The California Legislature added the Gualala River to the state system in 2003. The designated segment includes the river’s estuary where it flows into the Pacific Ocean and a short upstream segment. The designation was in response to a request by Mendocino County to stop a water development scheme to capture fresh water at the mouth of the river in giant bags for transport to thirsty southern California.
The Gualala possesses extraordinary fish, wildlife, and ecological values. The river supports endangered coho salmon and steelhead. The river’s estuary is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including osprey, great blue heron and other water fowl, river otter, and harbor seal. Redwood groves are found along the river upstream of the estuary, which is a popular destination for calm water kayaking and canoeing. An upstream trail system also provides access to the redwood groves.