In this study, we explore two mycorrhizal groups during development of riparian soils along a freely‐flowing river. We provide the first documentation of a shift in abundance between arbuscular mycorrhizae and ectomycorrhizae during floodplain succession. We used a chronosequence spanning 0–70 yr along a river in northwestern Montana, USA, to test the hypothesis that abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is greatest in early stages of soil development, and abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi (ECMF) is greatest later in floodplain succession. We also measured the AMF‐mediated process of formation of soil aggregates during site development. AMF colonization of the dominant tree (black cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa) remained low (<5%), while AMF colonization of understory species was high (45–90%), across the chronosequence. Mycorrhizal inoculum potential (MIP) and hyphal length of AMF in soil peaked within the first 13 yr of succession and then declined. No single variable significantly correlated with AMF abundance, but AMF tended to decline as litter and soil organic matter increased. Density of ectomycorrhizal root tips in soil increased linearly throughout the chronosequence, and ectomycorrhizal colonization of cottonwood roots increased rapidly in early stages of succession. These patterns suggest that ECMF are not limited by dispersal, but rather influenced by abundance of host plants. Formation of water stable aggregates increased rapidly during the first third of the chronosequence, which was the period of greatest AMF abundance in the soil. The peak in AMF infectivity and hyphal length during early succession suggests that regular flooding and establishment of new sites promotes AMF abundance in this ecosystem. Regulation of rivers that eliminates creation of new sites may reduce contributions of AMF to riparian areas.