Top 10 Great Facts About The Mississippi River

One of the most important rivers in the world can be found running through vast parts of the North American Continent, literally from north to south.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Mississippi River, one of the most famous rivers in the world!

1. It’s the second-longest river in North America

With a length of 3,730 kilometers (2,320 miles), the Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America. Only one of its many tributaries, the Missouri River, is longer with a total length of 3,768 kilometers (2,341 miles).

2. It’s not in the top 10 of longest rivers in the world

Even though the river is immensely long, it’s far from being the longest river in the world. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers rank in 12th and 13th place respectively.

The longest rivers in the world are the Nile (6,353 km / 4,258 mi) in Africa, the Amazon (6,400 km / 3,976 mi) in South America, and the Yangtze (6,300 km / 3,915 mi) in Asia.

Mississippi river fun facts
The amazing river / Wiki Commons

3. It borders or passes by 10 U.S. States

The main stem of the river is completely located in the United States and it either borders or passes by 10 U.S. states. These are the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

4. It also has the second-largest drainage basin in North America

The drainage basin of the Mississippi River is enormous and covers a total area of 2,980,000 square kilometers (1,151,000 square miles). This makes it the second-largest drainage basin in North America as only that of the Hudson Bay drainage system is larger at 3,861,400 square kilometers (1,490,900 square miles).

5. The river drains areas in 32 U.S. states

Perhaps one of the most amazing Mississippi River facts is that its watershed completely or partially drains areas in 32 different U.S. states. This results in an average discharge rate near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of 16,800 cubic m/s (593,000 cubic ft/s).

Mississippi River drainage basin
The drainage basin of the Mississippi River / Shannon1 /

6. Only 1 percent of its drainage basin is located in Canada

If you look closely at the map below, you can also see that it partially drains areas in 2 Canadian provinces, right in between the Appalachian Mountains in the East and the Rocky Mountains in the west. Regardless, this only makes up 1% of the total drainage basin area.

7. Its traditional source is a small glacial lake

The river flows all the way from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in the southern part of the United States. The source of the river is a small glacial lake called “Lake Itasca.” This lake only covers an area of 4.7 square kilometers (1.8 square miles) and is situated at an elevation of 450 meters (1,475 feet).

Mississippi River source Lake Itasca
Lake Itasca / GK20 /

8. The region of the river has been inhabited for millennia

The region of the Mississippi River has been inhabited for thousands of years, mainly by Native American hunter-gatherers. Because of the extremely fertile soil, large settlements built by the so-called “Mound Builders” also emerged near the banks of the river.

9. It once formed the border of European territories in America

When the Europeans arrived in the area in the 16th century, the Mississippi became an important landmark that separated the various territories that emerged. It marked the border of New Spain, New France, and the early United States. It also played an important role in the American Civil War, especially when Union forces gained control of the Mississippi.

10. Multiple large cities are located on its banks

Because of its sheer size, it’s obvious that multiple large cities are situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. There are 5 large metropolitan areas located here, including Minneapolis–Saint Paul, St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge. This means that millions of people live along this important river in North America!

Stone Arch Bridge Minneapolis
Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis / Jim Cadwell /