Reading Rivers



Driving a car safely involves much more than simply focusing only as far ahead as the taillights of the car in front of you. The same goes for “reading” a river beyond the bow of your canoe or kayak. Even familiar waterways can have extensive swings in their personality and view point that constantly require paddlers to sharpen their on-water“reading” skills.

Stream channels and river bends mean we need to anticipate, read and respond to visual clues upon short notice. Some of those warning/caution signs are:

  • Rising/lower water indications along bank, in channel – heavy rains (local, upstream, over tributaries) all affect the volume of a river, which in turn affects the force, rate of flow and amount of debris and obstacles along your course);
  • Water flows over or around submerged objects create swells or distinct flow patterns in the water. Swells are caused by grounded objects below the surface; downstream “V” indicates a course between or safely over rocks; Upstream pointing “V” means submerged rocks from point back downstream;
  • A straight, horizontal “edge” or defined line across the channel may mean a ledge or drop – and deadly “hydraulic” turbulence immediately over and below it. Best to avoid/stop and observe if uncertain;
  • Current tends to flow faster along outside of river bends, slower along the shorter, inner bend;
  • High, steep slopes continue into river at same angle; shallow slopes likewise;
  • Always anticipate dangers (rocks, sweepers, etc.) when coming around blind bends;
  • Eddies – circular, clockwise-towards-the-bank flows – often occur immediately downstream of above surface obstacles (rocks, vertical walls, pilings, etc.) Some are smooth water havens while others create dangerous whirlpools;
  • Man-made obstructions such as wing dams which may be above, at or below waterline, each affect water flow differently (swells, eddies, etc.);
  • Other visuals include changes in water color: darker=deeper; cloudy vs. clear may indicate shallows, sandbar, shoals, etc.)

Safe passage over waterways requires use of many of our senses and sensibilities!

Riverside Recreation is located in Forest County along the Allegheny River in West Hickory, PA.  We have an 8 mile canoe or kayak float on the Allegheny River from Tidioute to West Hickory which will take from 2 to 4 hours to complete.  A 10 mile and overnight floats are also available.  You will be shuttled up river to Tidioute or other designated boat launches and you will float to West Hickory.  This stretch of river is calm with a few ripples, a few deep sections and no white water.  It’s a very relaxing and enjoyable trip. Contact us today at 814-463-9235 or visit

Author: Riverside Recreation

Riverside Recreation opened in the summer of 2011 by Pam and Tim Sneeringer. We are located in Forest County along the Allegheny River in West Hickory, PA. Rustic River Front cabins are available to rent. One day rental is $55 or $100 for two days.

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