ELF Boating: Extremely Low Flow Kayaking

Elf Boating has become extremely popular with kayak enthusiasts. Essentially, it’s the same as normal kayaking but there’s less water flow. A lot less!

ELF Boating

Photo source summitcountyvoice.com

ELFers love it because you get the chance to see rocks and boulders that would usually be underwater. It also extends the kayaking season into the late Fall and Winter seasons when water levels are at their lowest.

There is some terminology to understand when it comes to ELF Kayaking. Understanding the terms used will hep you decide if you will be ELF Kayaking or Normal Flow Kayaking and what kind of kayak you should be using!

Understanding River Flows

Streams, creeks, and rivers flow at different water levels measured by CFS. CFS stands for Cubic Feet Per Second.

There are streams, creeks, and rivers that always have a low CFS level and some streams, creeks and rivers have a changing CFS level depending on the time of year and weather conditions! Suitable CFS standards for ELF Kayaking are from 150 CFS – 500 CFS. This is around ten – twenty times less than the water flow during peak kayaking times!

There is a formula to use to determine a body of water’s CFS. It is:

river width x depth x speed (flow and gradient) = CFS

Readings are taken at various points of the body of water to determine an overall CFS. Also, mapping the CFS readings at different intervals can help you plan your kayaking adventure with more accuracy.

The Fish and Game Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation monitor the CFS levels of regulated bodies of water on a regular basis, and you can retrieve this information by going to their websites.

Local authorities and recreational areas might also track the CFS flow and other water conditions also, so you can also check their web pages before heading out!

Popular places for ELF Boating

You can do trip searches on popular trip planning websites such as Trip Advisor. I’ve provided the link here for some favorite ELF Kayaking trip locations in the US. Also, I’ve compiled a short list of popular places to visit for some ELF Kayaking!

  • The Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
    The Grand Canyon is often called America’s No. 1 vacation destination! It offers many activities and several excellent locations for ELF Kayaking. One place is known as Elves Chasm! There are many outfitters here which will equip you and your family with the gear that you need. Guided tours are also popular!
  •  The Cheat Cannon, West Virginia, USA
    The Cheat Cannon or otherwise known as the Cheat River Gorge is an extremely popular place to get in some ELF Kayaking with CFS levels ranging from 250 CFS – 500 CFS.
  • Ohiopyle State Park, Penslavania, USA

    From personal experience, I know how beautiful Ohiopyle Stat Park is in Ohiopyle, PA, USA.

Ohiopyle is situated in the  Laurel Highland mountains of Pennsylvania where the Youghiogheny River rapidly runs through it. The Youghiogheny River offers many miles of White Water fun with several areas suitable for ELF Kayaking. Outfitters are located nearby to help out with your kayaking needs.

DIY ELF Spotting

It is easy to find your own place to ELF Kayak too! Look at your local map and find streams, creeks or rivers that are close to home. Go online to find local CFS levels.

Another good way to determine CFS levels would be to look at a topography map. This map shows inclines and drops in the land and a lot of the time smaller bodies of water will flow shallower through these areas

What kind of Kayak should I buy for ELF Boating?

Inflatable Kayaks sit on top of the water, rather than in it. This means you can take them in shallower water and not worry about beaching or banging off rocks.

In fact, inflatable kayaks have many benefits that make them perfect to take on an ELF trip (for example, your less likely to become trapped in one),

Custom Inflatables make a custom kayak especially for ELF boating called “The Thrillseeker“. At around $1,395 it’s not cheap, but it’s top of the line.

Similar can be said about the Aire Lynx 1. It’s a few hundred cheaper than the “Thrillseekers” and offers an industry-best 10 year manufacturer’s warranty.

Looking at the ELF Boating videos on youtube, I think that (and a full face helmet) is ideal for this fast and unforgiving pursuit.



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