The state of Alabama has some of the most unique river basins in the US. These rivers cover approximately 77,000 miles and supply drinking water to over 50% of Alabama's population. The Tennessee, Chattahoochee, and Alabama rivers are more than 300 miles long, and nine more are at least 186 miles long. All rivers in the state drain into the Gulf of Mexico and are among the most biologically diverse waterways in the world. For example, Alabama's rivers are home to 38% of fish species and 51% of freshwater turtles in North America. Some of the longest rivers in Alabama are highlighted below.
Longest Rivers in Alabama
The Tennessee River is Alabama’s longest river and the largest tributary of the Ohio River. It flows for approximately 652 miles and is formed on the eastern side of the city of Knoxville, at the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers. The Tennessee River was once known as Cherokee River due to the presence of the Cherokee people along its bank. The river flows through Alabama and forms part of the state’s border with Mississippi, and then runs into the state of Kentucky, where it flows into the Ohio River at Paducah. The Tennessee River is an important riverboat and provides passage for over 10,000 recreational watercraft each year.
The Chattahoochee River is the second-longest river in Alabama, covering a distance of 430 miles from its source in Jacks Gap, at the foot of Jacks Knob, to its mouth at the Apalachicola River. It forms part of the Alabama-Georgia border, as well as part of the Florida border. The name Chattahoochee, which means “rock-painted,” is believed to have originated from the several colorful granites that outcrop along segments of the river. Several dams and reservoirs like Lanier and West Point have been constructed along the course of the river to control floods, generate hydroelectricity, and provide water for industrial and domestic use.
The Alabama River is formed by the joining of the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers, about six miles north of Montgomery. The river is highly meandering and flows for about 318.5 miles before uniting with the Tombigbee River to form the Mobile and Tensaw rivers, which discharge into Mobile Bay. The Alabama River is joined by the Cahaba River approximately 10 miles below Selma. The river was an important source of transportation in the 19th century and played a significant role in Alabama's economic growth. Today, the river is used to transport farming produce in the region.
The Longest Free-flowing River in Alabama
A free-flowing river is one that is not affected by human activities that may result in the change of its flow. The longest free-flowing river in Alabama is the Cahaba River. A tributary of the Alabama River, the Cahaba River originates from the Valley and Ridge region and is divided into two major regions: Upper and Lower Cahaba. The river flows for approximately 194 miles before emptying into the Alabama River. It is also the most scenic and biodiverse river in the U.S., and is home to more than 130 freshwater fish species, of which 18 species are not found anywhere else. The river is a source of water for the highly populated Birmingham metropolitan area and also a popular canoeing destination within Alabama.