Quick Links:Willow Creek Watershed: Overview
Directions, Hours & Fees
Maps & Brochures
Restoration of the Willow Creek Watershed
Public Education Programs
School Group Education Programs
Willow Creek is a tributary to the lower Russian River in coastal Sonoma County. The Willow Creek watershed drains an area of approximately 8.7 square miles, nearly all of which is owned and managed by State Parks as part of Sonoma Coast State Park. The lower Willow Creek valley within the park contains significant, undeveloped wetland and riparian habitats. The upper watershed is primarily forested land, with intermixed grasslands.
In 2001, Stewards joined with many agency and nonprofit partners to embark on a ten year journey to restore the Willow Creek watershed. At that time, approximately 4,600 feet upstream from its confluence with the Russian River, Willow Creek was filled in with sediment. In certain segments of the creek, no bed or banks remained. These conditions limited the upstream migration of spawning salmonids to periods when the valley was flooded. Downstream migration of juveniles in spring was blocked.
The filled channel condition of Willow Creek upstream of the second bridge was attributed to channel modifications that were begun before 1953, as well as increased sediment yield from land use practices in the watershed. Prior to 1953, Willow Creek was relocated, straightened, and probably widened, apparently to facilitate agriculture. Such channel modifications often create a condition that traps sediment as is illustrated by the fact that unmodified reaches of Willow Creek upstream and downstream are not filled with sediment to the same degree. The increased sediment yield from the watershed is attributed to road construction, timber harvesting, and livestock grazing beginning before 1900. Sediment supply derived from landslides and surface erosion has decreased since the 1960s.
In 2011, a new 43 foot span bridge was installed near 2nd Bridge. This successful endeavor has re-established fish passage in the watershed.
The Willow Creek Water Quality Monitoring Program began in the early 2000s when Stewards became active in assisting State Parks with restoring fish passage in the Willow Creek watershed. Volunteers were trained and began monitoring three locations in the watershed at regular intervals. Parameters include pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and other tests that determine optimum habitat for salmonids.
Access to lower Willow Creek is from Willow Creek Road off Hwy. 1 just south of the bridge that crosses the Russian River in Jenner (at the Russian House #1). Facilities include two campgrounds, Pomo Canyon Environmental Campground and Willow Creek Environmental Campground. Both campgrounds close during the late fall and winter months. Groups may contact Programs Manager Jazzy Dingler at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about our environmental education programs that take place at Pomo Canyon Campground.
Access to the upper portion of Willow Creek is currently by permit only. New permits are no longer being issued and the goal is to open this area for public use in the next year. For more information, call the Duncans Mills District Office at (707) 865-2391.
Willow Creek Environmental Camp - Willow Creek Campground is open!
11 primitive campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and pit toilets. Campsites are within 1/4 mile from the parking lot and there is no running water. The only State Park campground on the Russian River, sites are shaded by willows but close to a large beach for swimming and fishing. Blue heron, egrets, osprey and occasionally river otters can be seen by the river. To protect the wildlife, no dogs are allowed. These sites are not on the reservation system.
Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp - Pomo Canyon Campground is currently closed due to seasonal conditions.
20 campsites with fire rings, picnic tables, pit toilets and running water nearby. Campsites are within 1/4 mile from the parking lot, one is disabled accessible. Camps are set in a beautiful redwood grove among the ferns. A three mile trail to Shell Beach takes off from the campground, crossing seasonal streams and rising up into the grassland with marvelous views of the river and finally the ocean. To protect the wildlife, no dogs are allowed. This campground is not on the reservation system.