The Kaw naturally meanders. You can see the history of its wanderings in meander scars, oxbows, and terraces, by the deposition of sandbars on the inside of a bend, and the erosion of banks on the outside of bends. The Kaw snakes through side channels, forms islands, and braids its channel as it lazily flows across the sandy substrate that forms the river bottom. Trees along its banks slow its sideways movements and help to reduce erosion during floods.

The changing channel can be seen in the illustration below from Dr. Wakefield Dort's book Historical Channel Changes of the Kansas River and Its Major Tributaries. During the 1993 flood the Kaw lost 2.45 River Miles (red arrow) because the channel straightened in a section between Manhattan and Wamego, cutting off a meander; the river is now shorter than it was twenty years ago. This has happened many times on this stretch; in 1873-98 it lost 2.65 miles, in 1903 a total of 9.7 miles, and in 1951 a total of 4.15 miles.