How do I evaluate a river?

I’m an absolute beginner but I got into canoeing for one reason: An overwhelming desire to float 10 miles of the nearest river from my hometown downstream to another small town.

I have no idea why, can’t explain it even to myself, except that it’s been in the back of my mind for years.

I don’t have much expierence canoeing, none on rivers.

I’ve never even seen a canoe on the river I want to run. The river is a medium sized river not 1/4th as wide as the Missouri, down inbetween 25-35ft nearly sheer banks on either side. The river’s got a lot of sandbars, some really deep holes and some places only 5-8 feet deep on a normal not flooded day. The river has lots of twists and bends making the 10 miles by road closer to 15 miles. I haven’t personally walked and examined every foot of the river because it’s crop land on either side right up to each bank. In most places there’s a small line of trees along the bank and frequently trees crumble into the river,so it’s sometimes full of wood.

I’ve vistited the sections near town and after really heavy rains when the waters finally go down it’s usually clearest debris wise. Is that the best time to try the river?

It doesn’t sound that pleasant, not as I write it out, but it really is a beautiful river. My question is - is it possible to look at recent arial photos and access the conditions? Once I get more expierence on lakes and a few smaller streams should I just go for it? How do others approach an unknown river when you have only yourself?


Sounds like an interesting paddle

– Last Updated: Dec-09-07 5:39 AM EST –

We did a couple of them like that when we were up in AK.

If the current is such that you can paddle against it if you have to return because of some impediment that you can't get over or around, you should have no problem.

My criteria would be:
-do it in the summer
-do it when you have a good weather report for not only that day, but the following day.(flash floods can be a killer)
- be prepared to spend a night, or two, (just in case)
- Bring enough food and water for a couple of days, (just in case)
-Be prepared to portage around impediments. If your canoe is too heavy to portage you might want to rethink the trip
-Be prepared to pull over logs, (make sure all your equipment, food and water is secured to the canoe). Pulling over a log or some other impediment is a easy way to capsize.
-Never run rapids unless you first scout them
-it would be a good idea to find some old timer who might know the river and can give you some info on it.

"Why do we do it"
Simply because it is there.

Good luck!


Evaluating a river
Let me start by stating that with your limited experience in general and lack of river running skills, you should definitely stay off this river until you have gained some experience.

A river or stream such as the one you described may have several potentially dangerous features. The first that comes to mind is strainers. Strainers are blockages, most commonmly formed by downed trees and other vegetation. Strainers allow water to pass through but as their name implies, “strain out” objects floating on or in the water. In this case you and your boat are the objects that would be caught in the strainer. Even in mild current, the force of the water can be enormous. It may force you beneath the strainer where you may drown. If you don’t get forced beneath it, you may not have enough strength to climb onto or over it and thus will eventually sucumb to exhaustion, fall back into the water and drown. Strainers are deadly. They are common on rivers such as the one you describe.

Other problematic river features are rocks that could cause you to capsize or that your canoe may get pinned against and a variety of water currents that potentially could cause a capsize or worse. Potentially there could be a dam or remnants of old dams or other structures on the river. These all create their own hazards which include potential drowning.

Before you even consider running this or any other river, you need to get some good moving water instruction. This may be obtained through a local paddling club or perhaps an outfitter. Additionally, one should never run a river without completely scouting it first and or without consulting with others who are familiar with the river. Skilled paddlers can sometimes scout from their boats, always staying in control and studying what they are approaching before they actually reach it, but this type of scouting is way beyond your ability at this point.

There are rivers that are perfectly safe to float in an inner tube, a canoe or any other craft but you need to know this before you start out. Generally such rivers have outfitters or liveries on them or nearby where you can get this information.

To summarize;

Stay off this river until you gain some skills and some additional information about it. Running an unknown river such as the one you describe with the skill levels ( or lack of them) that you describe has the potential to be deadly.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

I’ve found

– Last Updated: Dec-09-07 6:13 AM EST –

aerial photos were not detailed enough for the river I "bushwhacked", although it's a much smaller river than what you're describing. Getting experience on local lakes, then moving water is a real good idea. Hopefully during your initial paddles you'll meet someone who's experienced and can help you out. Everyone I paddle with is a mentor to me in some way, whether it's geographical knowlege, stroke technique,lines to run, equipment etc...Possible places to look for info. include the "places to paddle" link on this site, AW (although it sounds unlikely for what you describe), local canoe shop, and especially anywhere people are paddling. You might need another person for a "shuttle buddy" as well. The "getting together" forum here would be helpful to you as well hopefully.
This is the report my buddy wrote of our after work "bushwhack adventure", so that the next person would have some info..Scott did a great job describing all relevant information.
Here's your Missouri link from P-Net. Looks like some good info.

Do some research
Just because you’ve never seen anyone paddling your river, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done, and someone hasn’t published a general description somehwere of how to do it. Check the American Whitewater link below. Check your states DNR website to see if they have info on navigability of state rivers. Search amazon or go to your local Borders/B&N and look for any books on paddling Missouri’s rivers. You may find a source that gives you a lot of valuable information–like the best put ins/take outs, if there are any rapids, and what Class these are, are there any major hazards like lowhead dams you need to be prepared to portage around, etc.

And no, I don’t think right after a rain is the best time for your first trip on this river. That will be when the water is moving fastest, and strainers and other hazards will be most dangerous. Going when the water is lower may mean dragging your boat in a few places, but having to get around a downed tree in slack water is less of a hazard than in fast moving water.

Finally, if you do go, after gaining more experience, look for a partner to explore it with you, and be sure you are equipped for all situations. Most importantly, have some foot gear you feel confident wading through shallow spots in–with some protection from stepping on some of the dangerous things that get dumped in rivers like this–jagged rusty metal, old box springs, car seats, etc. It is not fun trying to tip toe through an unexpected rusty underwater junkyard when the water is low.

Thank you for the tips everyone. Turns out whom ever said “I’m probably not the only one…” was absolutely CORRECT! It took some digging, especially since I was thinking the river was part of the “nodaway valley river system” instead of the “little platte river basin.” So, looks like I’m not the only one to run/ want to run this river and there have been canoeing meetups on the river in the past…

Now all I have to do is wait for spring!

Enthusiam doesn’t trump common sense
I was tempted to tell you to take a good look at google maps and if it looks okay, it’ll be just fine – go for it. But I really don’t want to hear the news story about the missing canoer…

If you find that others have done this section recently, then you need to talk to them and see how there trip went. Was the water high enough? Were there any significant drops? Strainers? Holes? Then find out if anyone wants to go do it again when you go.

If this doesn’t happen, then consider taking a day to scout the river on foot. If the terrain is fairly easy, you should be able to walk 10 miles in the woods in 5 hours without a problem. Obviously take a pack with food, water, etc. and ideally bring someone with you on the hike as well. Bring a camera too so you can take photos of the water and any beaver dams, rapids or hazards along the way. The farmer’s won’t mind if you are just hiking along the river (well, some have found crazy farmers, but in general, they are pretty laid back).

This will give you a good idea of whether or not you’ll have to portage which in turn limits how much you’ll want to carry with you.

If the flow is rather slow, a great way to scout a river is to start where you plan to take out and travel upstream as far as you can. You probably aren’t going to more than half way up against the current, but you will learn that section and you don’t run the risk of a long portage. Find a buddy for this too – lots of folks like exploring new areas, even if they aren’t popular spots.

Don’t take your chainsaw.


NW Missouri?
You might find someone who knows that river here…

Sounds Like Fun
First of all, I just love it when I hear someone talking like this. There are so many people who don’t see any magic in simple explorations like this, that it is wonderful and refreshing to bump into people who do.

I only have a little to add to what’s been said so far. First off, “recent” air photos are usually several years old, but yes, they can be quite useful. Though the lighting is often less than perfect (reflections can sometimes wipe out all you want to see in small areas), I find that individual strainers can often be seen. On a river as wide as the one you describe (a river that can be described as being less than one-quarter as wide as the Missouri must still pretty wide), you won’t need the air photos to figure out if there might be places where downed trees block your way, because from what you’ve said, the river will be too wide to have such blockages all the way across, except perhaps at shallow rocky riffles (if there are any) or bridges, but even then it would surprise me. If the banks are consistently as high and steep as you describe, with flatter farmland beyond, I suspect it’s not a rocky river, but I won’t go out on a limb and say for sure. Another problem with air photos is that they may show the water at a different level than that which is useful for you. Where I live, it seems like all the air photos available on-line were taken in the month of April of one year or another, which means water levels are higher than normal, and in many areas, the ice isn’t even gone yet. That can make it hard to figure out “where the good water is”.

If the current is slow enough that you can paddle upstream, starting at the downstream end and paddling upstream a ways before turning back is often a good way to get started. You can do the same from the upstream end, but be very conservative at first regarding how far downstream you go before turning back. For an average, slow-moving river, plan on it taking at least three times as long to go upstream as it takes to cover the same distance going downstream. Throw in some fast-water sections and it could take longer.

Being prepared to spend the night if necessary is fine, but with farmland on both sides, another option if you find you can’t complete the trip in a day would be to just stash your gear and walk to a farm to borrow the telephone. You can always come back another day and start the trip from where you left off.

I paddle creeks and river like that
all the time.

Know your limitations. If the sky is the limit then go for it. Be careful, be observant and don’t do anything too stupid. Remember it is you and you alone on the river. Be prepared. I only take 25 feet of 3/8 rope but that is me. In knowing your limitations if you break something are you willing to crawl a long distance to safety.

The personal reward of paddling an unknown river alone are great. The risk can also be great.

Knowing yourself and you ability will be your only assets.If you can’t handle the consequences then you shouldn’t take the chance.

Send me an e-mail when you finish. Have fun and be as safe as possible.



– Last Updated: Dec-10-07 4:42 PM EST –

Wait a minute, I checked the Missouri Dept. of conservation website for the river system I want to boat on and the general laws are that navigable rivers are classified as "public highways" and so long as you don't touch foot on either bank you aren't tresspassing on private property.

But this site:

Says that the part of river I want to run is classified as "nonnavigable."

Does that mean that legally I'm not allowed to boat there?

I've never really even considered walking to scout this river because I really had respect for private property pounded into me growing up and the corn in the fields is someone's livelihood I wouldn't feel right if I disturbed even one stalk. Plus, I really don't want a run in with an irate farmer...yeah I could probably talk my way out of it but an expierence like that doesn't factor into my idea of a good day. I guess pretty much anyone would understand I was just looking after my personal safety, so long as the law doesn't say I'm not even supposed to be there.

Have you found out what this meant yet? It could mean a trespass issue, or a problem with the flow for a sufficient portion of the year to cause it to not be floatable, or a man-made construction blocking thru access.

The name…
The name of this, as yet mysterious river, would be what?


I have a Guess

– Last Updated: Dec-10-07 5:25 PM EST –

I just looked at that link, and I'd guess that for a river to be declared non-navigable in THIS instance must be directly related to the river's suitability for commercial traffic, which is certainly different than the normal definition of a river being "navigable" and "public", at least *in my home state of Wisconsin*, and perhaps the situation is similar for Missouri.

Here's what I found that makes me think what I do about this. That site says that the Wisconsin River upstream of the dam at Prairie du Sac has been declared non-navigable. Well, the river upstream from that dam is positively huge, and it is teeming with private boat traffic. It's obvious to me in this case, that the river above that dam is considered non-navigable because the lock at Prairie du Sac is non-functional, meaning that commercial traffic on the lower river (if there were any - there hasn't been any commercial traffic for 100 years or so) cannot enter the river above the dam (the dam designers failed to account for the fact that the river bed would drop about 12 feet right below the dam, due to removal by erosion of the sand to the elevation of bedrock since no new sand is being swept in from above the dam. Once the river bed dropped, the base of the lock on the downstream side of the dam was left high and dry, many feet above the water level). Let's hope that the non-navigable classification of "your" river is due to similar reasoning - no way for commercial traffic to go upstream that far. If so, this is certainly NOT the same as being off-limits to the public.

Looked up the Platte river system.
the 102 river would be a good candidate.

I still say find someone who knows that river. In the Kansas City area there are two websites;

If you’ll give us more information
you might find someone here who has actual knowledge or experience on the river you are interested in. It’s hard to be much help when we don’t know what river you’re talking about.

Beginning Paddling the Right Way
Good Evening from the California Central Valley:

Your post has drawn some good advice from some of the posters. That advice includes:

l. Don’t go out on any major river until

you get some paddle training.

2. Don’t go alone until you get beyond the

beginner level.

3. Rivers are Classified by an International


a. Class 1- Smooth water and easy route


b. Class 2- Some ripples, easily avoided

obstacles like rocks.

c. Class 3- Small waves, some technique

needed to avoid rocks, etc.

d. Class 4- Large waves, many obstacles,

drops, strong currents. Re-

quires scouting and good

paddling skills.

e. Class 5- Life threatening drops, waves

holes, hydrolics. The outer

limit of paddling for experts


f. Class 6- Waterfalls, huge hydrolics

Not for any type of canoe.

Done by a select few experts

in specially designed kayaks.

No margin of error. No

rescue if mistake made.

Scouting rivers is the best way to insure you know what to expect, but in many cases it isn’t possible. The factors that go into when to run a river include:

l. Water Flow- How many cubic feet of water are

running in the river at the time

you plan to go.

2. Water Clarity- Muddy or glacier silt water

create extra problems.

3. Ease of Pull Out - Rivers with steep banks

or cliffs present problems for

paddlers if they flip out.

4. Downfalls -Trees which have fallen into or

blocked river channels are death

threats not to be taken lightly.

5. Drops, Rocks-These obstacles may require a


6. Distance from Help- Rivers like those in

Northern Canada and Alaska may

be days away from help unless

you carry a Satellite Radio.

7. Water Temp.-Rivers with water temperatures

below 55 require wet suits, or

dry suits and quick recovery.

8. Know your limits- Be aware of the abilities

of those in your paddling party

and that you are only as good

as the weakest member.

Get that training and a skilled pardner and have a great paddling experience.

Take Care,

Murph 1

Did you check here?

– Last Updated: Dec-10-07 8:27 PM EST –

Check with local kayak and canoe clubs. Also check with the local Audobon Society and Sierra clubs. I bet you somebody in one of those groups knows the river well.

The biggest issue you mention are strainers (tree parts in the river) they are deadly so scout well before you do your trip. Find an experienced person to take you along. The second issue is barbed wire fences, often farmers string wire accross rivers, this can be a real bummer. If the river is really class I and there are no strainers or wing dams or drop offs, it can probably be floated safely. Do it in a cheap inflatable and if you screw up, no big deal. In my young and foolish days I did this quite a bit. The biggest danger were dead rotting cows, barbed wire and rattle snakes on the banks.

Also check on Boater Talk if anybody has run the river.

102 river it is…I wasn’t being intentionally mysterious just had internet safety on the brain. is a great article I found that mentions the 102 a couple times

I haven’t yet found much detailed info on the boat ramp and above section of river(which looks worst from the arial photos)in arkoe where I’d like to get off the river but I’m still looking.

I’ve got a romanic idea that I could do this all by myself without instruction, but I’ve also got a healthy dose of fear for this river and I’ll likely sign up for some classes in KC this spring. Thanks again for the suggestions everyone - “safe and sane” is my motto for this trip!