U.S. Geological Survey has a complicated website on water monitoring information that is scheduled to be changed within a year or so (we hope for the better). So we will not spend too much time trying to explain present system.
In a nutshell, the National Water Information System (NWIS) grid is “real-time” (solar-powered) network stream and river gauges located throughout the entire U.S. that is quite useful for trip planning.
To access the data, Google search “USGS current water data for…[given state]” to access a map of monitoring stations. For illustration, we selected the High Five Creek station on Little Wood River in Idaho. This was downstream of a trail we used to cross river.
Our Pioneers-Craters Trek in late June 2020 crossed the Little Wood River in knee deep water that corresponded to a water flow of 70 cubic feet per second at High Five station; in early July 2022, this same station recorded over 150 cubic feet per second (Figure 1). Is the river still crossable at this time? Perhaps, but it will be more difficult and perhaps more dangerous; waiting a week or two would probably be better.
Because the data are daily and easily searchable, scenarios can be made to compare years to plan best time to cross. For example, in early June 2020, the High Five station recorded near 200 cubic feet per second flow, but it was above 300 in early June 2022—indicating probably mid or late July better for crossing in 2022.
These data are also quite useful for judging water availability at springs and creeks within the wilderness watershed near a monitoring station. For example, for a visit in December 2021 to Rincon and Saguaro Wilderness areas, there was minimal but adequate spring water; nearby Sabinio Creek monitoring station recorded between 0.05 and 0.1 cubic feet per second streamflow. Hence, these data can be used as a minimum for finding spring water in nearby wilderness areas.
Feel free to contact us at for help figuring out how to obtain streamflow data for your planned trip.