Crossing a River While Hiking

Arkansas averages the most precipitation during the spring and fall months. Since spring is right around the corner, you should consider precipitation when planning a trip outdoors. This, of course, means having adequate rain gear such as waterproof hiking boots or shoes, a pack cover, a dry bag, and a hard shell rain jacket, but buckets of rain can also cause water levels to rise.

Many of the trails in Arkansas cross through rivers. Popular Arkansas trails such as the Ozark Highlands trail have numerous river crossings. Here are a few things that can help you cross a river or creek while hiking.

Prepare before you hit the trail

Take some time to prepare for your hike before you get to the trail head. This is a good idea whether you’re dealing with river crossings or not.

  • Look at your map to see how many times the trail crosses a river.
  • Check the forecast. Water levels rise with increased precipitation.
  • Look back over the past few days to see just how much precipitation an area received.
  • Check current water levels. This can help you get a sense of how easy or difficult crossings will be.

Crossing a river while hiking

Use good judgement.

If a river looks it’s too dangerous to cross, it probably is. Generally speaking, river crossings are much more difficult and dangerous if the water level is higher than your knees, especially with strong currents. Walk down river to see if there’s a better, safer place to cross and backtrack to meet up with the trail on the other side. Wider sections of river are typically safer than narrow channels, and avoid bends as currents tend to be stronger. Gravel, rocks, and sandbars are easier to cross than fast moving water.

Remove your hiking footwear.

Wet feet and hiking don’t mix well. Not only are waterlogged boots and soggy socks uncomfortable, but excess moisture can also cause blisters. Keep your hiking shoes and socks dry.

Bring a pair of sandals or river shoes.

It’s possible to cross rivers and creeks barefoot, but it’s safer to wear a pair of sandals or shoes designed for water. They protect your feet from injury and help provide traction on slippery rocks. It’s worth the extra weight, even when backpacking.

Do the shuffle.

Shuffle or side step across a river rather than lifting your feet high of the river bed. This will force you to cross more slowly and help keep your legs from getting swept our from beneath you.

Things that can help you cross a river.

Bring a towel.

Again, you shouldn’t hike with wet feet. Bring a lightweight pack towel to dry your feet after crossing a river, and let your feet dry completely before putting your socks and shoes back on.

Trekking poles are your best friend.

Trekking poles or walking sticks can help you keep your balance and provide extra stability when crossing a river while hiking.

Use your dry bag.

Secure sensitive items like electronics, matches, food, and your footwear in a dry bag in case you or your pack falls into the water. It’s also a good idea to unfasten your hip belt when crossing a river. This ensure that if you lose balance your back doesn’t drag you down.


Have tips for crossing a river while hiking? We would love to hear them. Let us know in the comments below!

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