Scaling aspects of river flow routing are studied by comparing two flow routing schemes, one designed for use in coupled general circulation models (GCMs) and operated at large spatial scales (∼350 km), and the other designed for use in typical hydrological applications at small spatial scales (∼25 km). The same runoff data are used as input into the two routing schemes, and comparisons are made between mean annual, mean monthly and daily streamflow simulated at four locations within the Mackenzie River Basin. The results suggest that for the purpose of realistically modelling monthly streamflow at the mouth of the rivers in GCMs, flow routing at large spatial scales gives similar results. However, the amplitude of the annual streamflow cycle is slightly but characteristically larger, when routing is performed at large spatial scales. Flow routing at large spatial scales also results in overestimation of high flows, while low flows are underestimated. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.