Camping in a river bed; what you need to be aware of

A couple of times now, we’ve shared photos of us camped in, or near a river bed, and received a heap of criticism from people online for ‘camping where we shouldn’t’.

The first time I shared a photo and saw these comments I wasn’t expecting them, but since then, I’ve learnt that people love to share their two cents.

So, should you camp in a river bed? Short answer; no. Long answer? If you’re very careful, its possible.

Hybrid caravan and camper trailer
We’ve copped it a few times for sharing photos of us camping in a river bed like this (taken at Cowalla)

What’s wrong with camping in a river bed?

The primary reason people get concerned, or upset about camping in river beds is the potential for flooding to occur.

You don’t need much rain (that can fall a long way away) to turn your perfectly dry river bed (with nice pools for the kids to splash in) into a raging torrent, and that can put your gear, and even your life in danger pretty quickly.

Ultimately, it’s a judgement call that you should be able to make. That said, there are times where you wont know where the water is coming from, and you are better off not camping where you could be at risk.

The Murray River Mouth at Goolwa
The risk is if rain falls further upstream, you can be in big trouble when the water comes down

Watch the weather and do your research

If you are going to camp in, or near a river bed, you need to know what the weather is doing. We’ve never done this without knowing exactly what weather has been in the last week, and is coming in the next few days in the direct area, and around it.

If you are camping in a river bed and the rain starts to fall, you need to get out, and quick smart. Have a look at some of the videos online of flash flooding, and you’ll soon realise why its important to be out of harms way when the water does start to come down.

If there's a flood risk, move away
If there’s a chance of flooding, move away immediately

Will we stop camping in river beds?

No, and we’ll cop the criticism that comes our way from doing it. We’ve been doing this long enough to know what is safe, and what isn’t, and I’m not going to put my family at risk by camping somewhere we shouldn’t be.

If there’s a risk, we camp well above the flood water levels, and make sure we are somewhere safe. If there’s no risk (like in the middle of summer, on a property that hasn’t received rain for months, and nothing is forecast), then yep, you bet we are going to camp as close to the water as we can.

Camp at Parachilna Gorge
We’re careful not to camp where there’s a risk of flooding, and you should be too

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