The Napa River

The Napa River and Napa Valley Wine ToursThe Napa River is 55 miles long, and it drains the Napa Valley in the winegrowing areas northeast of San Francisco.

The river rises south of the summit of Mt. St. Helena.  (The source is seasonal Kimball Canyon Creek in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.) It enters the head of the Napa Valley north of Calistoga.  In the Napa Valley, it flows past Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, and through Napa. It empties into the San Pablo Bay into a large wetland called the Napa Sonoma Marsh.

Known for irrigating vineyards in its valley, the Napa River also supports a remarkable diversity of fish and recovering salmon populations, especially Chinook salmon and Steelhead trout.  Once, the Napa River basin supported a spawning run of 6,000–8,000 steelhead, and as many as 2,000–4,000 Coho salmon. By the late 1960s, Coho salmon had all but disappeared, and the steelhead population consisted of just few hundred adults.

But, the Napa River basin supports a fish community of greater diversity than even the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, including sixteen native fish species. Because of this, the Napa River has been prioritized for special protection. The California Golden Beaver had also disappeared.  Recently, beaver have recolonized the Napa River and have been seen near Rutherford and Oak Knoll.  Hooray!

Vineyard owners with property that borders the Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville, are allowing prime land to return to a natural state in order to preserve the ecology of the river. The project is known as the Rutherford Restoration Project and involves 23 property owners who have joined forces. After the restoration, native North American beaver returned to the area, establishing 3-4 beaver dams. Hooray, Part Two!

There are a lot of recreational choices on the Napa River. Whitewater kayaking and rafting can be done on the upper section of river from St. Helena to Napa. The lower section of the Napa River from Napa to San Pablo Bay has flatwater for canoeing, sea kayaking and motor boating. The Napa River Trail has segments at Kennedy Park & between Lincoln Ave and Trancas St. in the city of Napa.

There’s a juggling act between taking care of the ecology of the land and pushing it too far in one direction.  Napa Valley wine growers are assuring the restoration of prime areas.  Thank you!

Writer: Meredith Blevins, featured travel writer for the Authentic Wine Country.  Join her at for wine-country mysteries, classes, and the untamed west.

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