6 Clearest Rivers in the United States (3 Are in Texas!)

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: October 24, 2023
Share on:


Rivers are unique and vital waterways that offer various activities for the outdoor enthusiast. They’re also vital ecosystems and waterways that significantly contribute to human infrastructure and development.

Hydroelectric power is a huge resource for most communities, and it wouldn’t be possible without rivers. Drinking water, wastewater removal, and agriculture are just a few of the other things that waterways like rivers support.

California’s only undammed river is the Smith River, which is also environmentally protected in various ways, including the barring of human development.

Whether you’re in search of scenery, swimming, or kayaking, the United States delivers a lot of great recreational spots for people to enjoy. One of the most gorgeous sights on this planet is looking through a body of water.

When a normal body of water is murky, you look at the water. When the water is crystal clear, you look through it straight to the bottom and see all the things in between.

So, what if you have a love of rivers and a love of clear water? Where can you find both? What are 6 of the clearest rivers in the United States?

1. San Marcos River in Texas

San Marcos River, Texas

The San Marcos River is clear because it is fed by a freshwater spring.


Not only is this water clear, but it is also extraordinarily clean. It is ten times cleaner than the FDA drinking water requirements. This is because the San Marcos River is fed by freshwater springs near the city of San Marcos.

The water is constantly 72 degrees, so recreation at varying spots along the river is popular. There are parts of the clear water that are rapids while others are lazy. It offers a bit of choice for everyone, from tubing to white water kayaking.

Eight endangered animals live here, including the fountain darter and the Texas blind salamander. It has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the American Southwest. It is dealing with an invasive species issue, with 48 documented species having been introduced to the area.

2. The Mad River in Vermont

Mad River in Warren, Vermont

The Mad River has an emerald quality to its clear water.

©Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.com

Warren Falls is one of the highlights of the Mad River in Vermont. The Mad River also contains first-class water pools and other great recreational spots along its banks.  

The water is almost crystal clear but has an emerald twinge to it. That doesn’t stop visitors from being able to see to the bottom. There are brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout to be fished from the waters of the Mad River.

The Mad River is a tributary of the Winooski River, which eventually flows into Lake Champlain.

3. Guadalupe River in Texas

A rare white-nosed coati has been seen near the clear Guadalupe River.


The Guadalupe River is in central Texas. There are several dams along this river. The upper part of the river in the hill country is where it is crystal clear. The water is swifter near its origin, and the bottom is made of limestone, which means there’s hardly any sediment. An aquifer called Edwards Aquifer feeds all the channels that merge with this river.

The lack of sediment and spring-filled water makes for a crystal-clear environment. It is home to the Guadalupe round-nose minnow. About a mile southwest of the river, a rare white-nosed coati has been spotted.

4. Black River in Missouri

Black River in Lesterville, Missouri

The Upper Black River and the pools at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park are almost crystal clear.

©Scott Sanders/Shutterstock.com

There are pools located along the east fork of the Black River in Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park that are famous for being crystal clear and fun. The Upper Black River before Clearwater Lake is clean and clear as well.

The Black River is part of the Ozark River system, fed by fresh springs. The river’s stone encasement keeps it free from sediments. The three forks diverge in the Mark Twain National Forest and come back together in Arkansas.

The pools on the east fork of the Black River are technically still part of the river, but the water gets trapped in the ancient worn nooks and crannies of rocks along the banks. These rocks and barriers form sloping falls and slowly moving pools of water that are some of the clearest in the United States.

Recreational watersports on the east fork of the Black River begin below these pools because the river is not navigable through the pool area.

This river is home to wildlife, including eastern spiny softshell turtles, longnose gar, crayfish, red ear slider turtles, map turtles, and bullfrogs. Smallmouth bass is a popular catch for fishermen.

5. Comal River in Texas

Comal river in New Braunfels, Texas

The Comal River is both clear and short at two miles long.

©Allen R. Dulaney/Shutterstock.com

This river is only two miles long, and its entire length is within the city of New Braunfels. It has a rocky bottom which helps make it one of the clearest rivers in the United States.

The Comal River meets up with the Guadalupe River, but it is distinctly different. It is one of the tributaries that are fed by the Edwards Aquifer into the Guadalupe. The name of the spring feeding the Edwards Aquifer is Comal Springs. It is considered a river because it is fully navigable, and the locals of New Braunfels hold this river in high esteem.

The fountain darter lives here, and it is only one of two home locations left in the wild for this fish. The other is the San Marcos River, which we’ve already explored on our list of 6 clearest rivers.

6. Smith River in California

Smith River, Northern California

One of the reasons the Smith River is so clear is because it’s largely untouched by human development.

©Colnago 95310/Shutterstock.com

The Smith River’s origins are in the Klamath Mountains. It then makes its way through Del Norte County in Northern California before meeting the Pacific. This is California’s only undammed river. It is environmentally protected in various ways, and almost no human development has been allowed. Salmon and steelhead are found in abundance.

The surrounding forest is an old forest that hasn’t been damaged by human industry. There are huge redwoods to be seen on the Smith River. The water has remained almost crystal clear because of this and the surrounding geology.

Almost no sediment exists in this river. There are green and blue stones along the river bottom that shine in the right sunlight through the clear water. This makes the water turquoise.

Summary Of The 6 Clearest Rivers In The United States

1San Marcos RiverTexas
2Mad RiverVermont
3Guadalupe RiverTexas
4Black RiverMissouri
5Comal RiverTexas
6Smith RiverCalifornia

Other Rivers Worth a Mention:

If by clearest you mean the cleanest rivers, then there are a few more we could add to our list:

  • The Truckee River drains part of the high Sierra Nevada Mountains as it runs through California and Nevada. It is only 121 miles long, but it is the sole outlet of Lake Tahoe and drains into Pyramid Lake in the Great Basin of Nevada. All that cold mountain water is quite pure!
  • The Snoqualmie River in western Washington is a short 45 miles long. It runs through beautiful scenic valleys in King and Snohomish counties and is lined with beaches and elegant houses.
  • The fabled Shenandoah River in Virginia and West Virginia is the principal tributary of the Potomac River. Also a short river of only 55.6 miles in length, it has two forks that are each about 100 miles long. It is famous for its gorgeous scenery as it winds between the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. There is also much farmland with runoff that pollutes portions of the river.
  • The Yampa River in northwestern Colorado is a free-flowing river running 250 miles through the Rocky Mountains. It is a tributary of the Green River and a major part of the Colorado River system.
  • The Cahaba River in Alabama is a major tributary of the Alabama River, a part of the Mobile River basin, and the longest free-flowing river in Alabama. It is known for its scenery and for being one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the United States.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Nikolay Zaborskikh/Shutterstock.com

Share on:
About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.