How to do the research?

My wife and I are beginner rafters. This summer we are going on a road trip from Alaska to Jasper, the Bob, Jackson Hole, Moab, Steamboat Springs, and finally Minnesota. I have been doing some research, mostly using this site and Forrest McCarthy’s blog among others. My question is: when you see a river either on a map or just driving by it- what are your steps to setting up a plan to float that river? I am sure there are many different ways to do it- one main thing I am concerned with is getting on a river that looks calm, but turns into a canyon full of Class IV and no where to pull out.

I have seen alot on blogs and posts where people mention the CFS. Is there a magic number I should be looking for or does it all depend on the river?

Also, if you have any advice on some great bike/float or hike/float trips in one of the areas I mentioned, I would appreciate it. We will mostly be in the West in June and Minnesota in July.

Thanks! is a great place to start. River Info --> National River Database —> Pick your region. It also suggests flows…

For JH:

For the Bob:

For Moab:

All contain enough info to get you going, suggested flows (CFS or feet) depend on the river character.

Finding info on packrafting can be more limited, but many accessible runs in these areas are covered well by the kayaking and canoeing community, and guidebooks for those audiences can be extrapolated to aid in planning for packrafting.

Thank you. I really appreciate it.

I suggest you learn to use topo maps. The web makes it a joy to relate what you see on the ground to topo maps, so you can extrapolate the other way later.

For example open a map to a location you are curious about. Zoom in and pick high quality topo, as I have for the middle White Salmon River in Washington State. Flat country, little gradient:

Then switch to an aerial photo and zoom in:

In this case, you find lots of gravel and maybe too little water; but while you don’t know when the photo was taken (month or year) you can be pretty sure it wasn’t during snow melt.

You can look at a run this way, and compare kayaker reports.


I strongly suggest figuring out feet of drop per mile. You can do this with topos or on Google Earth. Personally, if I find a drop of around 50-60 feet per mile it is probably runnable. When things get up to 80-100 feet per mile it may be runnable in sections but you will probably be doing some portaging. Other things to consider are whether the area is treed (potential wood in the river) and does it look like a gorge on the map- gorges are often runnable, but often they are not. Drop a line when you are in the Jackson Hole area and I can let you know what is running and maybe show you around (I am a teacher and always looking for packrafting partners in the summer)

Thanks! We just got done doing the athabascan in jasper. Lot of fun for beginners. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of our phones for research so we talked with some other rafters here and found a good route.