Is It Possible For a Human To Swim the Entire Length of the Mississippi River?

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Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: July 19, 2023

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If you’re a fan of swimming or water sports in general, you’ve probably wondered just how much the human body can take. You’ve probably also wondered how fast humans could train themselves to swim or if a human could swim the entire length of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is the second-longest river in North America and flows through 10 American states. It flows at a speed of 1.2 miles per hour, making it a challenge for even the best swimmers. If you’d like to discover just how possible it is to swim the Mississippi, continue reading.

How Large is the Mississippi River?

Flowing through ten U.S. states, the Mississippi River is 2,350 miles long.

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The Mississippi River is 2,350 miles long (12,408,000 feet). It flows through 10 of the USA’s 50 states. At its narrowest point, the river has a minimum width of 20 to 30 feet, but at its widest point at Lake Winnibigoshish, it is more than 11 miles (58,080 feet) wide.

The first people on record to have explored the Mississippi River were Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673.

When Was the Mississippi River Discovered?

The Mississippi River was first discovered in 1519 by Alonso Álvarez de Piñeda, a Spanish cartographer and conquistador. Piñeda went on to be the first man to prove the insularity of the Gulf of Mexico by sailing the Mississippi’s coastline. This equipped him to draw a map of the Gulf Coast, which is still being consulted today.

Years later, a painting by a popular American artist depicted Hernando de Soto as the first to discover the Mississippi River, giving rise to the misconception that Hernando de Soto arrived at the Mississippi first. However, this is false since he arrived 22 years after Alonso Álvarez on the 8th of May, 1541. When Hernando de Soto arrived at the Mississippi, he named it Río del Espíritu Santo, which translates to River of the Holy Spirit.

Like Álvarez de Piñeda, who had arrived years before, Hernando was also a Spanish conquistador as well as an explorer.

Who First Explored the Mississippi River?

Humans have found the Mississippi River interesting since its discovery, and many have attempted to explore it. The first people on record to have explored the Mississippi River were Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673. Jacques Marquette was the first person to explore the Upper Mississippi River, while Louis Jolliet was the first to explore the Mississippi Valley.

Is It Possible For a Human To Swim the Entire Length of the Mississippi River?

Although the Mississippi is 2,350 miles long, it is possible for some strong and trained swimmers to swim its entire length. It’s important to note that not every strong swimmer is up to the task, as it takes much more than experience to complete it.

How Long Would It Take To Swim the Mississippi?

Mississippi River - New Orleans

Some people have taken as little as 68 days to swim the Mississippi while others have taken much longer.

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The time it would take to swim the Mississippi depends on several things. However, one of the most telling factors is how fast the swimmer is and how consistent they are. The average swimmer swims at a pace of 2 miles per hour which is about the same as swimming in a 50-meter pool in 56 seconds. This doesn’t take the rest and stop periods into consideration. Some people have taken as little as 68 days to swim the Mississippi, while others have taken much longer.

Who Was the First Person On Record To Swim the Mississippi?

The first person on record to swim the entire Mississippi River was Martin Strel in 2002. Strel swam the entire River in 68 days. Martin Strel is a Slovenian professional swimmer who had made a name for himself as an athlete many years before attempting the swim. He also gained more fame by swimming the Amazon River in February 2007, which many consider extremely deadly. Considering his strength and determination, it’s no surprise that Martin Strel is alive and active at age 67.

Years earlier, a man named Fred Newton attempted the same feat. He started at Ford Dam in Minnesota and did not reappear until five months later in New Orleans, Louisiana. He swam only 1,826 miles, so he didn’t swim the entire river. However, he did break the record for the longest swim in history.

Is Swimming the Mississippi Safe?

Mississippi river delta

Swimming the Mississippi is difficult and can be dangerous.

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Without a doubt, swimming in the Mississippi can be dangerous. Its length alone is a mega factor as many people wouldn’t even be able to swim in a safe pool that was 2,350 miles long. There are many dangerous fishes and snakes in the Mississippi River, and since water pollution is an issue, there is a mix of toxins and chemicals in the river.

Consequently, it is safe to say that although swimming the Mississippi River is an achievable feat, it is not without its risks. Many swimmers who attempt such challenges lose a lot of weight by the end.

How Difficult Is It To Swim The Mississippi River?

Swimming the Mississippi is dangerous for a handful of reasons. Here are three of the most popular difficulties encountered.

River currents: The river’s currents are strong and quick to change, so swimmers must be alert and ready at all times while swimming.

Ships: One major danger the river poses is from large ships traveling across the water. Chris Ring, another man who swam the Mississippi River, stated that the large ships and watercraft did not pay much attention to the waters for swimmers and couldn’t all be reached on the radio frequencies.

Pollution: Pollution is a major problem for many large rivers in America. In 2022, the American Rivers Organization named the top ten most endangered rivers. The Colorado River was the first on the list but the Mississippi, sadly, was also present at number 6, with pollution being its major threat. Each year, the rains wash the chemicals from farmers’ fertilizers into the Mississippi. 

It is estimated that the river carries 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico yearly. This creates a dead zone (low-oxygen levels) that spreads across 8,000 square miles. In some areas, the water smells so bad that it is almost impossible to swim through. Swimmers occasionally swallow the toxic water, which leads to bouts of puking and illness.

If you’re considering swimming the Mississippi, it is indeed possible. However, make no mistake about the fact that you would need to be heavily prepared.


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