Public access to rivers?

Hi – I’m new to canoeing and new to the US. In the UK, rivers tend to be managed by public utilities (eg Thames Conservancy) and public access is pretty open, but what’s the situation here? Might I be trespassing if I drop my canoe into a river anywhere I find what looks like a put-in? There’s a couple of really attractive-looking, slow-flowing, rivers nearby, but I don’t see any info about them on so should I assume they’re private? Any advice welcome, I don’t want to end up in court! (Suggestions for quite river locations within 30 miles or so of Milford, MA welcome too) Thanks.

No such thing as a private river in US
If the rive is navigable you have the right to use it. Put in-s are another thing. Just about any place that a public road crosses the water is a good put in but parking is the real problem. You need permission to park on private property or you may return to find your car has been towed away. Check the American Whitewater web site for more info on access, they are the leaders in gaining access to our public rivers. There have been many court cases about whos property you can cross when paddling and they all boil down to this. American rivers are public domain and as long as you can float a boat you have the right to use the water. A farmer my own the land that the river runs through and he may even own the bottom of the river but he can not legally stop you from passing through. Go for it…

The situation varies from state to state

– Last Updated: May-31-04 10:15 AM EST –

and in Georgia, for example, many obviously navigable rivers are classed as non-navigable. A recent state supreme court decision held that an owner of both banks owned the bottom and COULD stop paddlers from passing down an apparently navigable stream.

My own approach is both practical and ideological. From a practical point of view, if a stream looks big enough to paddle most of the time, just do it, and give a polite nod to any landowner as you paddle by.

Ideologically: There are some things that, by their very nature, cannot be owned. Like people, and rivers.

if your put in isn’t posted
or gated off you should be fine, a little respect and courtesy of course will go a long way.

Try this…

More info than you asked for…

I knew you would disagree on this
Fact is Any river that is navagable by canoe kayak or raft is “Navagable” and if they don’t understand that in Georgia they need to read up. Fact is in the United States if you can float it without getting out of the boat it is “Navagable” land owners have no right to stop you from paddling. Can you name any of the Georgia rivers that we can’t paddle??? or tell us where they are? See Yak-a-lou’s link to

MI law

– Last Updated: May-31-04 1:49 PM EST –

reads any river used for logging is considered navigable. Otherwise you may be tresspassing if it is private on both banks. Not many folks care if you paddle the rivers, never had a complaint yet. I recommmend getting a good map showing state owned land and check the MA state laws on their web site.

Mass Public Access Board

The Massachussets Public Access Board provides a list of official access points.

There are plenty of others you will find by looking and using common sense. If it looks like private property it can’t hurt to ask permision.

all the posts !!! Now I can finally give someone some documentation !!!

Gee, N.T., I wish it worked the way you
say, but the Georgia Supreme Court did not see it your way. Back in 1850, I could hand Bibles to any human being, and if he or she couldn’t read them, I could give that person reading lessons. Every reasonable person in the North could understand that as not only reasonable, but as equivalent to Natural Law given by God. In the South, it would get me thrown in jail.

Go ahead and paddle anything that looks navigable. That’s what I do. And since I usually paddle alone, I get away with it. Just don’t tell people that this is the law in every state in the union.

IN FACT the law in all the states is more restrictive. So I can’t tell people to paddle anything they can float, because I may be setting them up for arrest.

If you wish to confront unfortunate legal realities, go to and check out the Access stuff.

Thanks for all the posts - and the very helpful links. Have just spent the day touring around Lake Whitehall, we’ll get braver and try soemwhere new next week :slight_smile:

All rivers in the United States…

– Last Updated: May-31-04 8:28 PM EST –

and weather they are navagable or not fall under Federal Law. If someone is willing to fight there way through the state legal system it would not be decided by the state law in the end. Some people have done just that and the Federal law will always win out. If a river looks floatable to me I run it. If someone trys to stop me I consider them interfearing with my right to worship. I've never seen or even heard of anyone going to jail for canoeing any river in this part of the country and my Canoe Guide to West PA and Northern West Virginia lists all (Over 140) rivers and creeks (some runnable only after snow melt)and all the put ins and shuttle and parking info, gauges and diffaculy ratings. I don't see the big deal, If this guy is from out of country and wants to float his boat it's a very simple matter compaired to other countries where the rivers are owned by individual property owners. The last thing I would ever think about while paddling is "boy am I going to jail today for trespassing!" LOL... I don't think so! You guys just like to turn evey mole hill into a mountain. You still have not told me what rivers in Georgia I'm not allowed to paddle?

The Tallulla 357 days a year

– Last Updated: May-31-04 8:45 PM EST –

The upper Chattooga for another.

edit: that should be spelled Tallulah

Federal vs State law
Federal law says the public has the right to use the river to the high water mark. State law varies and a court battle isn’t what you’re going to get when you are standing by a creek confronted by an angry landowner. Odds are the landowner will call the police and the police will side with THEM, NOT YOU.

Indiana has it’s own list of navigable rivers and they mean waters that was used for trade by boats in the 1800’s! Not canoeable creeks, streams and rivers.

Best to consult a landowner before trying out a new access.

legal vs. practical and neighborly
In northern IL there are quite a few streams that are suitable for paddling. Many of them pass thru private land. The legality of being ON the stream is usually moot because access TO the stream is over private land. Roads and bridges are usually above the high water mark, so that means you cross private land to get to the stream.

Many counties and municipalities have parking regulations that give minimum distances from the roadway. Often this puts your vehicle in the ditch or on private property. There are some ‘accesses’ where it is not practical to leave your vehicle because they will be vandalized. Some landowners have been taken advantage of by inconsiderate slobs and they fight back by letting air out of tires or sprinkling nails all around the roadside.

It’s interesting that everyone wants landowners to allow access, but don’t think it’s wrong to sue a landowner if they injure themselves on his property. Also, if fences are damaged or gates left open and livestock gets out, the landowner suffers the loss of his animals and is responsible for any damage they cause while out.

The best policy(IMO)is to find out who owns the land and talk to them. Establish a written permission agreement with them and don’t abuse it. Find out what the parking rules are for the access area and contact the town/county. I think that being a good ambassador for paddlesports is more beneficial in the long run.

Ga Rivers
My understanding of the Ga law is that by navigable the old law(which needs to be revised)

is refering to barges. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of waterways that are considered navigable.

Every year I see more oxbows & other areas posted by landowners. It hurts to see this happen in places I’ve boated & fished in since I was a kid.

On the other hand it’s perfectly understandable in many cases when you see how some people trash a place. Anyway I’m sure the meaning of the term navigable varies from state to state.

the law was written when canoe trading was THE NORM!! way before Barges!!!

right on swedge
camo rules. If ya can’t see me ya can’t bother me.

chances are if you didn’t see
you weren’t looking hard enough. though in the fall I love watching snowbird boaters in the ICW eyes bug out when the “log” they’re passing “comes alive” CAMO RULES, and the new woodland marpat digitized pattern is amazing combined with a ghille.

Do ya’ll relize the…
Tongue lashings I would get if I posted something like that… LMAO!!

But, yes, camo rules… I have a new pattern I am thinking on doing on my boat. It is similar to a “camo print” off of an M24 and the print off of the M82A-1 Barret.

Paddle easy,