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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Outdoor Recreation > Trails > Indiana Canoeing > About the Guide & River Rights About the Guide & River Rights

The online "Indiana Canoeing Guide" is based upon information published in the 1987 Indiana Canoe Guide by Department of Natural Resources. This was the fifth edition of the Department of Natural Resources' canoeing guide. Many revisions in canoeing trail descriptions were made since the fourth edition was printed in 1983 and descriptions of several additional miles of rivers were included. The Division of Outdoor Recreation's Streams and Trails Section was responsible for publication of the guide. It contained descriptions of many canoeing trails, along with information about canoeing techniques, trip planning, maps and proper river use. It was to aid canoeists in having safe and enjoyable journeys down our rivers. The inability to charge a fee for the guide in the late 80s caused it to go out of print. The guide was moved to the Internet in 1996 so people could once again access the information. Every effort was made to provide up-to-date, accurate descriptions of hundreds of miles of rivers included in the guide. Most of the information in this online guide is unchanged from the 1987 printing and you should not rely completely on the descriptions when planning a canoeing trip. Rivers are by their nature changeable, and even though the maps in the guide are drawn to scale, many details are not shown. U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps should also be used in planning a trip; a list of the maps for use with each canoeing trail is included near the end of the guide.

The canoeing trail descriptions in the guide are generally divided into day-long trips, but enough information is provided to plan longer or shorter trips. The times indicated for each trip are for a "float" during normal water levels in April, May and June. A "float" is drifting with the current with little paddling to propel the canoe downstream. The rivers that are included in this guide generally offer the most pleasant and rewarding canoeing experiences. There are also many lakes in Indiana that may be used for canoeing. The complete list of public access sites for both streams and lakes is available online.

The legal use of Indiana's rivers for canoeing is a confusing issue. Public freshwater lakes can be used. Several Indiana rivers have been designated as "navigable," which means the river and its bed are held in trust by the State of Indiana, and can also be used by the public. Another possibility is that through continuous, long-term usage of a river, the public has acquired a "prescriptive easement." The bed remains in the ownership of the landowner, but the public may use the surface of the river for canoeing. In general, the public has no right to use water that is not in a public freshwater lake, a navigable river or a river upon which a prescriptive easement has been established. More information about navigability can be found on the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) webpage.

In 1980, the Governor's Water Rights and Management Commission recommended that legislation be passed by the Indiana General Assembly to clarify where a river is subject to "recreational uses." To date, legislation has not been utilized to declare a river as "recreational". A recent decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals declined to apply a recreational test for determining what is a navigable waterway. The court reaffirmed the traditional law of navigability in Indiana and cited an earlier decision that concluded that a river is navigable if it could have been employed for commercial boat traffic when Indiana became a state in 1816. For more information, a copy of the Natural Resources Commission Nonrule Policy Document, "Roster of Indiana Waterways Declared Navigable" may be also accessed on the NRC website .

A landowner along a river that has not been declared navigable by statute or by a court decision may claim that the public cannot canoe the river. If a conflict arises, the only solution is to go to court and seek a declaration of navigability or that a prescriptive easement has been established. You may wish to contact an Indiana Conservation Officer stationed in a county where you plan to go canoeing for additional information about river use problems. However, keep in mind that the banks of all rivers in Indiana should be considered private property. Only a very small part of the riverbanks in Indiana are in public ownership. Please do not trespass on private property. Please also remember to "carry out all that you carry in" when you take a canoeing trip. Help prevent litter. The Department of Natural Resources wishes you very enjoyable experiences as you float through some of the most natural, scenic and historical areas in Indiana.