The 10 Longest Rivers in Arizona

The Colorado River flows through seven US states including the state of Arizona.
The Colorado River flows through seven US states including the state of Arizona.

Arizona is the fourteenth populous and sixth largest state in the country. Arizona was the 48th state to gain statehood in 1912. About 25% of the state is an Indian reservation which is home to twenty-seven Native American tribes. Arizona is home to some of the longest rivers in the country with Colorado River supplying to over 40 million people. Majority of the rivers in the state empty into the River Colorado.

Longest Rivers in Arizona

1) Colorado River

The 1,450 miles long Colorado River is the most critical river in northern Mexico and the Southwest United States. It drains an open arid watershed which includes parts of two Mexican and seven American states. The river rises from the Rocky Mountains and flows through the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau before joining Lake Mead where it turns towards the international border. Once in Mexico, it flows towards River Colorado Delta

2) Gila River

The 650 miles long Gila River is one of the main tributaries of River Colorado which flows through Arizona and Mexico. It drains a 60,000 sq miles arid watershed which is mainly in the United States, but it extends to the north parts of Sonora. The source of River Gila is in Sierra County right on the Continental Divide’s slope. It then flows through Gila national forest all the way into Colorado River.

3) Little Colorado River

The 315 miles long River is a branch of Colorado River. Little Colorado River and River Puerco (its main tributary), drains about 26,500 sq miles of watershed in west New Mexico and eastern Arizona. The lower part of the river which is known as the Little Colorado River rift is the most extended arm of the Grand Canyon’s longest arm which stretches for about 57.2 miles before joining Colorado River.

4) Salt River

Salt River is the longest branch of Gila River which is in Arizona. The Salt River drains an area of about 13,700 sq miles, and its headwater tributaries (East Fork and Black River) stretch its length to 300 miles. Its longest tributary Verde River is 195 miles long. Its name is derived from the fact that it flows through a large salt deposit after merging with the Black and White River. It is created by the confluence of Black River and White River on the White Mountains in Gila County.

5) Santa Cruz River

Santa Cruz River is a 184 miles long river which is in northern Sonora, Mexico, and Southern Arizona. Its headwaters are in San Rafael Valley, and from here it extends past Santa Cruz to Sierra San Antonio where it re-enters the United States. It then flows northwards past Marana to Gila River and Santa Cruz flats. Santa Rita Mountains and San Cayetano flank the river to the eastern side and Sierrita Mountains and Atascosa to the western side.

6) Verde River

The 170 miles long Verde River is one of Salt River’s major tributary. It is one of the most significant Arizona based perennial streams with a mean flow rate of about 602 cubic feet per second. River Verde rises from a dam in Lake Sullivan, and then it flows freely for 125 miles through the state, private land, and the Tonto National Forest. River Verde meets Salt River near fountain hill, which empties into River Gila.

7) Puerco River

Puerco River is a 167 miles long river which flows in Northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico through the Painted Desert. It is one the branches of Little Colorado River. The river drains a 2,654 sq miles area, and its average discharge rate is about 70 cubic feet per second. The river is dry or with little water for most parts of the year, and it only overflows during a downpour.

8) Virgin River

The 162 miles long Virgin River is in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The river was designated as the first scenic and wild river in Utah during Zion National Park’s centennial celebrations. Initially, it was named by Jedediah Smith as Adams River in 1826, but John Fremont, a map maker, changed its name to Virgin River. Virgin River’s origin is in Navajo Reservoir in Utah.

9) San Francisco River

River San Francisco is a 159 miles long river which is on the southwestern parts of the country. San Francisco River is the leading branch of Upper River Gila. The river rises near alpine and then extends to New Mexico before entering Arizona at Clifton where it drains into downstream River Gila.

10) San Pedro River

The 140 miles San Pedro River is a northern flowing river which rises from Cananea municipality in Sonora Mexico. San Pedro is the last free-flowing river in the southwestern parts of the country. The river hosts over 60% of the avian species in America which include three hundred species of migrating birds and one hundred breeding bird species.

Unique River System In Arizona

Arizona is home to some of the longest rivers in the country with the top ten rivers being over 140 miles long. Arizona has a unique system of waterways with the smaller rivers emptying into, the bigger ones which then flow into Colorado River. San Francisco River, Salt River, and Santa Cruz River receive water from their many smaller branches which they empty in Gila River. Little Colorado River and Gila River then flow into Colorado River.

The 10 Longest Rivers in Arizona

RankRiverLength (miles)Length (km)
1Colorado River 1,4502,330
2Gila River6501,050
3Little Colorado River315507
4Salt River 200320
5Santa Cruz River 184296
6Verde River170270
7Puerco River 167269
8Virgin River 162261
9San Francisco River 159256
10San Pedro River140230

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