Beat the Heat: Tips on Traversing Rivers

By Madelaine

When traveling through the south in the dead of summer, it can be very tempting to take a dip in a river. Many national and state parks have rivers where swimming is allowed. Still, whether they’re small streams or large rivers like the Rappahannock, it can be a bit scary to think about, or you may be uncertain of how to go about enjoying your time there. But floating on tubes, kayaking, canoeing, or swimming can all be good fun if you’re prepared.

Check the weather:

Even if it’s supposed to be a sunny day out, I would suggest to not go swimming in rivers if it has rained heavily within a twenty-four hour timeframe. If currents are high and fast, it’s not safe to be in, and you could slip or be carried away. The banks might also not be solid, making it easier for you to fall in. A good way to tell if the current is too fast before you get close is to listen. You will hear if the water is going too fast if you are at least twenty feet away. If it sounds like a waterfall, don’t go in.

Bring extra clothes:

A spare set of clothes is always a must. Whether it’s a hot summer evening in the deep south or you’re all the way up north. Even if you leave your extra clothes in the car that is fine, but I always suggest bringing an extra pair of socks and possibly even a sweater. If you can’t stand the feeling of rocks under your bare feet, I suggest wearing shoes. But if you do this, bring a good pair of water shoes or tennis shoes you don’t care about anymore along with an extra pair for walking back to the car. Don’t just wear socks though, rocks can be slippery from algae. Bare feet will give you at least some grip whereas socks will have you sliding. Water shoes will give you the ideal amount of grip.


If you’re like me and are deathly afraid of snakes or blood suckers, then listen closely. If your river of choice has a hard current, critters are much less likely to be near. If you see a little cove that has still water in it, stay clear and stick with the river that has a steady stream, as it is harder for animals to nest where there’s a current (this includes mosquitoes!). If there is a spot with a lot of rocks above the water line and you see any sign of snakes, stay away from there. They tend to nest around those areas. Whether you’re in the north or south, if you see a portion of the river where the mud is squishy in the water, try to stay out of it. Blood suckers lie in wait there. If you ever have blood suckers on you and you’re having problems pulling them off, salt will do the trick.

 If you’re canoeing along a river, I suggest staying in the middle of the river and not moving along the shore as much. First, you can get stuck in the mud. Second, that’ll be where any animal is. The same advice goes to swimmers if they can’t see the bottom of the river and are swimming in more muddy water. Animals will respect you if you respect them. If you don’t bother them, they tend to leave your swimming alone, especially if you’re making a lot of noise.

Other advise:

Always obey signs. If they tell you not to swim, don’t do it. It’s probably to keep animals that live there, or yourself, safe.

If the river is far off the trail you’re traveling on, even if you’re trying to get to a less crowded area of the river, don’t go there. Stay within eyesight of a well-traveled path. If something happens to you, you’ll want it to be easy for others to rescue you.

Other supplies to bring:

o   Water

o   Sunscreen

o   Towel if you’re swimming

o   First air kit with band aids, salt, small knife, disinfectant

Don’t be afraid of the water. It can be a great way to cool down during the summer and open up a relaxing option for a day trip. But if you are unfamiliar with how rivers work, it always helps to do some quick research first.

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