Meandered, Non-Meandered, and Navigable Rivers
These terms can be confusing, but are important in understanding what the rules are for where you can be and where you can't:
A Meandered river is one in which adjacent land owners own the land above the high water mark. Land below the high water mark is public, giving citizens the right to explore sandbars at leisure without worry of trespassing. Land above that level is usually private, and should not be utilized by people navigating streams except when portaging around an obstruction.
View a map of meandered rivers and legal boundaries of meandered rivers to learn more.
A non-meandered river, on the other hand, is one in which private landowners own all the land adjacent to and underneath the water-including the bottom, sandbars, and banks. Most river miles in Iowa are designated as non-meandered. A 1996 attorney general opinion, however, permits activities incidental to navigation on non-meandered rivers, such as, fishing, swimming, and wading when the river is considered navigable. This law also allows for trash clean-ups and the need to portage obstructions in the rivers.
A navigable river is defined by state law as one "which can support a vessel capable of carrying one or more persons during a total of a six-month period in one out of every ten years." Most rivers and larger creeks in Iowa, including non-meandered rivers, are considered navigable. State law expressly allows boating traffic down to one-person vessel such as kayaks on navigable streams.