How Deep is the Mississippi River?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: September 16, 2022
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Key Points:

  • The Mississippi River makes its way from Minnesota to empty into the Gulf of Mexico out of Louisiana.
  • The average depth of the river is 9-12 feet.
  • At its deepest point, the Mississippi River can reach over 100 ft deep!

The mighty Mississippi River runs from Minnesota down the center of the U.S. to Louisiana where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. While it is not the longest river in North America, it comes in second, running 2,340 miles.

The habitats along the river are frequented by otters, beavers, great blue heron, white pelicans, and the majestic bald eagle. Many fish make the Mississippi their home including catfish, walleye, carp, and garfish. Some fish prefer deeper waters like crappie, bass, and walleye, so how deep is the Mississippi? Is it the same depth all the way down? Can you walk across the Mississippi? Is it deep enough for cargo ships? Let’s find out.

The Mississippi River flows all the way from Minnesota to Louisiana.

iStock.com/Willard

How deep is the Mississippi River at the start (headwaters)?

The headwaters of the Mississippi River begins in Lake Itasca in Minnesota, which is around 200 miles NE of the Twin Cities. At this point, the river begins as a small 20-30 foot wide river (your average living room is 16 x 20 feet). At the headwaters, the Mississippi River is only about 18 inches deep.

The Mississippi River is only 18 inches deep at the headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota.

iStock.com/Jeff439

Can you walk across the Mississippi?

Yes, at the headwaters you can walk across the Mississippi. With a depth of only 18 inches and width about the size of a living room you can easily pull your pant legs up and wade across (add that to your bucket list!).

Where is the widest part of the Mississippi?

The widest part of the Mississippi is at Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota where the river is 11 miles wide. It would take around 3 ½ hours to canoe across the river at this point.

How deep is the Mississippi River at the end?

The Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico through New Orleans. At the end of the river, near Algiers Point, the river is 200 feet deep. In Baton Rouge, the river is 2300 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

What is the average depth of the Mississippi?

The average depth of the Mississippi River is 9-12 feet deep. The deepest part is 200 feet near Algiers Point in New Orleans, Loiusiana.

Milen Mkv/Shutterstock.com

You may be surprised to discover that the Mississippi is only an average of 9-12 feet.

Where is the deepest part of the Mississippi River?

The deepest part of the Mississippi is near Algiers Point in New Orleans, Louisiana. Depending on rainfall levels and water flow from upstream, it is around 200 feet deep. While that’s very deep, it’s not close to being the deepest river in the world which is the Congo River in Africa.

Where is the shallowest part of the Mississippi?

The shallowest part of the Mississippi is at the headwaters where it is 18 inches deep. A quick pull of the tape measure puts that at knee-deep for the average person.

How long is the Mississippi River?

The Mississippi River is 2,350 miles long, slightly shorter than the Missouri River which is the longest river in the United States when measured by the river’s stem length. When measuring the Mississippi by its total system length (which combines the Mississippi and Missouri length) the river system measures 3,902 miles.

How deep is the largest lake along the Mississippi River?

Lake Pepin in Lake City Minnesota is the largest lake along the Mississippi River. It is around 60 feet deep.

iStock.com/Jacob Nichols

Lake Pepin is the largest lake in the Mississippi. It is located in SE Minnesota and at the deepest point of the lake is around 60 feet deep. Lake Pepin is 21 miles long and a little over 1 ½ miles wide with 89 different species living in it like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, perch, walleye, northern pike and sauger. 

Is the Mississippi River the deepest river in the United States?

No, but it is close. The deepest river in the United States is the Hudson River which runs through New York State and empties into the Atlantic in the New York Harbor. The Hudson River is around 216 feet deep. Common fish in the Hudson include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, spottail shiners, American eel and white perch. You can even find channel catfish in the Hudson, but you may have to borrow a “Southern Fried Catfish” recipe.

smallmouth vs largemouth bass
Largemouth bass can be found in the Mississippi River and the Hudson River.

Ryno Botha/Shutterstock.com

What is the deepest river in the world?

The Congo River is the second-longest river in all of Africa. It is considered the deepest river in the world at 720 feet deep!

iStock.com/Fanny Salmon

The deepest river in the world is the Congo River in west-central Africa, which measures up to about 720 feet deep. It runs in a counter-clockwise fashion through the Congo down to the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Africa. In the Congo River but you will find cichlids, lungfish, bichirs, killifish, and elephant fish. If you decide to go fishing in the Congo River you should be aware that crocodiles and hippos also live there. There are no hippos or crocodiles in the Mississippi River (although there are alligators that live in the lower Mississippi River!).

close up of a crocodile
Crocodiles live in the Congo River, the deepest river in the World at 720 feet deep.

iStock.com/Angel Gutierrez Sanjuan

Can Cargo Ships fit down the Mississippi?

Yes. Cargo ships and barges can fit down and up the Mississippi. The Port of New Orleans is a cargo handling and cruise port with $100 million in annual revenue. According to the National Park Service, “Sixty percent of all grain exported from the US is shipped on the Mississippi River through the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana.” They also ship everything from coffee to clothes, and steel, metals, and woods. Other ports along the Mississippi can be found in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, and multiple ports in Louisiana. There is an extensive lock and dam system that includes 29 locks and dams all along the river. Expert anglers will recommend the areas created around dams as the best place to catch carp, bluegill and paddlefish.

Can you canoe all the way down the Mississippi River?

Yes, you can navigate the locks and dams and canoe the length of the Mississippi. Some travel experts recommend planning 2-4 months to make the whole trip. If you are in a hurry you could take advice from the team of canoers that hold the Guinness World Record for “The fastest time to row the length of the Mississippi River by a team”.

In April of 2021, the team that calls themselves MMZero (Mile Marker Zero) left from Lake Itasca in Minnesota and made it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in 17 days, 19 hours and 46 minutes. The four person canoe team includes a father and his daughter KJ and Casey Millhone as well as Rod Price and Bobby Johnson. Maybe something else to add to your bucket list!

Summary: Depth of Mississippi River

Average Depth 9-12 ft
Deepest point 200 ft

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the Mississippi River deeper than the Amazon?

The Mississippi’s deepest point of 200 feet is not quite as deep as the Amazon’s deepest point. The Amazon reaches 330 feet in depth at its lowest point, which is about 130 feet deeper than any point along the Mississippi River.

Are there turtles in the Mississippi?

There are many turtles that live in (and near) the Mississippi River. There are snapping turtles, map turtles, painted turtles, soft-shell turtles, the river cooter, eastern musk turtle, red-eared slider and the Mississippi diamondback terrapin.

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