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River Access

The Kaw is a big river

Beginning paddlers should not be on the river when the water flow is above 5000 cubic feet per second (cfs)

Check the water level before you go on the river.

Check reservoir releases before you go on the river.

Check the weather and make sure that there are no predictions of high winds or storms.

Check for fish consumption advisories before you go fishing.

Detailed Kansas River Corps of Engineers Maps - this link will download an interactive map of the Kansas River.  You can click on each section that you plan to float and print.

There are several dams, weirs and hazards on the Kaw

Check the locations on our River Access map, they are marked with red triangles. If you click on the marker you can get more information about the structure, and if you zoom in on the map you can get more detail (you can use satellite view to see an aerial photo of the area).  Paddling close to and/or portaging any dam or hazard is an activity for experienced paddlers who have scouted the hazard and have the skills and boating experience necessary to safely negotiate these parts of the river.
  • River Mile 87 The Topeka Water Department Dam (pictured above) - You must portage on the left bank of the river. There are two access ramps on the left (north) bank.  One is above the dam, the other is just below the dam.  There is a concrete portage trail running along the river between the two ramps.  Paddling through the low water notch is extremely dangerous and several deaths have occurred at this location.  An effort to make this area more recreationally friendly is in progress - see Fill the Topeka Dam.
  • River Mile 85.3 and River Mile 84.5 There are railroad bridges at these locations and each location has an old railroad bridge dropped into the river near the existing railroad bridge.  At low water you will see railroad ties sticking our of the water.  At each location, boaters should pass under the bridges on the right (south) bank for the best chance to avoid the dropped bridge.
  • River Mile 75  Low head dam next to the Tecumseh Power Plant is1.5 miles down river of the Seward Avenue Access in east Topeka.  Approach the dam slowly.  In high water you will float over the dam but in lower water you need to go over the dam on river left or in the middle of the river near a gravel bar.
  • River Mile 51 Bowersock Dam in Lawrence - You must take out of the river at Riverfront Park about one mile upstream from the dam and portage via vehicle to the 8th Street Access ramp about 2 miles to the southeast in north Lawrence below the dam.  Bowersock Mills and Power Company is currently building a new power plan on the north side of the river and portage around the dam is not possible.  Hopefully a portage path will be available after construction of the new power plant is complete.  For novice paddlers portage via vehicle from Riverfront Park is recommended at all times.
  • River Mile 15 The WaterOne Dam just east of I-435 - You must portage on the left bank of the river. The new portage path makes this portage doable for all levels of paddlers. 

Wear a life jacket on the river

While on the river personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) must be worn because dangerous situations can develop quickly. Read our personal safety page for help with picking the perfect PFD.

Children playing on sandbars or on the edge of the river should always wear a life jacket and be near an adult, even if you are just walking near the river and not boating. Banks and sandbars in some areas can be undercut, especially at high water, and this can cause safety concerns. You can use our Kids 4 the Kaw safety page to help children learn how to put on a PFD and why its important that they wear one.
We recommend that you float with others, and if you float with a group it is safest if you stay together. If you are a novice boater you should go on a Friends of the Kaw float trip or go with an outfitter to learn paddling skills and safety, as well as how to navigate the Kansas River.

Be aware that it will take some muscle power to paddle down the Kaw and you should be in good health and physically in shape before heading out on the river. 

Stay away from trees and other objects in the river

Trees and other objects can be dangerous in flowing water. Stay away from them; water currents can pull you against stationary objects in the river with greater force than you might expect. Along the banks fishermen leave hooks on fishing lines tied to trees and stumps; stay away from these hanging fishing lines or you may end up caught on a fishhook.


Be careful not to tip your canoe or kayak

The most common way to tip a canoe or kayak is when you are getting in and out- use extra caution and take a look at our canoe safety page. Children should be especially careful, and you can use our Kids 4 the Kaw safety page to help them learn to get in and out of a canoe without taking a spill.
The Kansas River is shallow in most areas at normal flows. If you fall out of your boat try to stand up; if you find yourself in deep water hold on to your boat and float down river until you can stand up. If you cannot stay with your boat swim hard to shore; try to avoid swimming against the current if possible so that you avoid tiring yourself out unnecessarily. Keep your feet up near the surface and stay away from downed trees in the water. Keeping your feet up is important so that you can be sure that your feet and legs do not become trapped on an underwater snag. If someone offers you help, hang on to their boat and let them pull you to shore - DO NOT try to climb into their boat because you might flip them.
When recreating in raw water (any ocean, lake, river or stream) always sanitize your hands before eating to kill harmful bacteria.


What to bring on the river

  • Things that you should have with you on the river: Water, lunch, hand sanitizer, cell phone in waterproof bag, change of dry clothes, life jacket, extra paddle, first aid kit, sunscreen, hat, rain jacket.
  • Things you might want on the river: Camera & binoculars (in waterproof bag), animal and plant identification guides.
  • Things to leave behind: Radios, video games, jewelry and other things you don't want to lose.
Put everything you can in plastic bags and tie them into your boat so that if you flip you won't lose anything. Please do not litter, many of the sandbars you will find will be clean and beautiful, please leave them that way so that others can enjoy them.