What Is the Source of the Rhine River?

Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

The Rhine is a 764-mile long river located in the central and western regions of Europe. The river begins in Grisons, Switzerland, and its headwaters emerge from Lake Tomasee, which is considered the primary source of the Rhine. Lake Tomasee is situated in the northwestern area of the Alps Mountains, within the Lepontine Alps range, and can be seen from the Piz Badus peak. The Lepontine Alps mountain range represents the boundary between the waters that feed into the Po River and those that flow into the Rhine. The Rhine is east of this boundary.

The water flowing out of Lake Tomasee, referred to as the Rein da Tuma, comes from the northeast corner of the lake. After just a short distance, this section of the Rhine is known as the Vorderrhein, which runs for about 47 miles before joining with the Hinterrhein near the town of Reichenau, Switzerland. From this point, the waterway is officially known as the Rhine (or the Alpine Rhine).

Course of the Rhine

From Reichenau, Switzerland, the Rhine runs north for 53.43 miles through the Rhine Valley, which is a large U-shaped river valley. As the Rhine exits the mountains, the river loses about 666 feet in elevation. This main section of the river forms the international boundary between Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and later the boundary between Switzerland and Austria. Once in Austria, the river flows into Lake Constance, which is separated into three other lakes located within Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The Rhine does not end here, but instead flows west out of Lake Constance in a section known as the High Rhine. The river falls over a 75-foot drop, officially named the Rhine Falls. After the waterfall, the Aare River empties into the Rhine, causing its discharge volume to double.

When the Rhine reaches Basel Switzerland, the river turns north and becomes known as the Upper Rhine. This section of the river forms a portion of the border between France and Germany. Once it makes its way through Germany, the Rhine flows into the Netherlands, where it divides into three branches (two of which are the Meuse and Scheldt Rivers). Each of these rivers empties into the North Sea.

Major Features of the Rhine

Like most rivers, one of the most important features of the Rhine is its large delta basin area. This area, named the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta, covers an area of 9,787 square miles. Each of the river branches that make up the delta can be navigated by ships and other water vessels. This ease of access has enabled the entire delta region to become one of the most important economic regions in Europe. Additionally, the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta is home to a number of minor waterways, as well as several islands scattered throughout the area. Some of the biggest sea ports in the delta include those located in Ghent (Belgium), Antwerp (Belgium), Amsterdam (Netherlands), and Rotterdam (Netherlands).


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