Lower Wohler Beach

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Rating: C

Despite obstacles, a few die-hard nudists continue to defy Sonoma's stringent anti-nudity law.  Even more amazing:  an end to most parking from June-September hasn't halted naturists from biking or walking to Lower Wohler Beach. But use has been reduced to a few dozen people on the hottest days.  Visits by deputies only take place when complaints are received, according to Diana Nolan, of the Guerneville substation of the Sonoma Sheriff's Department.  "We don't have a patrol (for anti-nudity)," she says.  Visitors walk upstream along a trail lined by trees and other vegetation to a small clearing used mainly by gays, plus a few others.  "I see hikers, bikes, couples, and mixed singles," says Tom, a regular visitor.

Legal status:

Wohler Bridge Regional Park, consisting of Sonoma County Water Agency land purchased from the family of the late actor Fred MacMurray in 1996

How to find it:

From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north past Santa Rosa to River Road, then go west for 10 minutes to Wohler Road. Turn right onto Wohler and drive 1.4 miles to the bridge, continue across it, and, from October through mid-May, look for $6 per vehicle parking at 9765 Wohler Road.  The site has a parking lot, chemical toilet, and boat ramp.  Parking's almost impossible to find on Wohler or River the rest of the year, but you can still walk or bicycle to Wohler. On the south side of the bridge, look for a steel fence and go through a green gate with a large Keep Clear sign. Walk or ride past the water facility. An all-weather gravel trail to the nude beach and beyond starts there. The Water Agency doesn't hassle bikers or hikers on the path. The walk from the gate to the nude beach is easy and takes maybe 15-20 minutes, with the path sloping down through a redwood forest next to the river. Where the trees end, you'll see a fork in the road. Follow the right fork to the meadow being used by nudists. A path there also leads down to a little beach. If you come to a water collection pumping area, it means you've gone too far on the trail and should turn around, retrace your steps, and look for the clearing.

The beach:

"There is a good beach and nice private areas for sunning," reported a Guardian reader. "The trails are better and the meadow is still getting use.  If you bike in, it takes about five minutes from the last No Parking sign." Wohler's eighth-to-quarter-mile-long ribbon of flat, soft sand and river gravel is fun for sunbathing. Although boats, floats, and canoes are frequently passing the site, a few visitors occasionally wade in the water or set up a net and play naked volleyball in the clearing. However, the riverbank is eroding, so some nudists are now visiting Upper Wohler Bridge, another beach that is just upstream.

The crowd:

Many visitors are nude gay males. Expect several dozen users on the hottest weekend days, but usually just a few visitors.

Problems:

Eroding beach; area subject to raids based on complaints; proximity of canoeists and other water craft users; path may be muddy following rainfall; garbage; no summer vehicle parking available; long walk from the parking area; possible poison oak if you don't stay on the trail and within clearing; complaints of gay cruising in meadow area.

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