USGS - science for a changing world

North Dakota Water Science Center

Little Missouri River Canoeing Recommendations Based on Streamflow and Stage

According to Canoe Camping - Top 40 (, a flow of 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) is adequate for canoeing the Little Missouri River between Medora and U.S. Highway 85 (Long X Bridge).

The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department has developed canoeing recommendations based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey gages at Marmarth and near Watford City.  Those recommendations are incorporated in the chart below.

According to the National Park Service, a stage reading (taken at Medora) of less than 3 feet is considered too shallow for canoeing.   You may call National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt National Park headquarters in Medora at (701) 623-4466 for current information for the National Park.

Data Recommendations and Interpretation

Gaging Station

 in cubic feet per second (cfs)

Stage/Gage Height
 in feet (ft)

(90 feet downstream from U.S. Highway 12 bridge in Marmarth)

Poor - 0 to 160 cfs

Fair - 160 to 602 cfs

Good - 602 to 1,280 cfs

Excellent - 1,280 to 2,110 cfs

Poor - 0 to 2.1 ft

Fair - 2.1 to 3.2 ft

Good - 3.2 to 4.2 ft

Excellent - 4.2 to 5.2 ft

National Weather Service
Flood Stage - 18 ft

Current Streamflow: unavailable
Current Stage: 5.12 ft recorded 01/25/2015 at 19:30

(on left bank 50 feet upstream from bridge on county highway and 1 mile upstream from Andrews Creek and bridge on I-94)

Poor - 0 to 275 cfs

Fair - 275 to 975 cfs

Good - 975 to 1,590 cfs

Excellent - 1,590 cfs or greater
With caution to avoid dangerous flooding conditions

Uncanoeable/Poor - 0 to 2.9 ft

Fair - 3 to 4.5 ft

Good - 4.5 to 5.5 ft

Excellent - greater than 5.5 ft

National Weather Service
Flood Stage - 15 ft

Current Streamflow: unavailable
Current Stage: 6.54 ft recorded 01/25/2015 at 19:15

Near Watford City
(0.8 mile upstream from Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85)

Poor - 0 to 231 cfs

Fair - 231 to 699 cfs

Good - 699 to 1,500 cfs

Excellent - 1,500 to 2,670 cfs

Poor - 0 to 2.3 ft

Fair - 2.3 to 3.5 ft

Good - 3.5 to 4.6 ft

Excellent - 4.6 to 5.7 ft

National Weather Service
Flood Stage - 20 ft

Current Streamflow: unavailable
Current Stage: 0.45 ft recorded 01/25/2015 at 19:30

Each river, and each gaging station on a river, has a unique streamflow-stage relation.  This relation can be expressed in a rating table and  may change with time.  Given the stage at a particular gaging station, streamflow can be estimated using the rating table.  Likewise, given the streamflow, stage can be estimated using the rating table.  Using the streamflow-stage relation, canoeing recommendations for the Little Missouri River can be expressed as as the above recommendations.

As streamflow and stage decrease, the river becomes slower and shallower; thus, canoeing will become more difficult and portaging around shallow areas may be frequent.  As streamflow and stage increase, the river becomes faster and deeper.  As river conditions change due to natural events or human activities, the streamflow-stage relation may change.  Canoeing should not be attempted when the river is flooding.  Observation of the river and its streamflow or stage over time will help you determine the optimal river level for your enjoyment.

How to Obtain Current Streamflow and Stage Data

Pick the gage/city closest to your desired canoeing route on the Little Missouri River.  Click on the link for that gage in the chart above; click on the button with the city name on the left side of this screen; or click on the gage, indicated by a red triangle, on the map below.  You will be presented with a chart showing the current streamflow (discharge).  Scroll down for another chart showing the current stage (gage height).  To view streamflow for the last 18 months click on the button on the left side of the screen that says 18-Month Graph.  Data for the past 18 months are helpful in determining the best time of the year to canoe a river.

Watford City gaging station Medora gaging station Marmarth gaging stationGage Stations along the Little Missouri River in North Dakota

Recommendations | Description | Marmarth Gage | Medora Gage | Watford City Gage | Maps | Additional Information | Safety | Glossary | Canoeing Home Page

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Webmaster
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-Jan-2008 13:13:32 EST
Menlo Park, CA [caww55]