How Deep Is the Ohio River?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: July 20, 2023
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Infographic about the Ohio River.
The Ohio River is important in US history and commercial development.

The Ohio River, located at the Midwestern and Southern United States boundary, is the center of commerce for many companies and a home for wildlife.

Famous for flowing through several U.S. states, there are also hundreds of cities, towns, villages, and unincorporated populated places on the Ohio River. How well do you know this industrialized river?

How deep is the river? Read on to find out.

Where Does the Ohio River Start and End?

The Ohio River starts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and ends in Cairo, Illinois.

©ESB Professional/

The 981-mile-long Ohio River in the United States is one of the longest in the United States. It flows from the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh to end at its mouth on the Mississippi River at the tip of Illinois.

Starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Ohio River begins at the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers’ confluence and, ends at Cairo, Illinois, emptying into the Mississippi River.

How Deep Is the Ohio River?

Ohio River’s deepest point is 167 feet near Louisville, Kentucky.

©Corey B Stevens/

The average depth of the Ohio River varies from about 3 to 24 feet. It is a naturally shallow river artificially deepened by a series of dams. From its origin in Pennsylvania to Cincinnati, the average depth is approximately 15 feet (5 m).

Its deepest point is 167 feet, near Louisville, Kentucky. But from Louisville, the River loses depth very gradually until its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, where it is 19 feet (6 m) deep.

What Is the Widest Point on the Ohio River?

The widest point on the Ohio River is 1 mile at the Smithland Dam near Smithland, Kentucky.

©Nat Chittamai/

The width of the Ohio river varies at different points. It averages 0.5 miles in width between Pittsburgh and Wheeling, West Virginia, 1.1 miles between Cincinnati and Louisville, and 1.3 miles from Louisville to Cairo. The widest point along the river is north of downtown Louisville, approximately one mile wide, at the Smithland Dam near Smithland, Kentucky.

What Cities Are Located on the Ohio River?

The Ohio River has a drainage basin that covers 189,422 square miles (490,600 square kilometers), surrounding the easternmost regions of the Mississippi Basin. Its drainage basin also includes parts of 14 states in four areas. The long river flows through or along the borders of six U.S. states, including Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

View of Big Four Bridge and Ohio river in Louisville at daytime.

The Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky is one bridge that crosses the Ohio River.

©Stephan Langhans/

Along its banks are also some of the largest cities in their respective states: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Evansville, Owensboro, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Wheeling.  

Where Is the Ohio River Located on a Map?

The Ohio River begins in Allegany Township, in Pennsylvania’s Potter County. The township is south of Genesee Township, which is just south of the state border with New York. It is around 180 miles’ drive from Harrisburg. The mouth of the Ohio River is Mississippi River in Illinois at Cairo, the seat of Alexander County, located north of Fort Defiance State Park.

How Old Is the Ohio River?

The Ohio River is one of the oldest rivers in the United States, and in the world. From a scientific perspective, the Ohio River is young, and the river started to form between 2.5 and 3 million years ago. Even the section of the river that runs southwest from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, is tens of thousands of years old!

Ownership of the Ohio River

Since the late 1700s, various states have claimed ownership of multiple stretches of the Ohio River. However, in 1792, the federal government gave the right of the Ohio River to Kentucky, along its border with Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Both Indiana and Ohio have sought to claim the Ohio River despite that verdict. Professor Mank of the U.C. College of Law says that it’s only normal that a river lying between two American States or between two different countries should be shared equally between each state or each nation.

But the Supreme Court has ruled that Kentucky has legal ownership of the Ohio River, so all the contending states have to abide by that.

Multiple cities line the banks of the Ohio River, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Evansville.


What Animals Live Along the Ohio River?

There are many different types of animals that inhabit the river.

Some examples include:

  • Fish: The Ohio River is home to a variety of fish species, including catfish, bass, carp, muskellunge, and sauger.
  • Birds: The Ohio River is a migratory pathway for many bird species, including the Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snow Goose, Canadian Goose, Wood duck, Mallards, and many more.
  • Mammals: The Ohio River is home to a variety of mammals, including White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, Opossums, Muskrats, beavers, river otters, and coyotes.
  • Reptiles and Amphibians: The Ohio River is home to a variety of reptiles and amphibians, including the Eastern Musk Turtle, the map turtle, and the Eastern Box Turtle. Also, the Eastern Spotted Skunk and the Five-lined Skink can be found along the river.
  • Insects and other invertebrates: The Ohio River is home to a variety of insects and other invertebrates, including freshwater mussels, dragonflies, and damselflies.
  • Plants: The Ohio River is home to a variety of plants, including sycamore, silver maple, cottonwood, willow, and wildflowers like Joe-Pye weed and Goldenrod.

It’s worth noting that the diversity of animals that can be found along the Ohio River can vary depending on the location and time of year, as some animals migrate or have seasonal patterns of activity.

12 Amazing Facts About the Ohio River

  • At a maximum discharge of 1,850,000 cubic feet per second, the third largest river by discharge volume in the United States is the Ohio River.
  • The Ohio River’s drainage basin covers 490,600 square kilometers (189,422 square miles), the eighth-largest drainage basin in the United States.
  • The Ohio River is the 6th oldest river on the North American continent.
  • The Ohio River serves as an important source of drinking water for over five million people across the United States.
  • The Ohio River is currently ranked the most polluted river in the United States, holding this title since 2001.
  • In 1885, the first dam was successfully constructed on the Ohio River. Currently, there are 20 dams along the entire length of the river for flood control and navigation.
  • Commercial traffic in the Ohio River has increased from about 5 million tons of cargo in 1917 to over 230 million tons per year.
  • There are 38 power-generating facilities on the Ohio River.
  • More than 25 million people —almost 10% of the population of the United States —live in the Ohio River basin. 
  • The Ohio River is home to about 160 species of fish.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © jessica.kirsh/

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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