What is the Napa River?

The Napa River is one of the largest Central Coast Range rivers draining 426 sq. miles on its 50 mile journey from Mt. St. Helena to the San Pablo Bay. The last 17 miles of this journey, from the Trancas Steet bridge in Napa to Vallejo, are an estuary system: twice daily, high tides carry salty water up the river from the San Pablo Bay, and twice daily, as the tides retreat, the river level drops, exposing mudflats where wading birds can hunt for food. In summer, the salinity at Trancas may be 10%, in winter, it is freshwater.

The Napa River and its 47 tributaries serve as a linear wilderness running through the heart of an intensely farmed and partially urbanized valley. At one time, a dense canopy of riparian habitat dominated by cottonwoods and willows lined the river’s upper reaches. For the most part, the gallery forest bordering the riparian zone is gone and the remaining vegetation exists only in the channel. FONR is working to restore the riparian habitat.

Health of the River

  • Pollution is caused by the run-off of fertilizers. During summer, algae bloom decreases the oxygen available to aquatic life.
  • Water diversion from the streams that feed the river decreases the fresh water flow, affecting fish habitat.
  • Stream bank erosion and removal of plant life due to development causes sedimentation.
  • 70 to 200 thousand tons of sediments enter the Napa Valley watershed every year due to roads, development and hillside vineyards.
  • Sediment deposits in the stream and river channels are harmful to anadromous fish, (salmon, trout and lamprey) by reducing habitat diversity, filling in gravel used as spawning beds, and decreasing the food supply for fish

In Napa, government and community united to develop and implement a unique, innovative, scientifically based approach based on “Living River” objectives to alleviate flooding and simultaneously  improve the health of the river, build a river community and revitalize the waterfront. Learn more about this framework here: Napa River Living River Objectives 

What is the Napa River Watershed? A watershed is a drainage basin, or an area of land where precipitation collects into a common area: think of a funnel. In our case, all the surface water from rain and streams that falls on the Napa Valley and its hillsides empties into the Napa River. We call this area the Napa River Watershed, and this is why we say "the River begins at the ridgetops." The Napa River empties into the San Pablo Bay, which is part of the San Francisco Bay Watershed. The short YouTube video clip below from "Caring for our Watersheds" explains watersheds nicely.

A shed that holds water? Nope. Everyone in the world lives in a watershed. Watch this short video to learn what a watershed really is, created by CaringforourWatersheds.com

Have you seen hazards or problems on the Napa River? 

Call the Napa Flood Control and Water Conservation District at 707-259-8600 to report any problems.  The address is 804 First St., Napa, 94558.  Business hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm  Visit the website to learn more about our innovative Living River Flood Control Project. 

Real-Time and Historical Rainfall and Stream Level Data for the Napa Valley Area

A new Napa Valley area website that provides current and historical rainfall, creek and river level monitoring data. This website and the network of rainfall and stream level gauge sites is a collaborative project of local Napa County cities, the County of Napa, and the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. Visit the website

Wildlife along the River

  • The endangered Chinook Salmon and steelhead spawn in the Napa River and in its many tributaries. The steelhead run has been reduced from historical levels of 6000 adults to a few hundred fish. Nonetheless, the river still supports a diverse population of native and non-native fish species and an active recreational fishery. We find bluegill, black bass in the upper river; and striped bass, sturgeon and many non-game species such as the endangered splittail, yellowfin goby and silversides in the lower river. Watch Napa RCD Senior Biologist, Jonathan Koehler's fascinating short video: "Diversity in the Napa River" to learn more about the native fish in the River.
  • Bird species dependent on the river include mallards, green-winged teals, mergansers, wood ducks, herons, egrets, kingfishers, rails and grebes as well as the endangered Clapper Rail.
  • Beaver, river otter, mink, muskrat, raccoon, deer, gray fox and bobcat also live in the riparian habitat. This article in the Napa Register provides some basic information about beaver and their surprising impact on the ecosystem.
  • Occasionally, harbor porpoise make their way up the tidal portion of the Napa River as far as downtown Napa.

A wonderful way to learn more from local experts: WILD NAPA lecture series, 7:00 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Napa Library. The library filmed a couple of these lectures: links are listed below:

The Napa County Watershed Information Center and Conservancy is a repository for information about our Napa River watershed. Visit the WICC here.

How to enjoy the Napa River

Trails: Below is a list of some places to walk/bike/run along the Napa River. The Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District is working to expand opportunities for the public to “Go Outside and Play!” They have a wonderful new website including an interactive map of public trails HERE.

Here are a few suggestions for connecting to the River:

  • Kennedy Park features a trail on the river connecting to the Imola Street bridge crossing (Maxwell Bridge) from which it will eventually be extended to downtown Napa at the Third Street bridge.
  • West of Lincoln Bridge near Soscol go through the RV Park and hit a trail on the west bank going north to Trancas.
  • Trancas Crossing Park: a 33-acre open space park located at 610 Trancas Street,  features trails, interpretive signs, restroom, parking lot and pedestrian access for hand boat launching into the Napa River. Park hours sunrise to sunset.
  • The Oxbow Preserve across the Napa River from the Oxbow Marketplace – accessed via McKenzie Drive off the Silverado Trail.
  • Wetlands Edge Trail in American Canyon, access from Eucalyptus Drive.
  • A Californian Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Eco-reserve at the Yountville Cross Road bridge is a beautiful spot to see the river. River restoration is currently underway just downstream of the Cross Road.


  • The City boat dock at 4th Street in Napa is now rebuilt.
  • A ramp for small crafts is at the end of Riverside Drive in Napa
  • There is a boat launch at John F. Kennedy Park; off Hwy 221, take Streblow Avenue.
  • Trancas Crossing Park: restroom, parking lot and pedestrian access for hand boat launching into the Napa River (exercise caution: the bank can be steep and slippery!) Park hours are sunrise to sunset.
  • Cuttings Wharf in the Carneros offers a parking lot, ramp and dock for boats large and small.
  • Napa’s newest access is at the south end of the new Oxbow Dry Bypass: Jim Hench Memorial Kayak Launch. Join FONR there on August 23 at 10:00 a.m. for the dedication.
  • Learn about the “Napa River Water Trail” – a plan for docks along the Napa River drafted by the Dock Coalition in 2005 Napa River Water Trail 2005
  • Several local companies provide equipment rentals or tours on the river: (FONR doesn’t endorse any one company, but we do recommend getting out on the river!)

-The Napa River Watershed –


What is a watershed? A watershed is a drainage basin, or an area of land where precipitation collects into a common area. In our case, all the surface water from rain and streams empty into the Napa River. We call this area the Napa River Watershed. The Napa River empties into the San Pablo Bay, which is part of the San Francisco Bay Watershed. 


The Living River Flood Project is transforming the River & waterfront in Napa: restored mudflats and tidal marsh creates habitat for fish, birds and wildlife... and places to recreate!

Here are some locations to bike, walk, or launch a kayak, canoe or paddle board and explore the Living River

Help Friends provide watershed education and support a healthy Napa River! Donate via PayPal by clicking the Donate button below. Thank you!