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Tips for Crossing Streams

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Wading across Coe Creek (Jerry Adams)

Crossing streams can be quite dangerous, especially around Mount Hood or other mountains. Here are a couple tips.

During heavy snow melt early in the summer or after heavy rain, streams can be impassable. Sometimes a stream will be okay in the morning, but be impassable late in the afternoon when there's more snow melt.

Avoid doing a long loop that relies on an uncertain stream crossing near the end - if you get there and can't cross you will have to retrace your steps, so you'll be tempted to do the dangerous stream crossing.

Around Mount Hood there are six difficult stream crossings, in approximate order starting with the most difficult:

Un-clip your waist belt before crossing, so that if you fall in your pack won't drag you under.

It helps if you have a walking stick or trekking poles to help balance.

Around Mount Hood, usually there is a route selected by trail management. It will be marked with flagging and/or rock cairns. There will be a large number of footprints there, but that can be misleading because people walk everywhere.

Sometimes you have to walk a ways up or down stream to find the best place. It's usually easier to cross at a place where the stream is more level and wider. Sometimes there will be places where the stream divides into several branches which can more easily be crossed individually. Sometimes its better to just cross rather than freaking out trying to find the best place.

Sometimes you have to hop rocks or logs (branches). Sometimes a good branch will be placed appropriately, but then a rainstorm can wash it away.

Sometimes you have to wade across. Sometimes there will be a line to hold on to. It's not generally good for you wade across barefoot because of sharp rocks. Some people carry sandals, Crocs, or watershoes for wading so they don't get their boots wet.

It's amazing how much force even a small amount of water will exert on you. As in the "Wading across Coe Creek" picture above, that water doesn't look dangerous but where the lead person is, it was hard to stay on your feet. One step before or after where the lead person was, you could stay on your feet okay, but then when you step into the central spot, it would be easy to be knocked off your feet.

Another problem during heavy water flow is the banks can cave in. If you're walking along the stream, you'll suddenly be in the stream. Someone died that way a few years ago on the Sandy River.

If you get your boots wet, stop and take them off and wring out your socks so they don't squish so much as you walk. You could try putting on dry socks, but then they'll just get wet from your boots. You may never get your boots dry for that trip.

Forest Service info: River Crossing Safety on Glacial Streams

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.