Van Duzen River will make many campers happy
Sportsmenísí Report
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By Bill Hanson  July 31, 2014 10:09 am

Four days of mild sunshine, swimming in the Van Duzen River, hunting fossils and other lapidary treasures in the gravel bars of the famous river yielded three tired, sunbaked but happy campers.

Petaluma resident Albert Smith and his lanky 9-year-old daughter, Gena, had way too much fun while Sonoma County sizzled in the relentless summer sun. Thirty miles from the Humboldt coast made for temperate weather at our camp site. The Van Duzen is a vacation destination for fossil collectors and those in search of choice stones shaped and contoured by the river.

There are annual trips from Japan concentrating on the Van Duzen, the Mad and Trinity rivers. For many rock hounds, it is a dream destination for summer. A few hours north are the famed Mount Etna, Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Klamath and the dramatic Trinity. The rivers yield some of the finest California jade north of Monterey.

There is a campground that is a favorite of locals, Van Duzen – Swimmers Delight County Park, it is on Highway 36, 20 minutes from Highway 101. Just up river is the state campground, Grizzly Creek. It is right off the highway, so you camp with motorists checking out your campsite and making car noises all night. The county park is also right on the river but a half-mile from the highway.

The campground is one of the finest in the state. You sleep among the giant redwoods, with very old second growth redwoods providing shade, church-like quiet and a bed of soft fronds underfoot. Like the state campground, fresh water, hot showers and excellent maintenance makes your stay enjoyable.

The Swimmers Delight part is a public beach across from a high cliff. The river slows down there for a deep hole and a nice, safe beach. The county park offers camping on a first come first served basis at $20 a night. The state park charges $35 for a site with lots of traffic noise and campsites without much separation. However you can reserve in advance. Our stay began on a Wednesday afternoon, and our choice of camp sites was nearly unlimited. By Friday noon there were no campsites available. The locals are right, the county park is the first choice and the new campsite at the top of my list.

Once set up and with a supply of fire wood at hand, you and your family can explore the river just outside your tent. The rocky beaches are full of fossils that have eroded from the ancient sea beds. Just across from the camp, on the clay hillside, you can count the layers of beach gravel from the ancient sea shore, then three or four feet of sedimentary clay and another layer of sea shore. In one spot you can count six separate zones where the Pacific (it may have gone by another name then) reached into the rugged cliffs. Working the rocky river bars will yield excellent fossils even an amateur collector can identify. A geologist estimates the bottom sea bed at three to five million years. He said the spaces between the sea floor represent maybe 20,000 years of sediment before the sea floor crept back inland. That is a lot of years.

This is a well kept secret spot for campers. Now you are entrusted with keeping the Van Duzen Swimmers Delight close to your heart. One more thing, rock collector or not, you must visit the famous Chapman’s Rock and Mineral Shop. The visit is free and the inventory is vast.

There is also an incredible museum wing, so be sure to go through the dark curtains and turn on the light for a minute or so. Once the light is switched off, the black light shines on the glowing stones…it’s an exceptional experience.

Travel time to the Van Duzen Camp is four hours from Rohnert Park with a brief stop for gas and a doughnut in Willits. For specifics go to or Google the name for more comparisons.


Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.

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