Peatland drainage enhances tree growth, changes catchment hydrology and increases export of nutrients and suspended solids to water bodies. In this study, impacts of peatland drainage on the properties of water flow paths in terrestrial parts of catchments were assessed in terms of slope, elevation, length and soil type. Three study catchments (area 31.8–153.5 km2) were delineated using a 25 m × 25 m digital elevation model (DEM). Typical water flow paths were calculated for each catchment to characterize the mean elevation above the receiving water body as a function of distance along water flow paths. The resulting two-dimensional (2D) profile also allowed calculations of horizontally distributed properties of catchments as a function of distance to the water body. Peatland drainage decreased the length and elevation of the typical water flow path, and increased the area near water bodies. Increasing drainage from 10.7% to 55.4% of the total catchment area increased the area residing close to a water body (no farther than 25 m) from 17.1% to 60.7%. This area estimate is useful for assessing the costs of water protection, arising from restricting forestry operations in the vicinity of water bodies.