How I Built a Rock Riverbed Run-off Trench

6 Materials
2 Days

My house doesn't have rain gutters, so on the rare occasion that it rains heavily, the water runs off the roof and pools up around our back patio. I thought it might be cool to dig a run-off trench and incorporate it into my plans for my 2019 landscaping project. Read on to find out how I built this rock riverbed run-off trench! It looks AMAZING!

First day of digging...oh boy.
First day of digging...oh boy.

I've known for months that this was something I wanted to do, but I had to wait for a decent rain for the ground to be soft enough to dig. The vision in my head was to have a footbridge to cross the trench...and out of the blue, a rancher friend of mine asked me if I would like to have a footbridge. WHAT? ARE YOU PRANKING ME? HOW DID YOU KNOW I WANTED A FOOTBRIDGE????? (It was more than irony, it was FATE!) Yes! Of course I want a footbridge! So, he built this simple bridge with three planks of horse fencing and two cross pieces.

Weeks later it finally rained, and I started digging.

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

I spread my digging over 2 days, but all in all it took me about 3 hours to dig out approximately 12 feet to the downhill slope. The trench is about 16 inches wide. (My flat head shovel and I are best buds...we have accomplished many projects together.)

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

Here is the view of my trench from the bottom of the slope. At first I thought I would buy river rock at Home Depot to fill the trench, but I have lots of beautiful, natural rock and broken down boulders on my property, so I decided to "harvest" rock instead of spending money. In the end, I think it turned out better.

Filling the trench with rock.
Filling the trench with rock.

To secure my bridge, I dug holes for the footings on each side of the trench and then buried them with the loose dirt.

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

Although I liked the rustic look of the natural wood, I'm a sucker for staining. So I gave my bridge a coat of kona stain.

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

After hours of digging and lugging rock, I was exhausted...but I was not done! I gave myself a few days of rest and recovery, then I made a trip to Home Depot and bought some Alyssum flowers. I ended up spending about $50 on them, but luckily I had gotten a gift card for Christmas, so it didn't hurt my wallet. On our property, we have a bad have a rabbit problem, but Alyssums are stinky and the rabbits tend to not eat them. I planted the flowers on the outside edges of the trench between the rocks...I'm stoked the way it turned out!

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

Here's another view of my finished trench and footbridge.

how i built a rock riverbed run off trench

If you'd like to read the full story of the Rock Riverbed Run-off Trench, you can find it on my blog. Thank you for reading, I look forward to sharing more about my landscaping projects this year!

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Lisa Jane Long

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 6 questions
  • Nancy
    on Jan 8, 2019

    I have something similar where my downspout and sump pump empty .My lawn slops and the water follows the rocks to the edging onto my sidewalk- like a backwards C instead of to the end of rocks and the lowered stone edging. I am unable to build up the sloping. Any ideas before spring????

    • Lisa Jane Long
      6 days ago

      I would have to see some pictures to see exactly what you are describing. It may be that you have to re-rout the water somehow...I'm not sure.

  • Jojo
    on Jan 8, 2019

    Great job! You totally ROCK! lol Have you thought about adding a rain chain to serve as a guide for the water coming from the roof? They can make beautiful music in the rain. I did the same thing at my home where we had a problem "corner" where the water just seemed to pool. I believe it was a boulder in the ground that was causing the problem since we seem to grow rocks and boulders like crazy. However, I did lay down some know, the black fabric that the landscapers often use to control weeds, but I used it to control any future erosion. Works like a charm! I love the look of a dry riverbed. So much prettier and natural. Bet the bunnies enjoy the new riverbed too! ;-)

  • Jane Doe
    8 days ago

    What's to stop the dirt from eroding under the rock?

    • Lisa Jane Long
      6 days ago

      If I lived somewhere where it rained a lot I would be concerned more about erosion. As little rain as we get, I think the rocks will help keep the trench in tact. Time will tell I suppose.

Join the conversation

2 of 17 comments
  • Vickie Otto Powell
    17 hours ago

    I don’t have a question. We were thinking of doing this also. But... I would put plastic in the trench before putting the rocks in.

  • Mary Hise
    31 minutes ago

    I think you did a great job and I love the fact that you used things that you already had and keeping it native to the area

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