What Do River Levels Mean for Canoe and Kayak Rental


When planning your canoe or kayak rental, it is extremely important that you know what to expect on your trip. While lake conditions can be more predictable, when canoeing or kayaking on a river, it may be a little more challenging to anticipate what conditions you will encounter.

All rivers are rated on a class scale to help you assess the size and technicality of the whitewater. The ratings are based on the International Rating Scale of River Difficulty, which rates rivers by rapids intensity or class, based on a six level scale. These ratings indicate the required skill level associated with navigating the river.

As you might expect, the characteristics of a river can change significantly as the water level of a river changes, so rivers are also rated according to river flow or water level. In the spring or after periods of heavy rain, higher water levels can turn a Class II river into a Class IV, so classification for a particular river may change from season to season.

When planning your canoe or kayak rental, consider the class of the river options as well as the following letter designations, which are used to describe water level and rate of flow:

  • L (Low) – Water level is below normal levels for the river. Low level depth may interfere with paddling ability, shallow areas may turn into dry banks, and low areas become muddy sandbars.
  • M (Medium) – Water level is at the normal river flow. Medium water typically means good water for rivers with slight gradients and enough depth for passage on the steeper sections.
  • MH (Medium High) – When the water is medium high it is higher than normal, which means a faster flow on gentle gradients. It is the best flow for more difficult river sections with enough water for passage over low ledges and through rock patches.
  • H (High) – At the high stage, the water becomes more difficult to handle, and is well above normal level. Currents may be heavy, and small debris may come floating by. This level may mean the river is dangerous for inexperienced kayakers or canoeists.
  • HH (High-High) – At this level, the water is very heavy and the current may be extremely complex, making even slightest gradients treacherous. Debris occurs more frequently. This level is recommended for experts only.
  • F (Flood) – Water level is abnormally high and extremely dangerous. Flood level is characterized by overflowing banks, extremely violent current, and low-lying areas underwater. The only boaters who should be out are professionally trained and equipped rescue crews.


Rivers Edge regularly checks river levels for the Little Miami River by using the National Water Information System tool provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This tool can show the recent and current river levels all over the United States, but we just check the data for the Little Miami by Spring Valley, Ohio, which is just upstream from us. By clicking here you can View the National Water Information System for the Little Miami today. Since the data presented is in feet we thought it would be best to translate what that means for a canoe or kayak trip with Rivers Edge.

When the river levels on the Little Miami are… It means…
1.5’ – 3.0’ Feet This is Summer’s normal range. The river is at a great level to paddle with a gentle current that averages about 1.5 -2 miles per hour.
3.0’ – 4.5’ Feet This is a Spring time level and can be great for most paddlers. It will have a bit more current, with averages of 2-2.5 miles per hour.
4.5’ – 5.6’,Feet This is a higher level that we generally only allow kayaks and rafts on the river.,There may be additional restrictions involving age of participants and skill levels.
5.7’ and Above We usually do not run at this level and would caution any private boater that paddling skills may be necessary and that wearing of a PFD should be considered mandatory at this level.

Please keep in mind that these levels are further adjusted based on the air and water temperature. Rivers Edge generally will not open without a combined air and water temperature of at least 110 degrees. We frequently wait until we have 120 combined (ex. Water of 60 degrees and air temperature of 60). The USGS gauge near Old Town has temperature feature that we use as our basis.

We also share regular updates about river levels via our blog category, Hours & River Conditions. Don’t hesitate to contact us any time to check river levels before your next trip.

When you’re ready to plan your next canoe or kayak adventure please visit our Rates & Reservations page to review our options and book online!

River levels on the Little Miami
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