Planning kayak trip

If you plan to kayak to a destination where you have never been to before, what do you normally look at before you decide whether to hit the water or not?

To be more specific.

  1. Wind and weather: is there an app or website that you use? What is considered safe condition? If it’s warm (maybe > 60) and slow wind, then is that good enough?
  2. Water flow and current: I normally just look at american whitewater river chart to see if it’s class II or below. Is that sufficient? What about low or high (in terms of cfs) water?

Tell us where .
Someone will probably have paddled there .


Andy what kind of water.

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Information provided by locals and/or habituates of an area is best, as stated above if you can tell us where you want to visit (even generally) the chances are good that someone here can provide specific information. Another source for local information is the kayak/canoe rental shops in the area you want to visit. If they are closed this time of year that is a big hint that the water is too cold or too low, etc. to be navigated. Check their websites.

For more general information you can check the USGS website for water flows here:

USGS Current Conditions for North Carolina_ Streamflow

And for temperatures here:

USGS Current Conditions for North Carolina_ Water Quality

For lakes levels try Lakes Online here:

North Carolina Lakes (

And for temperatures try Lake Monster here:

Lakes in North Carolina, USA (

You can change the state to wherever you want to visit.

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First, I’m a little confused. Your ‘handle’ is “whitewaterdude” and you know enough to check the AW database (are you a member? if not seriously consider it. It’s worth it), but you say

Past that I’m hoping that you have researched the river or lake(s) and have a fair idea of the environment, access, local issues, etc.

On your specific questions there is no straight forward answer as both the environment and you are involved. Time is also involves as weather will often change after you launch. And, the longer you are out the more likely that change will occur. That said, I’ll look at the Weather Channel forecast and the Windy app. to get a rough idea. On open water a NOAA radio can also be useful.
For water levels, the AW db has recommendations for runnable flows but those are whitewater focused. Low flows may be fine if you don’t mind a little type II fun or may be a nightmare. Local info is useful. If you are a L I & L II- paddler as you suggest you probably want to stay away from the higher runnable flows on rivers you don’t know. In any case you need to be able land/eddy out/return upstream any time you can’t see where the river is going. Even on seemingly easy water you can come around a bend and find the current picking up and funneling into a 6’ high logjam strainer.


I guess my original question is a little misleading. I guess I should have asked like this “If you plan to kayak to a destination where you have never been to before, what do you normally look at before you decide whether to hit the water or not?”

I’m only comfortable with class II or below. I tried a few times in class III but I’m not comfortable yet. Here what I’m hoping to ask is if I’m planning to kayak at a new destination that I have never been to, what research should I do to prepare and decide whether to hit the water or not.

I look for a large lake with RV camp ground on the lake that has a boat ramp. We like the ones with 50amp power so we can run both air-conditioners for the dogs. A snack bar or dinner at the mid point in a ten mile paddle is nice and can make a good lunch spot. We usually paddle the sea kayaks ten to twenty miles and out and backs cut down on any shuttle fees. I look in my RV guides, google maps and others experiences.

I think you missed the point of what kind of water do you want to paddle in. So I just did what you asked for. I think you want rivers with white water. But you didn’t come out and state that plainly.

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Find the guide books & trip reports for the area. See what AW has although for C1 & CII there is often not much as the expectation is that most AW members don’t need much help in that level. Remember that you often can’t tell from the put in or take out what the river looks like in between.


Long before the internet and cell phones I was with a group paddling the Big South Fork of the Cumberland. Only one of the group was familiar with the river or the area. The night had been fine where we camped and the put in on Clear Creek looked normal - no red flags to the experienced paddler. None of us other than that guy knew what we were seeing and paddling on when we made it to the confluence. He did though and knew the the river was way over what he had paddled (after the fact it was near 4000 cfs & more normal is around 1500 cfs). Fortunately, it actually turned out to be a pretty good day.

Not mine - the Upper Yough is way over my skill set. I have a nephew who guided out of Ohiopyle for 10 years or so and guided on the Upper Yough (Class IV, V). He met his clients at the put in for one trip, looked at the river, and canceled the trip. The clients argued for a long time as the river at the put in showed no sign of being high. My nephew did though and understood what the river would be like in the Class IV & V sections. The clients finally gave up when he told them that he just wasn’t in the mood to do CPR that day.

Another where we lucked out. We were paddling in the Obed-Emory watershed. We had paddled the Emory down to the confluence with the Obed and then a bit farther to the take out. The next day we were going to paddle the Obed to the same take out. It rained overnight & when we arrived at the take out to set shuttle we could see how much higher the river was. We pulled out the guide book and found something else to paddle.

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aw is a good place to start, I also buy guidebooks for the area I’m going to be in. Guidebooks vary a lot in how they rate difficulty. So you have to get a handle on how each author rates streams. I find my guidebooks by simply searching on Amazon or ebay. Old is okay for river descriptions but access and roads may have changed. If the river is managed by a local agency they often have materials available. Check out their website or call them. Sometimes these materials are very good and sometimes lacking.

Plan on spending time scouting put ins and take outs, and sometimes encountering conditions that make paddling on a given day unsuitable (high or low water, limited access, bad roads, extreme weather). These days are not “wasted” but valuable for their beta.

You need to understand that aw “suggested water levels” vary as well. The information is provided by individuals (stream team contributors) so be sure to read the comments by users at the very end of the river description page (scroll to the end). Often that is where the most recent and valuable intell is (end of page).

Realize that there is no single resource for what you want. Regional message boards like adirondack or northeast paddlers, or southwest paddlers have valuable intel for their regions. Local paddling clubs often have individuals that will share info. Stopping by at governing agencies like park service visitor centers, blm permitting sites, and commercial livery and rafting sites can all be good sources for intel. Even outdoor rec stores can be good sources of info.

Sometimes it is advantageous to hook up with others. Events like Week of Rivers, Rendevous, and some Festivals are also great ways to learn about streams for pfds (personal first descents).

I always try to get a Delorme or Gazzeteer Guide (state road atlas with secondary roads) for the state I’m paddling in. It can really help with the shuttle.

And lastly realize that ww paddling, even class II, is best done with others. It helps to have others to shuttle with and they can provide additional support on the river. You want to develop your skillset so you don’t need to be led down a river. As your skill increases your need to follow decreases and can deal with adversity better. All this is a really nice way of saying if you are willing to practice, increase seat time on familiar streams and take instruction then you may find your margin for error is less important and you become more tolerant of high and low water, wood, and are able to boat scout more of the river.

I tend to look at flow pretty carefully. With two artificial hips the idea of bouncing over lots of rocks on long swim is not real appealing. So consider your physicality.

Lastly, manage your expectations. Oftens things don’t go exactly how you imagined but enjoy each river for its uniqueness.Some streams are “one and done” but most are worth revisiting.