Longest Rivers In The United States

Big Bend Dam on the Missouri River, South Dakota.

The US with the sheer size has a diverse geography. It is home to some of the world’s longest rivers, which flow between several states. Some of these rivers are shared between the US and Canada or Mexico. These rivers have economic, commercial, and navigational uses in the present day of the US.

Missouri River

According to the USGS, Missouri River stretches for 2,341 miles from source to mouth the river beats out the Mississippi River as the longest river in the US. The river starts flowing from the Rocky Mountains in Western Montana and drains into the Mississippi River. The earliest commercial use of the river was during the fur trade. The 1950’s saw the establishment of projects on the river, such as the construction of dams and reservoirs. The river is used to channel water for agriculture and generation of hydroelectric power in the modern US. There are several parks and recreational centers along the river making it a vital recreational resource in the country. The River has an abundant marine life such as the paddlefish, channel catfish, pallid sturgeon, sauger, and Longnose Gar. The river also provides an ecosystem for migratory birds, reptiles such as snakes and small mammals like squirrels and rats. The river has been subject to pollution from agricultural products such as pesticides and chemicals from industries. These factors have affected the marine life in the river, whose numbers have been declining over time.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River is the second largest river in the US, stretching for 2,202 miles. Its source is in the Lake Itasca in Minnesota, and its mouth is the Gulf of Mexico. The River had important navigation value, the reason why various powers such as France, Spain, and Native American Indians fought to control it. The introduction of steamboats in the early 18th century revolutionized trade along the river. The Mississippi River played an important commercial role when the US was constitutionally established. Transportation of products such as petroleum, aluminum, corn, and soybeans were transported on the river, and the widening of channels facilitated the travel of large ships. The river is used for transportation of products and has a vital economic value. The river is also used for agriculture, hydroelectricity, and recreation purposes. Mississippi River provides an ecosystem for over 260 species of fish, and it is used as a migratory corridor for birds such as waterfowl. The river is also a habitat for different species of reptiles and mammals. The river has become a destination for industrial pollution, with millions of pounds of toxins and chemicals released into the river which endangers marine life.

Yukon River

Yukon River flows for 1,979 miles, and it is shared between the US and Canada. The river flows from the Range Mountains in North of British Columbia and drains into the Bering Sea. The river has long history used as a vital navigational and trade value. It provides a habitat for marine life such as the Salmon which is the predominant fish in the river alongside the whitefishes and pikes. The fishing methods used to catch the Salmon has raised concerns over decreasing numbers. Climate change has also affected the numbers of marine life in the river. The river is a habitat for the coniferous, Lodgepole Pine and Alpine fir trees. Birds that inhabit the river’s ecosystem include swans, ducks, and geese. The river is also used as a mining hub for minerals such as zinc, lead, and silver. Yukon River attracts tourists throughout the year who engage in recreational activities and viewing of the beautiful scenery.

Rio Grande

Rio Grande is the fourth largest river in the US, stretching for 1,759 miles. The river’s source is in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado while its mouth is in the Gulf of Mexico. The river has long been used for irrigation, and some dams have been constructed along the river line.

The river marks the border between Texas and Mexico. The Bosque ecosystem is found alongside the river in the US territory. This ecosystem is home to over 500 different species of fauna such as the American beaver, desert cottontails, porcupines, and muskrats. The water levels in the river have been steadily decreasing due to increased extraction of its water for irrigation and home use. Low levels of water cause the concentration of pollutants and the subsequent death of marine life.

The river was a source of disputes between the US and Mexico, which was settled by the signing of treaties in 1906 and 1944. The two countries use the water in the river under the guidance of the International Boundary Committee.


Other long rivers in the US in miles include Colorado River shared with Mexico (1,450), Arkansas River (1,443), Columbia shared with Canada (1,243), Red River (1,125), Snake River (1,040), and Ohio River (979). Increased industrial pollution and water extraction have continued to raise concerns over the sustainability of rivers in the US.

Longest Rivers In The United States

RankMajor American RiversDistance from Source to Mouth
1Missouri River2,341 miles
2Mississippi River2,202 miles
3Yukon River1,979 miles (shared with Canada)
4Rio Grande1,759 miles (shared with Mexico)
5Colorado River1,450 miles (shared with Mexico)
6Arkansas River1,443 miles
7Columbia1,243 miles (shared with Canada)
8Red River1,125 miles
9Snake River1,040 miles
10Ohio River979 miles

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