Major Rivers in the United States: Interesting Facts and Details

The United States is home to more than 250000 rivers. Every river unique and beautiful in its own way. While rivers like Missouri and Mississippi are known worldwide for their length, the Colorado River is famous for its natural landmark – the Grand Canyon!

There are many such intriguing facts and details about these rivers. We have listed 10 major rivers flowing across the United States which are considered significant for one or more reasons.

1. Missouri River

Missouri  holds the title of being the longest river not only in the United States but the whole of the North American Continent. It is in fact the longest tributary of the Mississippi river with a length of around 2,341 miles.

The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montanna near a town called Three Forks and flows mainly south and east direction ending its journey near St. Louis (Missouri), where it finally meets the Mississippi River.

Missouri river has served as a lifeline for Native American civilizations for many thousand years. It is believed that this river system has nurtured mankind for over 12,000 years. People, especially Native American groups, have been heavily dependent on this river for sustenance.

Due to the presence of a very high amount of silt content in the river water, Missouri river  is also called “Big Muddy” or “Dark River”.

2. Mississippi River

Mississippi river is the second-largest in the United States (2,320 miles long) and is one of the most iconic rivers of the United States. It is also the world’s fourth-longest river.

Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota is the water source of this mighty river which eventually flows down into the Gulf of Mexico.

You may be intrigued to know that a single drop of water takes around 90 days to travel from source to mouth in Mississippi.

As a habitat, the Mississippi river has served as home to millions of birds and fish for thousands of years. Currently, there are over 600 different species of fish and birds along with nearly 200 different species of amphibians, and mammals are found on this river.

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The name Mississippi come from the Ojibwa word misi-ziibi, meaning “great river”.

3. Yukon River

Yukon river rises in British Colombia (Canada)  and flows through the Yukon region finally ending its journey in Alaska where it empties itself in the Bering Sea. With length around 1,982 miles, it is the third-longest river of the North America. The river is home to some of the longest salmon fish in the world.

In Canada, the Yukon River is fed by four principal tributaries namely the Teslin River, the White River, the Pelly River, and the Stewart River.

The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council has been established in 1997. The Council comprises of 66 First Nations and tribes in Alaska and Canada, living along the Yukon River.

The word Yukon is derived from the Kutchin language and it means “Great River”.

map of major rivers in the usa

4. Rio Grande River

Rio Grande River is a part of the natural boundary between Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas.

This 1,885 miles long river rises as a snow-fed mountain stream in the San Juan Mountains (Colorado) and it flows down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The river is home to over 120 fish species. Out of these, around 69 fish species are exclusive to this region. In fact, the basin of Rio Grande serves as one of the prominent freshwater biodiversity regions of the world.

The name Rio Grande has Spanish origin and it means “Big River”. Interestingly, the river is referred to as Rio Brave in Mexico.

5. Colorado River

Colorado is a 1,450 miles long river rising from La Poudre Pass Lake in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

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It passes through the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The Colorado River Watershed is home to thousands of plant species. The river stream was also famous for endemic species of fishes. However, the population of fish declined severely due to construction and river regulations.

Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped incised meander is one of the most iconic spots on the Colorado River.

Francisco de Ulloa, a Spanish explorer is believed to have discovered this river for the first time.

The term Colorado has Spanish origin and it stands for the color “red”.

6. Arkansas River

This 1,462 miles long river rises in the state of Colorado and flows into the Mississippi rivers in Arkansas. In fact, this river is the second largest tributary of the Mississippi River.

Trout fishing is one of the exceptional features of the Arkansas River. Brown and Rainbow trouts are found in abundance.

Riverside areas were home to Native American Tribes like Apache, Ute, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Kiowa.

It is believed that the Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado crossed this river in 1541. In the narratives of the 1541 expedition, the river was given the name “St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s River”.

7. Columbia River

Rising in the Columbia Lake in  British Columbia (Canada), the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean.

It is the fourth largest river of the United States in terms of volume and around 1,243 miles in length. Columbia is fed by around 60 small and large tributaries with Snake River being the largest tributary.

Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta spotted the mouth of Columbia River documented it for the first time in 1775.

Columbia River Gorge is one of the most iconic canyon found on the Columbia River.

8. Red River

It is also called the Red River of the South being one of the most prominent rivers in the Southern United States. Red River rises in the high plains of eastern New Mexico, U.S., and flows south into the Atchafalaya River.

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The river was once a tributary of Mississippi River. However, over a period of time, it became a tributary of the Atchafalaya River.

Atchafalaya is one of the distributaries of Mississippi River. It is still connected to the Mississippi River through an Old River Control Structure.

The length of the river is around 1,290 miles. Interestingly, it serves as a boundary between Texas and Oklahoma for about half the distance.

9. Snake River

This 1,078 miles long river is a tributary of the Columbia River.

It rises in western Wyoming and empties itself into the Columbia River at Tri-cities, Washington.

The drain basin of the Snake River is known for its varied geologic history.

The Snake River Plain was formed by a volcanic hot-spot. The hot-spot presently lies underneath the Snake River headwaters in Yellowstone National Park.

A deep gorge named Hells Canyon forms part of the boundary between the Seven Devils (Idaho) and Wallowa (Oregon) mountain ranges.

10. Ohio River

The 981 miles long river has been formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. The location of the confluence is  Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It is the largest tributary of the Mississippi River in terms of volume.  In fact, it is the third-largest river in the United States in terms of discharge by volume.

Interestingly, the Ohio River was not naturally deep. It was artificially deepened with the construction of a series of dams.

The River water runs along the periphery of the humid subtropical climate and humid continental climate. Thus, the Ohio River is known for being a climatic transition area and the region is inhabited by fauna and flora of both climates.