How Deep Is the Yellowstone River?

Written by Patrick Sather
Updated: July 21, 2023
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The Yellowstone River begins in Wyoming and runs through Montana to its terminus in western North Dakota. Although it doesn’t rank as the longest river in the United States, it does hold the title of the longest undammed river in the country. 

Numerous plants and animals live within and along the river. Some of the species you can find near its banks include mountain lions, bald eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, and white-tail deer. The Yellowstone River is also one of the best trout fishing streams in North America. The river hosts numerous fish species, including rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, Utah chub, walleye, and Arctic grayling.

Anglers can wade across entire portions of the river in certain areas, but other spots require a boat to traverse. This begs the question, how deep is the Yellowstone River? 

Yellowstone River is 692 miles long and has an average depth of 3-6 feet.

How Deep Is the Yellowstone River at Its Headwaters?

Madison River at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

Each of the two forks that form the Yellowstone River measure only 2 to 3 inches deep.

©NaughtyNut/Shutterstock.com

The headwaters of the Yellowstone River begin in northwestern Wyoming. The river forms from two forks known as the North Fork and the South Fork. The North Fork originates near Younts Peak, the tallest point in the Teton Wilderness. Meanwhile, the South Fork has its origins near Thorofare Mountain. The spot where the two forks meet represents the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. 

Each of the two forks that form the Yellowstone River measure only 2 to 3 inches deep. As for width, each fork measures 6 to 8 feet wide. Once the forks meet, the Yellowstone River starts to deepen and widen into the river that most people recognize.

Can You Walk Across the Yellowstone River?

You can wade several points along the Yellowstone River depending on the location and time of year. You can easily walk across the headwaters, as the forks only measure a few inches deep. Moreover, you can also wade at several other points depending on the time of year. The river level drops in the winter, during which time many sections of the river measure only 2 or 3 feet deep.

Where is the Widest Spot of the Yellowstone River?

The widest point on the Yellowstone River can change from year to year. Both rainfall amounts and the time of year influence the width of any river system, including the Yellowstone River. The river typically reaches its widest point in summer, around mid-June or July. Aside from the headwaters, which measure just a few feet wide, the river measures about 200 feet wide in most spots. That said, several points along the river measure up to 300 feet wide. 

What Is the Average Depth of the Yellowstone River?

Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone River

For most of the year, the Yellowstone River averages between 3 and 6 feet deep.

©iStock.com/samuel howell

The depth of the Yellowstone river varies depending on the location and time of year. During the summer, the Rocky Mountain snowpack melts and raises the level of the river. However, for most of the year, the Yellowstone River averages between 3 and 6 feet deep.

Where Is the Deepest Part of the Yellowstone River?

The deepest part of the Yellowstone River is located near Glendive, Montana. The United States Geological Survey operates 9 gaging stations along the Yellowstone River. Its gaging station near Glendive records the highest levels at any point along the river. According to USGS data, the Yellowstone River, on average, measures around 42.9 feet deep at this point. However, in especially rainy years, the river can reach up to 52 or more feet deep. This happened in 2022 when historic flooding caused the river to rise above normal levels. 

Where Is the Shallowest Part of the Yellowstone River?

The shallowest part of the Yellowstone River is the headwaters, where it measures just 2 to 3 inches deep. Along each fork, the Yellowstone River contains only enough water to barely reach over the sole of a person’s shoe. 

How Long Is the Yellowstone River?

From start to finish, the Yellowstone River measures 692 miles long. This makes the Yellowstone River the 22nd longest river in the United States. That said, the Yellowstone River does hold the distinction of being the longest undammed river in the country.   

How Deep Is the Largest Lake Along the Yellowstone River?

The largest lake along the Yellowstone River is Yellowstone Lake. The largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Lake, is also the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America. It covers 136 square miles and features 110 miles of shoreline. Due to its high elevation, the lake freezes over in winter and can remain frozen until May or June. On average, Yellowstone Lake measures around 139 feet deep. However, at its deepest point, the lake measures 394 feet deep. 

How Does the Yellowstone River Compare to Other U.S. Rivers in Terms of Depth?

In terms of depth, the Yellowstone River lags behind most of the largest rivers in the United States. For instance, the Hudson River ranks as the deepest river in the U.S. On average, the Hudson River measures 30 feet deep. Moreover, it has a maximum depth of 203 feet. That makes the Hudson River approximately four to five times as deep as the Yellowstone River. Even many shorter rivers measure deeper on average than the Yellowstone River, which is fairly shallow along most of its length. 

Where Is Yellowstone River Located on a Map?

Yellowstone River begins flowing in northwestern Wyoming and runs through the states of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. Its source is the confluence of North and South Forks and its mouth is the Missouri River.

What Is the Deepest River in the World?

The Congo River ranks as the deepest river in the world. Located in west-central Africa, the Congo River flows for approximately 2,900 miles, making it the ninth-longest river in the world. However, it possesses a maximum depth of 720 feet, far deeper than even the next closest river, the Yangtze, at 656 feet. 

What Animals Live Around the Yellowstone River?

A wide variety of animals live around the Yellowstone River, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Some of the largest animals found near the river include black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, deer, moose, and elk. You can also find a variety of smaller mammals, such as otters, shrews, beavers, and badgers. Various birds visit or live around the river, including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, white pelicans, and trumpeter swans. Toads and frogs make their homes in the waters, and several snake species can be found along its shores. That said, most people associate the Yellowstone River with fish. The river supports one of the densest populations of trout in the world. Some of the fish you can find in the river include:

  • Cutthroat trout
  • Brown trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Walleye
  • Utah chub
  • Rocky Mountain whitefish
  • Blue sucker
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Shovelnose sturgeon
  • Sauger
  • Arctic grayling.

What Sort of Boats Can Fit Down the Yellowstone River?

Due to its shallow depth, you can not take deep-keeled boats along many stretches of the Yellowstone River. That said, you can take a canoe or kayak down most of the river. 

Can You Travel the Entire Yellowstone River by Boat?

You can travel almost the entire length of the Yellowstone River by canoe or kayak. Since it is undammed, the Yellowstone River features very few obstacles for enterprising boaters to overcome. That said, it does feature numerous falls and traverses steep mountains and thin canyons. As a result, some parts of the river require you to get out and carry your boat for a short time. 

Summary of the Depth of the Yellowstone River

Average Depth3-6 feet
Deepest Point42.9 feet

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/T Schofield


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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the largest fish in the Yellowstone River?

The largest fish in the Yellowstone River include the lake trout, channel catfish, and rainbow trout. In general, the river’s fishing is extremely well-regarded among anglers.

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Sources
  1. , Available here: https://discoveringmontana.com/rivers/yellowstone/
  2. , Available here: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/monitoring-location/06327500/#parameterCode=00065&period=P365D