How to Cross A River While Hiking

Last Updated on September 7, 2020

Finding a river on the way during hiking is a widespread happening.  You will have to cross the river to go forward, and swimming is not the way to do it, although it is better to know how to swim. Knowing how to cross a river is a high-level skill for a hike.

Only the most skilled can effortlessly and safely reach the other side of the river. So, if you are a beginner, do not attempt river crossing when you are alone. Though as a beginner you will have to start hiking in a group, still keep in mind not to cross a river when others are not around you. It is a way to ensure safety.

How to Cross A River While Hiking

Crossing a river is the highest level of risk a hiker takes in his or her whole hiking trip. Though it is a prime rule not to cross a river during the heavy current, it cannot be followed all the time.

Even if it is calm, there are chances of slipping and falling due to the uneven rocky surface underneath the water. You cannot see what you are walking on or what is lying in front of you, so even after taking every step carefully, the hikers might injure themselves and the injuries are of severe levels.

No one wants to end up with broken bones and skulls during a trip. The thought of the current sweeping someone away downstream is even more frightening. So, there are some steps you must follow wholeheartedly right before and during crossing the river to ensure safe arrival to the river bank.

Choose Wisely

If you are choosing a trail that has rivers on the way, make sure you are going on the trip during the summer and spring season. Particularly in these two seasons, they remain calm due to low to medium levels. Due to this, you can comfortably reach the other side of the river by walking.

Avoid hiking in rainy and winter seasons if possible. In winter, the water flows quite high, and there are several obstacles alongside a thunderstorm and a high flow of water in a rainy season.  If you still want to hike during these two seasons, try to remain extra cautious. Try to begin your journey early in the morning.

Know your capability

Do not try something which is beyond your capability neither, try to push someone else beyond their limits. It will only put your and the other person’s life in danger. It is better to cut short your hiking trip than crossing the river when you are not skilled or depending on someone who is not sure about his skills.

Hiking pole

Always keep the hiking pole with you. It works as an aide while walking on the uneven surface. You can maintain the balance by holding it if you are about to fall and save yourself from injuries. It is also used to evaluate the depth of the water and feel the speed of the current. It helps to assess the condition of the river water.

Assess the Current

You can assess the current by noticing the logs and branches that floats on the water. If they are flowing at high speed, do not attempt to cross the river as it indicates a high current level. If there is nothing on the water, throw a branch, and assess the current of the stream.

Starting point

Now when you have taken all the precautions, you have to decide from where to start crossing the river. It is not necessary to cross the river from where the trail and the river met. The depth of water at that point might be high, so walk around and start from the point which you feel has less depth. Never cross a river when the water level is up to your knee. It increases the risk of sweeping away downstream.


If you are an experienced hiker and already know about the small islands, one reaches while crossing the river. If you get one such branch or sediment bar, then use it as a place to rest.

Exit point

Just like the starting point, the exit points must also be assessed. It is challenging to judge standing on water but not impossible. Always avoid sloppy and angular edges. Follow the route through which you can easily and quickly reach the other side of the river.

Walk with the flow

Always walk slow when you are crossing a river. Follow the flow and do not go against it. Never lead straight towards the other side of the river, walk diagonally. Hold the hiking pole firmly and place it on the bottom of the water. It will ensure stability on an unknown and uneven surface. Put forward your feet only after your hiking pole has found a surface underneath the water.

Final Words

For a safe hiking trip understanding the condition of the trail and knowing the rules and following them step by step is very important. Contact the park rangers if you have any queries. They will provide an accurate idea of the condition of the trail. A mere confusion can put you at massive risk. So, be careful, be alert, keep a close eye on everything around you, and have a safe river crossing experience.


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