriver. There is a NW prevailing wind most afternoons and it can be very strong in the spring. Wind makes paddling (especially on SUP) more fun when it's at your back, very difficult when it’s not.  And when the wind and tide are opposing, the water gets choppier and the whole experience less fun. In this area, it’s always better to go early in the day or ride the wind & tide, one-way.
  • Want to avoid the crowds and get into nature? Head downriver. There is much more nature adventure potential there. Ride the tide with the afternoon wind at your back on ebb tides (every other week), one way to Lakeville or San Pablo Bay (6 or 14 miles), then stop by Ernie’s Tin Bar after the paddle. 
  • When huge wind and tide are opposing (ebb tide + NW wind) the downwind paddle to Lakeville is a great place to practice riding the little waves that occur near the old loch about 2 miles south of town.  Remember, wind is stronger than tide on a paddle board because your body is like a sail.
  • Pro Tip: Both the Napa and Petaluma Rivers empty into San Pablo Bay and are separated by only 20 miles of rolling vineyards - one of the nicest commutes in America!  The tide is the same on these rivers, while the normal prevailing afternoon wind is the opposite.  You can find a downwind paddle with wind and tide aligned, on any given day on one river or the other!  If the afternoon tide is ebbing (outgoing), ride the Petaluma River.  If the afternoon tide is flooding (incoming), ride the Napa River.  Spring tides (full moon and new moon cycles) are ideal because they are bigger.
  • Wind forecast spoiling your plans? If the region is blown out you can paddle the Oxbow in Downtown Napa which offers some wind protection about a quarter-mile from the Main Street Dock where the forest begins, and the river banks are better established creating a wind block.

Final Thoughts on Paddling the Petaluma River

The Petaluma River is one of San Francisco’s most easily accessible outdoor playgrounds offering flat, calm water paddling with a state-of-the-art, float house and recently christened Petaluma River Park that will soon offer nature walks, more river access, and picnic spots.

The Floathouse provides the full spectrum of paddle sport equipment, plus a small town's amenities and very little boat traffic. This is a great spot for kayakers and paddlers of all ages to be introduced to human-powered water sports. Whether you are looking to ride the high of the King Tides or just want to soak up some sunshine and get a little exercise on the weekend, it is the perfect destination to hone your boating skills while taking in the natural beauty of the Bay Area.

Here at Napa Valley Paddle, we’ve logged thousands of hours exploring Petaluma River by kayak and paddle board, from leading tours to teaching lessons, to simply enjoying the serenity of the water from a fishing kayak. Our expert instructors and guides go above and beyond to keep you safe, share their love of paddling, and introduce you to the joy of seeing the world from a boat. We offer boat rentals and sales, tours both adventurous and sublime, and much more. Begin your adventure today.