The Longest Rivers In Wisconsin

The Mississippi bordering the states of Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Mississippi bordering the states of Iowa and Wisconsin.

The drainage system of the state of Wisconsin is made up of two main drainage basins made up of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes drainage basin. These two drainage basins have all of the state’s rivers. There are hundreds of rivers in the state most of which drain either into the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River. The longest of the rivers in the state include the Wisconsin River, the Rock River, the Wolf River, and the Oconto River. The Mississippi River, a major river in North America and the chief river of the similarly-named drainage basin, also crosses through the state.

Longest Rivers in Wisconsin

Mississippi River

While only a small portion of the Mississippi River’s 2,320-mile length crosses the state of Wisconsin, the Mississippi still makes up a significant part of the drainage system of the state of Wisconsin. The river is the fourth longest in the world and is part of the second-longest drainage system on the continent. Many of the major rivers in the state are tributaries of the Mississippi River, and these include the Rock River, the Wisconsin River, and the Fox River all of which drain into the Mississippi River. The area along the river’s course is densely populated and has numerous major cities including Buffalo City, Pepin, La Crosse, and the Prairie du Chien among others.

Wisconsin River

With a length stretching over 420 miles, the Wisconsin River is the longest river entirely within the state. The river has its source in the Lac Vieux desert from where it flows and finally discharges into the Mississippi River. The river’s name is a variation of its indigenous name “Meskousing,” and it is after the river that the state of Wisconsin is named. The Wisconsin River is one of the rivers in the country which are navigable. Water transport is possible on the river’s lower course where the currents are not strong, and there are few obstacles such as waterfalls and rapids.

Rock River

The Rock River flows from its source in Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin and joins the Mississippi River. With a length of 299 miles, the river is one of the longest rivers in the state of Wisconsin. The river is among the main tributaries of the Mississippi River, and its mouth is situated at Rock Island. The river has one of the largest concentrations of dams in the state, with a total of 23 dams found along the river’s length.

Wolf River

The Wolf River is notable for being one of the two national scenic rivers in the state. National scenic rivers enjoy federal protection and are renowned for their ecological significance. Another interesting feature about the river is its length as it is among the longest rivers in the state of Wisconsin. The river starts from Pine Lake in the north woods of Wisconsin and flows south draining into the Fox River after covering a distance of 225 miles.

Pollution in the Rivers

Like all rivers in the United States and the entire world, the rivers in Wisconsin are plagued with the issue of pollution. The problem is most prevalent in the lower course of the rivers and in areas where the rivers flow through large urban settlements. The pollution is not only threatening the rivers’ ecosystems, but also human health as millions of people rely on the rivers for basic needs.

The 10 Longest Rivers In Wisconsin

RankRiverLength of River
1Mississippi River3,730 km
2Wisconsin River690 km
3Rock River481 km
4Wolf River362 km
5Oconto River336 km
6Fox River (Green Bay tributary)322 km
7Fox River (Illinois River tributary) 320 km
8Pecatonica River312 km
9Saint Louis River309 km
10Black River310 km

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