© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Hydraulic interactions between rivers and floodplains produce off-channel chutes, the presence of which influences the routing of water and sediment and thus the planform evolution of meandering rivers. Detailed studies of the hydrologic exchanges between channels and floodplains are usually conducted in laboratory facilities, and studies documenting chute development are generally limited to qualitative observations. In this study, we use a reconstructed, gravel-bedded, meandering river as a field laboratory for studying these mechanisms at a realistic scale. Using an integrated field and modeling approach, we quantified the flow exchanges between the river channel and its floodplain during an overbank flood, and identified locations where flow had the capacity to erode floodplain chutes. Hydraulic measurements and modeling indicated high rates of flow exchange between the channel and floodplain, with flow rapidly decelerating as water was decanted from the channel onto the floodplain due to the frictional drag provided by substrate and vegetation. Peak shear stresses were greatest downstream of the maxima in bend curvature, along the concave bank, where terrestrial LiDAR scans indicate initial floodplain chute formation. A second chute has developed across the convex bank of a meander bend, in a location where sediment accretion, point bar development and plant colonization have created divergent flow paths between the main channel and floodplain. In both cases, the off-channel chutes are evolving slowly during infrequent floods due to the coarse nature of the floodplain, though rapid chute formation would be more likely in finer-grained floodplains. The controls on chute formation at these locations include the flood magnitude, river curvature, floodplain gradient, erodibility of the floodplain sediment, and the flow resistance provided by riparian vegetation.