Updated on January 28, 2020

When you are on a hiking trip, a beautiful stream coming from the mountain can look exciting. But, when it comes to crossing it, you need to have some skills. It’s important to know your limits and how to cross a river safely. But if you’ve never done it before, here are some useful tips to get you safely to the other side.  

Crossing a river becomes riskier when the river is flowing high. Many times, there are a number of rocks and logs that act as the natural bridge to cross the river. But, after heavy rain they can get covered with algae and mosses making them slippery. No one wants to end up on the river bank with with a twisted ankle, soaking wet or even worse, get swept away by the current.

The speed at which a river flows differs from season to season. During the spring and summer days, streams run at a low to medium level while during the winters, rivers flow high.

So two things that you need to remember before crossing the river are avoid taking unnecessary risks and don’t go beyond your skill level. Just keep in mind that you are only capable as the weakest person in the group. It recommended to check local recommendations as some areas are different than others. 



1. Check out the conditions. Before you gear up to go hiking, make sure to get updates on the conditions. Check to see if there is any online resource to contact park rangers.

2. Get trekking poles. Having trekking poles will help you know the depth of the water. It will also provide you the support and stability you’ll need while crossing the river. In case you don’t have trekking poles, you can make use of a good branch.

3.Wear shorts. It would be better to wear shorts instead of pants as they will be dragged by the flow of water. Also, pants will become uncomfortable once they become wet.

4. Get hiking sandals. If the water is shallow, you can walk through the water instead of jumping from rock to rock. So when you’re ready to cross the river, use these sandals as this will help you to keep your boots dry. Avoid using flip flops as they may be washed away with the water current.

5. Start early during rainy seasons. During night and morning time, the stream will flow slowly as snow melts at low speed. During the afternoon there are more chances for thunderstorms and so the flow of water will be high.



6. Assess the place. When it comes to crossing the river, the place where the trail meets the river isn’t always the best place to cross. It’s better to assess the place and find out which spot is best to cross. 

7. Look out for debris. If you find branches and logs of wood floating in the water, then understand that it may not be a good idea to cross the river at that time. Branches and logs are the indications that the flow of water is high. So, there are more chances that it may cause a serious accident while crossing.

8. Look for river breaks. The river may be branching at certain places so it will be wider there. Here you will be able to find a small island which will act as your resting place while you are crossing the river.

9. Check the current. You can find the speed and direction of the current simply by throwing a branch into the river. This will help you to plan your strategy.

10. Avoid crossing in knee deep water. If the current of water is fast moving, the risk that you can get taken by it is much higher. So if the water level is high then cross the river only when the current is low or there is no current.

11. Loosen your backpack while crossing. When you get ready to cross the river, make sure to untie the backpack from your waist. This will help to remove the bag when needed. This is necessary as in case you fall down, chances are that your pack will get soaked. It can become very heavy and cause you to get dragged away by the current. So if the pack is loose, you can easily ditch it. You may lose it but you’ll be saved from drowning.

12. Look out for better exit points at the other end. When reach the other end, you’ll need to have open exit points that will help you to get out of the river quick. If the river bank is steep then chances are there you will slip back to the river, so you need low exit points too.



When you’re crossing the river slide your feet slowly in the forward direction. Walk in a diagonal direction towards the flow while moving towards the opposite bank.

Use trekking poles to make yourself steady in the water when you are shifting your feet. The better contact you have with the bottom of the river, the more stable you’ll be.

If you’re crossing the river in a group you can have additional stability by holding arms and moving in coordination.



One Response

  1. Mike

    Planning for the big adventure is great but learning to just get and and walk or hike from wherever you find yourself is best. Wherever I,ve found myself in the UK and abroad for holidays or business there has always been good walking to be had from the back door, hotel lobby or tent flapjust get out and explore.