How Long is The Mississippi River?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: May 24, 2022
Image Credit amolson7/Shutterstock.com
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The Mississippi River is one of the largest rivers in the United States. The river has immensely benefitted transportation and agriculture in this region. If you look at a map of the U.S. and follow the Mississippi River from start to finish, you’ll see that it nearly bisects the entire length of the nation! So, just how long is the Mississippi River? We’re going to show you that measurement along with other relevant information along the way!

Where Does the Mississippi River Start?

The headwaters of the Mississippi River are found in Lake Itasca

iStock.com/Jeff439

The Mighty Mississippi’s headwaters were a matter of debate for some time. After all, it’s hard to determine the place where rivers form in some cases. However, scientists agreed that the headwaters of the Mississippi River are found in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.

However, other streams flow into the lake, so the headwaters of the Mississippi River could be farther north. Why is this important? Well, a river’s length is determined by the distance from the farthest source continuous source of the river to the river mouth.

Now that we have learned where the Mississippi River starts, we need to look at where it ends!

Where is the Mississippi River’s Mouth?

The Mighty Mississippi ends after passing through New Orleans

Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock.com

The mouth of the Mississippi River is located in the Gulf of Mexico. The final state that the Mississippi River passes through is Louisiana. Along the river’s path to the ocean, the river runs through many large cities, and the final one it passes through is New Orleans.

Interestingly, the Mississippi River’s mouth may be moving in the future. Currently, the river runs on its present course due to major feats of engineering. The Old River Control Structure prevents too much water from the Mississippi River from flowing into the Atchafalaya River. Should that happen, the river will flow farther south than east, potentially bypassing New Orleans.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have to take further steps to prevent the Mississippi River from taking on such a course.

How Long is The Mississippi River?

Mississippi River
The Mississippi River flows for over 2,000 miles!

Milen Mkv/Shutterstock.com

The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles long. That is the distance from Lake Itasca to the river’s outlet in the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, the Mississippi River acts as an important artery for transportation. yet, the river is so much more than that.

The Mississippi River takes in massive amounts of water from tributaries throughout North America. in fact, the river drains at least part of 32 states throughout the country. The drainage basin of the Mississippi River is over 1,000,000 square miles, the second-largest drainage basin on the entire continent.

The amount of water that flows through the river, especially the lower course, has led to devastating floods in the states that border the river, most recently in 2011. Those floods once again showed that the river has the potential to change course in the near future.

The Mississippi River is one of the longest waterways in the U.S. Even though it’s been somewhat tamed through the use of control structures, the sheer length of the river exposes more people to danger from those floods. That idea holds true when one considers the extensive urban sprawl that radiates from this river.

The Missouri-Mississippi River System

We may also measure a river’s total length by considering the location of the river’s longest tributary. In this case, that would be the Missouri River. Another measurement for river length is the most distant source from the ocean.

The headwaters of the Missouri River are located in Montana. That means the Mississippi-Missouri river system, along with all the other tributaries leading to the headwaters, would give the river a total length of somewhere between 3,700 miles and 3,902 miles. One note of interest, a series of cut-offs on the Mississippi River designed to help control flooding reduced its length by more than 200 miles. Meaning, the Mississippi River would have a different length were it not for human intervention.

Yet, the vast majority of people merely accept the standard length of about 2,340 miles.  The Mississippi River’s length is still a subject of debate today. The river’s length may be amended in the future.

How Wide is the Mississippi River?

Lake Pepin- the longest navigable portion of the Mississippi River
The widest navigable point of the Mississippi River is found at Lake Pepin

iStock.com/Jacob Nichols

The Mississippi River is not a steady flowing body of water. A person could stand in some parts of the river or swim across it at other points. Still, people would have difficulty seeing across the river in other places.

The widest part of the Mississippi River is Lake Winnibigoshish. This place is located in Minnesota where the river is about 11 miles wide. However, the widest navigable part of the Mississippi River is about 2 miles across and found at Lake Pepin.

It’s interesting to note that both of the widest portions of the river are relatively close to the source. These points are located in the same state as the headwaters, Minnesota. None of the widest portions of the waterway are located near its mouth.

How Deep is the Mississippi River?

The deepest point on the Mississippi River is near its end in New Orleans

MusikAnimal / Creative Commons – License

The Mississippi River is 200ft deep at its greatest depth. Although the greatest width of the river is found near the source, the greatest depth is not. Instead, the 200ft mark is located near Algiers Point in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The deepest part of the river can be found just after the water turns around Algiers Point. The deepest part of the river is found in the final 100 miles of the river’s flow.

Interestingly, the average depth of the Mississippi is not that much, only between 9 and 12 feet deep.

We have answered the question, how long is the Mississippi River? We’ve also found the points of the river with the greatest depths and width. However, those measurements don’t encapsulate the immense importance of this river to its surrounding areas.

The river supports various ecosystems throughout its run, allowing various species of plants and animals to thrive along its banks. Furthermore, the river also provides humans with hydroelectric power by virtue of the various projects that are undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers.

This river’s flow is not conducive to massive hydroelectric power generation like the type generated on the Yellow River. Nevertheless, the river’s importance to the United States is hard to overstate.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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