Where Does the Mississippi River Start?

The headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca in Minnesota.

The Mississippi River is one of the most well-known rivers in the world due to the huge volume of water that flows within its banks. Hydrologists consider the Mississippi River to be the 4th longest river globally and the 15th largest by the volume of water it discharges. The Mississippi is also distinct since it provides habitat to more than 300 different species of fish. The Mississippi covers a distance of nearly 2,320 miles as it flows from Lake Itasca in the state of Minnesota to its mouth at its delta which is situated within the Gulf of Mexico.

Geography of the Mississippi River

The river has many tributaries which allow it to have a presence in two Canadian provinces as well as 32 American states. Some of the states through which the Mississippi River flows include Iowa, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas. When studying the Mississippi, hydrologists divide it into three different sections. The Upper Mississippi encompasses the river from its source to the point where it links up with the Missouri River, while the Middle Mississippi begins after the confluence with the Missouri River until it reaches the Ohio River. Finally, the Lower Mississippi runs from the junction with the Ohio River to the mouth of the river in the Mississippi River Delta.

The Upper Mississippi

The upper section of the Mississippi River is divided into two parts. The first part is referred to as the headwaters, and in this region, the river flows for about 493 miles from Lake Itasca to Saint Anthony Falls. In this region, 14 dams were constructed to regulate the amount of water flowing within the river's banks. The second section of the Upper Mississippi is a navigable channel which was formed due to the presence of human-made lakes in the region. In this section, the Mississippi flows for approximately 664 miles until it reaches the state of Missouri. Several dams were constructed in the second section primarily to aid in navigation. There are several lakes located on the Upper Mississippi with some of the most prominent being Lake Winnibigoshish, Lake Pepin, and Lake Onalaska. Several important tributaries join the Mississippi in the upper section such as the St. Croix River, the Cannon River, the Iowa River, and the Crow River.

The Middle Mississippi

The middle section of the Mississippi River is approximately 190 miles long, and it begins in the state of Missouri to the state of Illinois. One of the unique features of this section of the river is that it gradually loses its elevation throughout its course which is approximately 180 miles. In this section, few significant tributaries join the Mississippi such as the Meramec River and the Kaskaskia River.

The Lower Mississippi

The Mississippi is referred to as the Lower Mississippi for nearly a thousand miles from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. Several significant tributaries link up with the Mississippi River in its lower section such as the Arkansas River, the Big Black River, and the Yazoo River.

Historical Significance of the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River has played an essential role particularly in the history of several Native American communities. The river was a vital source of water for daily use and also for cultivation. In modern times, the Mississippi River has also played a vital role in the lives of communities around the river.


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