The 10 Largest Rivers in the United States

The United States boasts an array of expansive rivers, pivotal for transportation, livelihoods, and defining geographical boundaries. Naturally, curiosity arises about the 10 largest rivers in the country. Rest assured, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list for your exploration. Delve into the fascinating world of these remarkable bodies of water!

What is a River?

A river is characterized as a flowing body of water that empties into a larger water body, typically an ocean, with distinct banks. While this definition may be somewhat broad, it offers a basic understanding of the concept. Now, let’s explore how we categorize and define the largest rivers.

When assessing the largest rivers, our focus is primarily on their length rather than the volume of water they discharge. While width or other metrics could also be considered, length serves as a straightforward and equitable measure to determine the largest rivers in the U.S.

The Largest Rivers in the United States

In our compilation of the longest rivers globally, we assessed entire river systems. For instance, the Missouri River, which merges with the Mississippi, constitutes a single watershed. However, in this rundown of the largest rivers in the United States, we’ll focus solely on individual rivers. Thus, for the purposes of this list, the length of the Missouri River concludes where it meets the Mississippi.

10. Ohio River- 981 miles

The Ohio River, spanning nearly 1,000 miles, courses through several states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana. Historically, it has served as a vital transport route and has demarcated state boundaries. Hosting major cities such as Louisville, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it boasts significant urban centers along its banks. Additionally, the Ohio River showcases considerable width, exceeding a mile at certain points before converging with the Mississippi River.

9. Snake River- 1,040 miles

For over 10,000 years, the Snake River has been a significant homeland for Native American communities and was extensively explored during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Its name originates from a misunderstanding of sign language intended to convey basket weaving, which was mistakenly interpreted as “snake.” Flowing through Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho in the Pacific Northwest, the river plays a crucial role in salmon spawning, hydroelectric power generation, and agriculture. Unfortunately, in recent years, the Snake River has experienced substantial pollution from runoff.

8. Columbia River- 1,243 miles

Flowing through Oregon and Washington in the United States, the Columbia River also extends into British Columbia, Canada, before meeting the Pacific Ocean at its mouth. Renowned for boasting the largest river discharge into the Pacific in North or South America, it carries an impressive amount of 265,000 cubic feet per second. For approximately 15,000 years, the river served as both a boundary and a vital food source for indigenous peoples.

7. Red River- 1,360 miles

While occasionally referred to as the Red River of the South, its name is actually derived from the reddish hue of its water. This river courses through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Unlike many other rivers in the United States, the Red River exhibits saline characteristics. Its mouth converges with the Atchafalaya River, continuing its journey into the Gulf of Mexico.

6. Colorado River- 1,450 miles

Flowing through multiple states such as Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, and Nevada, the Colorado River eventually empties into the Gulf of California in Mexico. Renowned for its passage through the majestic Grand Canyon, early explorers in this region navigated its waters. For thousands of years, the Colorado River played a crucial role in the lives of Native Americans. Today, it remains an essential resource for water and power, continuing to benefit people across the region.

5. Arkansas River- 1,469 miles

Traveling through the Great Plains, the Arkansas River traverses Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas before converging with the Mississippi River at its mouth. Serving as the second-largest tributary of the Mississippi River, the Arkansas River holds significance as a prime fishing destination today. However, its strategic importance during the American Civil War was paramount, facilitating the movement of troops across its waters.

4. Rio Grande- 1,885 miles

The Rio Grande forms a natural border between the United States and Mexico. Within the U.S., it courses through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Despite its significance, the river’s depth is relatively shallow, with its deepest section measuring only 60 feet. At its mouth, the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. Notably, the Rio Grande serves as a boundary between El Paso in the U.S. and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, defining the border between these two cities.

3. Yukon River- 1,982 miles

While some individuals may solely calculate the length of the Yukon River within the U.S. when evaluating its magnitude, for clarity’s sake, we will encompass its entire length in our list. Originating from Yukon and British Columbia, the Yukon River courses through Alaska, traversing the expansive state before emptying into the Bering Sea. A contemporary initiative led by the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council aims to restore this river to its former splendor by enhancing water quality and making it suitable for drinking purposes.

2. Mississippi River- 2,320 miles

The Mississippi River, an expansive waterway, courses through a total of 10 states before reaching its terminus at the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout history, the river has served as a vital means of transportation, a source of sustenance, and a crucial water resource. Consequently, numerous significant communities have flourished along its banks. Additionally, the Mississippi River hosts a multitude of engineering endeavors, including efforts to regulate water flow into the Atchafalaya River.

1. Missouri River- 2,341 miles

Despite the Mississippi River often commanding the spotlight, it’s important to recognize that the Missouri River holds the distinction of being the largest river in the United States! This vast river winds through 7 states before merging into the Mississippi River. Together, these rivers form a broader body of water as part of an interconnected system. At the confluence point in St. Louis, where the rivers meet, distinct differences in color are evident, with the Missouri River appearing considerably lighter due to the presence of silt.

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