In-channel large woody debris (LWD) promotes quality aquatic habitat through sediment sorting, pool scouring and in-stream nutrient retention and transport. LWD recruitment occurs by numerous ecological and geomorphic mechanisms including channel migration, mass wasting and natural tree fall, yet LWD sourcing on the watershed scale remains poorly constrained. We developed a rapid and spatially extensive method for using light detection and ranging data to do the following: (i) estimate tree height and recruitable tree abundance throughout a watershed; (ii) determine the likelihood for the stream to recruit channel-spanning trees at reach scales and assess whether mass wasting or channel migration is a dominant recruitment mechanism; and (iii) understand the contemporary and future distribution of LWD at a watershed scale. We utilized this method on the 78-km-long Narraguagus River in coastal Maine and found that potential channel-spanning LWD composes approximately 6% of the valley area over the course of the river and is concentrated in spatially discrete reaches along the stream, with 5 km of the river valley accounting for 50% of the total potential LWD found in the system. We also determined that 83% of all potential LWD is located on valley sides, as opposed to 17% on floodplain and terrace surfaces. Approximately 3% of channel-spanning vegetation along the river is located within one channel width of the stream. By examining topographic and morphologic variables (valley width, channel sinuosity, valley-side slope) over the length of the stream, we evaluated the dominant recruitment processes along the river and often found a spatial disconnect between the location of potential channel-spanning LWD and recruitment mechanisms, which likely explains the low levels of LWD currently found in the system. This rapid method for identification of LWD sources is extendable to other basins and may prove valuable in locating future restoration projects aimed at increasing habitat quality through wood additions. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.