Finding info on random waterways

-- Last Updated: Aug-28-14 8:29 PM EST --

If a particular waterway is not listed on the launch sites map, how do you go about finding more info on whether it is navigable or if you're even allowed to paddle. For example, if you drive by a rather interesting stream to and from work everyday. Or if you are just randomly browsing Google Earth and see a small lake or river that looks fun but there are no launch sites listed on the map. How do you find out about those?

Many times just ask here on P-net
My wife and I have found many new places to paddle just by asking here.

If you don’t know the name of a particular waterway that you are interested in just describe the location, (City, state, some close by highway, etc)

Also get the Gazeteer for the particular state that you are looking in and most of them show a small icon of a boat for the various launch sites on each waterway

Jack L

Can I paddle there?
I usually use google to see if any authority claims it, like a water district or city/county/state park; then I call and ask, or walk into an office and ask.

I will sometimes walk around the water and ask people at that body of water. Local knowledge is always useful

I also use the launch sites map here.


I’m an American Whitewater member, and

– Last Updated: Aug-28-14 10:14 PM EST –

that gives me easy access to their extensive listing of ww rivers.

NEXT is that if you go to the USGS live water data site, any river with a gauge is on it, along with watershed size and several types of map. I'll go get the link.

You'll need to work to learn to use it. For example, for mapping, you need to pull down "location."

Launch sites and navigability

– Last Updated: Aug-28-14 11:16 PM EST –

There was recently a discussion here about restrictions regarding paddling which vary by state, but where I live, if a road bridge crosses the river, it's legal to launch there because the highway right of way is public land (and our rivers are legal to paddle on no matter what). Also, as I just mentioned on another current discussion, online air photos are a great tool for scouting unknown waters and figuring out whether they will be navigable by canoe/kayak. If you get some practice looking at such photos, you can determine with great accuracy what the paddling conditions are like, but you have to be mindful of the water level shown in the photo and how that compares to current conditions. For example, last summer two friends and I had a great time on the Jump River in northern Wisconsin. The water level was higher than it usually is in summer, and when I looked at air photos after the trip which had been taken during summer, some of the rapids, including the one that had been a real hoot, were completely un-paddleable at the water level shown in the photos.

Thanks for the replies, everyone.
Guideboatguy, I like the idea of being able to look at air photos of waterways and being able to determine if they are navigable. Where does one learn such skills? I’d like to learn how to do that. I’m the type of person who would love to paddle off the beaten path, in addition to exploring more well-traveled waterways. However, I am brand new to the sport of paddling and completely clueless about how to determine if waterways are navigable or if paddling is even allowed.

I know it’s possible for ponds/lakes to be private and paddling can be restricted to certain people or not allowed at all. I live in a subdivision with a nice large pond/small lake. However, the association forbids any swimming or watercraft, which REALLY bugs me. I would LOVE to be able to come home after work and just pull a small kayak across the street to the lake and spend 30 minutes or an hour relaxing on the water. But it’s not allowed!

Is this the same for rivers/streams, or are all flowing waterways considered public? I don’t even know how to go about finding out that kind of info. Is that something that a Gazetteer will tell you?

Figuring out whether certain rivers are navigable by looking at air photos can be easy, or it might take practice and experience, and in some cases it may not be foolproof. Most of the time it will be easy, such as when you look at a section of river and can see that it’s much wider than the length of your boat and there are no riffles or otherwise shallow spots. If there are minor rapids visible, experience running rapids will be helpful in recognizing whether they are passable, but if the rapids are nasty, the air photo’s level of detail likely won’t be enough to let you be sure about whether you can handle it or not. At this stage of the game, I’m guessing that’s not an immediate concern of yours.

Other than that, I think it helps to have an interest and awareness of river geology. That way, the features you see when paddling will also be recognizable when you see them from the air.

Finally, looking at air photos of places you already know, or of places that you just visited, helps you develop your ability to understand what the photo can tell you. In spite of that, you might not always be 100-percent sure about what sort of water level you are looking at in a photo before you know the place first-hand, but with practice, you’ll be able to tell in a lot of cases. Again, it helps to gain experience seeing the same rivers at various stages of flow, as the patterns and trends you see won’t be unique to that river, but will appear about the same on similar rivers too.

a great question and the answer is …
whatever it takes!

A great place to start is a guidebook. I’m in west virginia, and I like a little bit of ww and adventure so I’m frequently using the “wv canoeing and kayaking guide”. Of course some of the streams I want to explore aren’t in the guidebook.

Then I move onto a gazetteer for a look at the watershed. A more detailed look at the roads and intermittant streams can be had by viewing county maps. Topos can also be helpful. Some states like Maine have detailed aerial photos- which are used to make the topos. You can even tell tree type on them.

Usually I do some “driving around” to nail down the shuttle and view stream access before hand. I find there are no access issues on these smaller seldom paddled streams because the locals aren’t used to seeing paddlers, mostly they’re curious about what your trying to do. Google earth photos can be beneficial but since I’m often on the very low end of cfs I find them only somewhat useful.

You need to have the skills and patience to explore. Dealing with wood, having to portage, drag, and swim and line your boat become skills. My best advice is: don’t hurry, that’s when mistakes are made. Stay calm, stay together if your part of a group and give everyone lots of time to get around obstacles.

Sometime I ask about a particular obscure stretch of water on a message board or I call up one of the author’s of a guide book before I venture out. With creeks I like to catch them on their way down (less dangerous when they are flushed and falling)and when they have been running awhile because the water quality is better then.

I have found that my idea or “runnable” is quite a bit different than what others think of as “runnable”. So finding others who are up for a bit of adventure is a challenge.

Be prepared for a few fiasco’s, here are some of my “one and dones”:

I paddled through an EPA super fund site (chemdyne)- creating my own loop in Hamilton, Ohio

On the blackwater river/swamp near Zuni Va I used a creek boat to navigate through current and a barrage of trees- took me almost twice as long as expected

In Maine I got on the wrong beaver flowage and ended up dragging an aluminum canoe 5 or 6 miles on strainer filled Lane brook (I was supposed to end up on the south branch of the penobscot and ended up on the North Branch instead.)

In Tn I ended up on the wrong tributary stream as well- which meant I had to paddle the clear fork of the cumberland (class II-III) in the dark because the distance was twice as far on the feeder creek.

In wv upper anglins creek and upper mill creek proved totally choked with strainers- we pulled the plug 1/2 down on anglins and risked our necks on mill because the wood was on blind turns in ww. Just this last week I creeked the “dries” and portaged 3 times and swam my boat between boulders, and scraped down the rest of the run. Rock bracing was pretty common and having to hold your paddle sideways to fit were essential skills. I’m gettin’ to old for this stuff!

Even urban paddling can be an adventure- in Clarksburg Wv I talked to the winos under the bridge and surfed on a submerged car hood while paddling elk creek.

Get yourself some thick soled booties, a throw rope, and a wet suit for protection and go have ya a little adventure after it rains real good.

Robert Frost wasn’t just talking/writin’ about paths, I’m thinkin’ he meant rivers too. Find the ones less traveled, lots of times they’re near where you live.