The 10 Longest Rivers In North Dakota

The Missouri River flows through seven US states including North Dakota.
The Missouri River flows through seven US states including North Dakota.

Natural resources in North Dakota have played a significant role in the state's development and economic growth. One of the state's major resources is its water bodies, such as rivers and lakes. North Dakota has a network of about 40 rivers which have a total length of approximately 54,470 miles. Six of these rivers are at least 560 miles long, while the rest are shorter than 450 miles. Most of North Dakota's rivers are shared by other US states or Canada, the neighboring country to the north. Rivers in North Dakota are important sources of household and commercial water, as well as habitats for aquatic animals. Some of the longest rivers in the state are highlighted below.

North Dakota's Longest Rivers

Missouri River

At 2,341 miles, the Missouri River is the longest river in North Dakota, as well as the longest in North America. It flows through seven US states and combines with the Lower Mississippi River to form the fourth longest river system in the world. The Missouri River rises in the Rocky Mountains and flows eastwards and southwards before entering the Mississippi River. In North Dakota, the river is joined by the Yellowstone River, its greatest tributary by volume, and the Knife River. The Missouri River drains an area of approximately 500,000 square miles, which includes ten US states and two Canadian provinces.

James River

The James River is a tributary of the Missouri River. It is approximately 710 miles long and drains an area of about 20,653 square miles in North and South Dakota, with 70% of the drainage area located in South Dakota. The James River rises in Wells County, North Dakota and flows eastward through eastern North Dakota before entering Brown County, South Dakota. The river drops about 5 inches per mile, with the low gradient sometimes leading to reverse flow. This reverse flow occurs more frequently in Huron, South Dakota. The James River joins the Missouri River east of Yankton.

Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River is the greatest tributary of the Missouri River by volume. It is 692 miles long and together with its tributary drains an area that includes the Rocky Mountains and the high plains of northern Wyoming and southern Montana. The river rises in the Absaroka Range, Wyoming and begins where the Yellowstone River’s North Folk and South Folk converge, and then flows northwards into the Missouri River in North Dakota. The Yellowstone River has been used for irrigation, especially in Montana, and for recreation in North Dakota.

Sheyenne River

The Sheyenne River is a tributary of the Red River of the North. It meanders 591 miles across the eastern part of North Dakota. The river flows east from McClusky, turns south near McVille, and then passes through Barnes and Griggs counties. The Sheyenne River is categorized as a “perch river” since its banks are higher than the surrounding area. The river previously posed a flooding threat to surrounding cities such as Harwood and West Fargo, where the river drains into the Red River of the North.

Other Long Rivers in North Dakota

Other long rivers in North Dakota include the Little Missouri River and the Red River of the North, which both have a length greater than 500 miles. The Little Missouri River is 560 miles long and is a tributary of the Missouri River, while the Red River of the North is 550 miles long.

The 10 Longest Rivers in North Dakota

RankRiverLength (miles)Length (km)
1Missouri River 2,3403,770
2James River 7101,140
3Yellowstone River6921,114
4Sheyenne River591951
5Little Missouri River560900
6Red River of the North 550890
7Souris River435700
8Pembina River 319513
9Wild Rice River251404
10Maple River198319

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