The U.S. Geological Survey is studying approaches to characterize the thermal regulation of water and the dynamics of cold water refugia. High temperatures have physiological impacts on anadromous fish species. Factors affecting the presence, variability, and quality of thermal refugia are known, such as riverine and watershed processes, hyporheic flows, deep pools and bathymetric factors, thermal stratification of reservoirs, and other broader climatic considerations. This research develops a conceptual model and methodological techniques to quantify the change in solar insolation load to the Klamath River caused by riparian and floodplain vegetation, the morphology of the river, and the orientation and topographic characteristics of its watersheds. Using multiple scales of input data from digital elevation models and airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) derivatives, different analysis methods yielded three different model results. These models are correlated with thermal infrared imagery for ground-truth information at the focal confluence with the Scott River. Results from nonparametric correlation tests, geostatistical cross-covariograms, and cross-correlograms indicate that statistical relationships between the insolation models and the thermal infrared imagery exist and are significant. Furthermore, the use of geostatistics provides insights to the spatial structure of the relationships that would not be apparent otherwise. To incorporate a more complete representation of the temperature dynamics in the river system, other variables including the factors mentioned above, and their influence on solar loading, are discussed. With similar datasets, these methods could be applied to any river in the United States—especially those listed as temperature impaired under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act—or international riverine systems. Considering the importance of thermal refugia for aquatic species, these methods can help investigate opportunities for riparian restoration, identify problematic reaches unlikely to provide good habitat, and simulate changes to solar loading estimates from alternative landscape configurations.