easy to go off course?

I know this is a total newbie questions, but…

How easy is it to venture off course on a river?

I’m going to be doing the Yukon River in late May. I can read a map and GPS and all, but I would think that just by following the current of the river, one shouldn’t really be getting lost, especially since all rivers flow into the Yukon.

yukon …
Hi …i just used GoogleEarth to check out the yukon …my guesstimate would be " yes " you could get “lost” on the Yukon, depending on the sections you are going to navigate, due to the many oxbows,side channels, etc, etc. By lost i mean going down a channel maybe, that you really shouldn’t go down (rapids),or vice versa…maybe you need to take a side channel that is a safer route around fast water/rapids. by just following the current it may take you into harms way before you have time to react. I was using the Yukon from the mouth upstream quite a ways on GoogleEarth to look at it.

Yukon canoe and club
website at:


they might be of some assistance.

Don’t know about the Yukon
Most rivers I’ve paddled are pretty hard to get lost on.

But a few have places where there are many channels not all of which go anywhere. In some of those the current starts out strong but eventualy disipates as the water drains through marsh and/or micro channels. I have had to paddle back upstream to find a channel that goes through.

pretty much the same thought …
… don’t know about Yukon either , but sometimes you are faced with a split around and island (or what apears to be) . These splits can look like the same size flow to either side , or sometimes one side appears to be the main flow but narrows down into tight or even choked off passage (would require portaging to continue on to see if it will open up again or not) .

So off course , yeah I think that’s a possibility … but not lost .

Was hitching years ago
from whitehorse to Fairbanks/Anchorage and picked up by an older fella outside of Whitehorse who was"canoeing" to the Bering Sea. He was from florida and had put in a punt on Lake Labarge at Whitehorse and lost his entire financial savings, equipment and boat on the lake when it capsized a few miles out. Man was devistated but alive. Story made for a good ride.

I can get lost
going to the bathroom in my own house. I LOVE gps’s, they are very easy to use, and rather cheap at this point. How much is piece of mind worth to you?

Satellite photos
How about making a series of Google Map Satellite photos too.

Easy to get lost
Don’t know the Yukon but it is easy to get lost on even what looks like straightforward area. Just ask me how some of us paddled 15+ miles and some close to 20 on what was supposed to be a 6 kayak mile race up a creek and back -:wink:

On the Potomac there are many pretty big bends in the shore and it is not at all easy to figure out where you are unless you constantly monitor your position and have a good visual reference. However, when I paddled an open area there where the river spreads about 6 miles shore to shore, all you need is a little rain or fog during your crossing - the shore disappears and you have almost no way to figure out where you are unless you have a compass or GPS.

What is more likely to happen though is to not be able to find specific campgrounds or small rest stops/portage areas/etc. that may look clear to spot on a map or photo but from the river they may be concealed…

Is the distinction between:

“I don’t know where I am, but I’m sure I’ll eventually get to where I need to be.”


“I don’t know where I am or how long it will take me to get to my next waypoint.”

important to you?

Yeah it really depends on the
nature of the river and the size of the islands. But generally when the water splits, it comes back together. You generally want to follow the main channel when it splits as it tend to be cleaner and deeper. Unfortunately you can’t always tell at the head of the island.

See if you can find a nav chart for that river that shows the main channel route. If the chart is up to date, you can simply plug in the route and the decision points in your GPS.


The Yukon is a braided
river and a chart is at best a guess. I hear it changes course every winter.

I don’t think you will get lost, but expect to ground out once in a while. I have done some Arctic rivers and the ability to stand in your boat is useful to make your best guesstimate.

Well till you get to the delta…that might be lost time.

I think the only place that I would…
worry about is which channel to take through the five finger rapids.

You need to talk to a local about that,otherwise, I would be more worried about the current.

the portion that we did had such a strong current that we were hopping from eddy to eddy trying to by pass some of the whirpools.



thanks for a lot of awesome suggestions, everyone.

it never occurred to me to make a map using Google Earth, but I’m going to do that to use with the USGS maps.

I’ve read the same thing, that Five Finger rapids is all we’ll have to really look out for. Apart from that, the danger is just from strong winds building up waves.

Yukon River guidebooks
We did the section of the Yukon from Eagle to Circle in 2007. Our guide, Joe Jacobs, had 2 different books of maps of the river that he consulted a lot for various reasons. One reason is that some sections of river are Native Alaskan lands and you are not supposed to camp there. Another reason, as we approached Circle, is that the river is braided in some places – and we needed to find our takeout point. I don’t know the name of these guidebooks (Google and ask Alaskan booksellers) but I agree with others here that you need to try to pick up some good local knowledge and have some kind of guidebook or set of satellite maps – although the satellite maps will not tell you what lands are off-limits to you.

Good luck!

G in NC

Don’t Know About the Yukon…
but I’ve been in places where fog and rain brought visibility down to nearly nothing. GPS with mapping detail kept us moving. Yeah, I was in places where I thought getting lost would be near impossible.

I think this depends mostly
on your navigational skills. You cannot rely on GPS solely. If you tend to easily navigate by map and GPS, the earth is your playground. If you find you get lost sometimes, you could probably expect that again in challenging places.

I would not worry so much about where I am going, but practice navigation with and without the GPS until I was very confident in my skills, then just go.

What is off course ?
Going upstream at a confluence ?

Going beyond a takeout and subsequently into rapids above your abilities, or perhaps over a waterfall ?

By all means take the family pets and small children too. They will only add to your excitement.

GPS and charts you don’t need. You think the first settlers had them ? Same for PFD’s, they only take up needed room that could be better utilized.

Can you tell direction by looking at a tree? Can you tell direction and time by looking at the sun?

By just asking these questions, you are obviously ill prepared and need a guide, etc etc.

can’t believe no one asked
Since you’re an admitted newbie, the Yukon probably isn’t the place to learn.

Bill H.

Definitely bring maps
I’ve done the Yukon from Whitehorse to Dawson a couple times. While a GPS may not be completely necessary, you’ll need maps - it’s part of standard safety gear, don’t try to cut those corners.

Yes, the current is clear enough that you won’t be going in the wrong direction (at least for long) but then again maps are useful for many other reasons as well (distances to next point for example and for properly preparing for your trip).

Make sure you know what you’re doing if you plan to run Five Fingers or Rink rapids (they’re BIG, and you need proper support).

Finally, end of May might be dicey - the ice sometimes doesn’t come off of Lake Labarge until the very end of may - could make for a very treacherous 40 miles.