Ecosystems collide at Willow Creek on the Sonoma Coast State Beach, where the Russian River empties into the Pacific. The .25-mile hike-in to this secluded campsite keeps away the RVs and crowds. Along a narrow meadow, Willow Creek’s 11 environmental tent spots are hidden among the trees lining the river. Bring your Sunday swimming best: Private trails from the sites lead you to the river, so you can swim or fish or lounge at your leisure. Odds are good you’ll see some of the estuary’s denizens, including blue herons, egrets, osprey, and river otters.
TIP: Rent a kayak across the river in Duncan’s Mills and float right by Willow Creek Beach on your way to Penny Island, a bird sanctuary with an abandoned homestead. You’ll probably need a full day to make the trip to Penny Island and back at a relaxed pace.
Russian River Outfitters, 25375 Steelhead Blvd., Duncan’s Mills. 877-RR-KAYAK. Single kayaks rent for $65 a day and $45 a half-day.
Campsites are $15; reservations not accepted. There are fire rings, pit toilets, and picnic tables, but there’s no potable water, so bring your own.
Directions: From Bodega Bay, take Hwy.1 north. Turn right onto Willow Creek Rd., a patchily paved road that is prone to getting washed out in storms. Turn left when you see the Willow Creek Camp sign, and drive past the house and along the dirt road until you reach the camp parking lot. More information.