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The Navarro River drained from the Cobb Mountain area, while the Russian River drained from the Mt. Eroding up a fault line in Alexander Valley, the Russian River intersected the Navarro River just north of Cloverdale.

This resulted in the stream capture of Big Sulphur Creek (formerly the upper Navarro River) and the north fork of the Navarro River, going north to Hopland and to Ukiah.

It is very safe at that time for swimming and boating, with a gentle current. Holway wrote of the Russian River in his 1917 paper "The Russian River: A Characteristic Stream of the California Coast Ranges".

In 2011, biologists estimate that more than 190 adult coho may have returned to the Russian River watershed, beginning with early storms in October and peaking in December.

Water transferred from the Eel River and released from Lake Mendocino flows through the Russian River channel to withdrawal points in Sonoma County.

Although this method of transport supports aquatic and riparian zone habitats, it is vulnerable to chemical contamination from transportation accidents where the river is in close proximity to highway 101 and Northwestern Pacific Railroad transportation corridors in locations like the canyon between Cloverdale and Hopland.

After it makes a series of sweeping bends, the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge carries Old Redwood Highway over the river just upstream of U. State Route 1 crosses over the river before it flows into the Pacific Ocean between Jenner and Goat Rock Beach.

The Russian River estuary is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy.

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