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Straight to their Source: Where Washington Waters Flow

Posted by Loren Drummond at Oct 24, 2013 02:25 PM |
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Worth checking out: a new interactive mapping service from the USGS that lets hikers trace the flow of major rivers and streams to their source.

This summer, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) released an interactive mapping service they've dubbed Streamer. It lets you trace the flow of major rivers and streams both upstream and downstream.

Why should Washington hikers care? Because so many of our hiking trails and access roads follow water drainages. Plus, if you care a whit about maps (as many hikers do), this thing is just awesome to play with.

  • See how rivers that start on opposite sides of the same ridge (like the North Fork Skykomish and Little Wenatchee Rivers) take wildly different paths to the Pacific.
  • Learn how many miles of streams flow into Lake Chelan (178 miles) with a single click.
  • Wonder which waterways connect us to Oregon, Montana and Wyoming? Streamer brings us all together.

Below are just a few of the trace results for Washington's well-known waterways (like the Elwha and Columbia Rivers), but seeking out the source of your local river is equally interesting. Some fun searches? Trace the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie, the Suiattle, the Snake or Okanogan Rivers.

Tracing the free-flowing Elwha River

Elwha River Upstream Track
Trace the free-flowing Elwha from down from the Olympics. Source:

What flows into the Columbia? Pretty much everything

Columbia River trace
What flows into the Columbia River? A lot. Source:

A final observation: streams and brains

After spending more than an hour tracing the branching pathways of water through Washington's topography, it struck us how many of the smaller pathways looked so familiar to the trail maps we scrutinize before, during and after hiking adventures.

Also, the more complex the pathway, the more the streams and rivers resembled one—or all—of the following: veins, leaves, trees or brains.

What do you see when you look at Washington's waterways?



washington's rivers

The third map (of the entire river complex)appears as if it were the head of a guide dog. Which of course I will need when following these rivers back to their head waters!

Posted by:

"baugh" on Oct 25, 2013 01:37 PM

Love it!

It's like spotting animals in cloud formations. You might be interested in this blog we ran across about a dude who hiked/boated the Bogachiel from source to sea a few years back:[…]/

Posted by:

"Loren Drummond" on Oct 25, 2013 01:37 PM


This is very cool. Thanks for introducing me to it. I'm not sure how I'll use it, but I will! Sending it around to friends for the "oooh" "ahhh" factor.

Posted by:

"Jack Haskel" on Oct 31, 2013 02:12 PM

Of course!

We totally geeked out on this, too. Could be an awesome teaching tool for kids, too.

Posted by:

"Loren Drummond" on Oct 31, 2013 02:12 PM