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North Dakota Water Science Center

Yellowstone River Canoeing Recommendations Based on Streamflow and Stage 

According to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, a flow of at least 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) near Sidney, Montana, is recommended for fair canoeing.  

The U.S. Geological Survey also maintains a stage gage at Cartwright, North Dakota.  No streamflow data are collected at that gage, but when streamflow at Sidney, Montana, is 2,500 cfs, the stage at Cartwright is approximately 63.3 feet.

Flows in the Yellowstone River usually are greater than 2,500 cfs and the river generally can be canoed whenever it is free of ice and not flooding.  In very dry years, in years without much runoff from the mountains, and in August, recreationists may want to observe the gaging station data before taking a trip to the river.

Data Interpretation and Recommendations

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 Yellowstone River can be expressed as:

Gaging Station

 in cubic feet persecond (cfs)

Stage/Gage Height
 in feet (ft)

(on bridge on State Highway 200, 2 miles west of Cartwright, and at river mile 8.5)

Data not available

63.6 feet

Not a National Weather Service Flood Forecast Point

Current Streamflow: unavailable
Current Stage: unavailable

(0.2 mile downstream from bridge on State Highway 23, 2.5 miles south of Sidney, 3.0 miles downstream from Fox Creek, and at river mile 29.2)

2,500 cubic feet per second

3.7 feet

National Weather Service
Flood Stage - 19 ft

Current Streamflow: unavailable
Current Stage: unavailable

As river conditions change due to natural events or human activities, the streamflow-stage relation may change.  As streamflow and stage decrease, the river becomes slower and shallower.  As streamflow and stage increase, the river becomes faster and deeper.  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 Yellowstone 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.  The Sidney link will present a chart showing the current stage (labeled as gage height) and a chart showing current streamflow (labeled as discharge).  The Cartwright link will present a chart showing current stage. To view streamflow or stage 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.

Sidney gaging station Cartwright gaging station Yellowstone River gaging stations

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