This study examined the possibility of mapping depth from optical image data in turbid, sediment-laden channels. Analysis of hyperspectral images from the Platte River indicated that depth retrieval in these environments is feasible, but might not be highly accurate. Four methods of calibrating image-derived depth estimates were evaluated. The first involved extracting image spectra at survey point locations throughout the reach. These paired observations of depth and reflectance were subjected to optimal band ratio analysis (OBRA) to relate (R2 = 0.596) a spectrally based quantity to flow depth. Two other methods were based on OBRA of data from individual cross sections. A fourth strategy used ground-based reflectance measurements to derive an OBRA relation (R2 = 0.944) that was then applied to the image. Depth retrieval accuracy was assessed by visually inspecting cross sections and calculating various error metrics. Calibration via field spectroscopy resulted in a shallow bias but provided relative accuracies similar to image-based methods. Reach-aggregated OBRA was marginally superior to calibrations based on individual cross sections, and depth retrieval accuracy varied considerably along each reach. Errors were lower and observed versus predicted regression R2 values higher for a relatively simple, deeper site than a shallower, braided reach; errors were 1/3 and 1/2 the mean depth for the two reaches. Bathymetric maps were coherent and hydraulically reasonable, however, and might be more reliable than implied by numerical metrics. As an example application, linear discriminant analysis was used to produce a series of depth threshold maps for characterizing shallow-water habitat for roosting cranes. ?? 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.