Red River of the South Wildlife, Size, Activities, and More

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: July 21, 2023
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The Red River of the South, sometimes known as the Red River, is a significant waterway that runs through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana in the southern United States. Before joining the Mississippi River, it travels for almost 1,360 miles beginning in the higher plains of New Mexico. 

The Red River, which gets its name from the reddish-brown silt that makes up its bed, is important to the history, economics, and environment of the area. Its waterways enable transportation, support agriculture, and provide drinking water. Just as well its floodplain supports a wide variety of animals and is an essential natural resource.

Want to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about the Red River of the South!

The Red River is in the Mississippi drainage basin and is one of two Red Rivers in the nation.

Red River of the South Location 

In the southern portion of the United States, the Red River of the South crosses many states. Before entering the Mississippi River, it begins in the high plains of eastern New Mexico and travels through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The river’s 1,360-mile course is distinguished by a variety of topographies, historical relevance, and ecological significance.

The Red River originates in the dry area of eastern New Mexico. It runs eastward and, for a sizeable section of its route, serves as the border between Texas and Oklahoma. The river weaves its way across the magnificent landscape, cutting deep gorges as it passes through the rocky canyons of Palo Duro and Caprock. The Red River becomes a wide, navigable stream that promotes trade and business in the area as it moves eastward.

Before entering Louisiana, the river then forms a natural border between Texas and Arkansas. It joins the Mississippi River in Louisiana close to Vidalia, creating an important confluence of two significant streams that has a significant influence on the hydrology and sediment distribution of the area.

The Importance of the Red River’s Location

The Red River’s position is of tremendous historical significance since it was crucial to the growth of the southern United States. Long before European migrants came, Native American tribes like the Caddo and Comanche depended on the river for food and transportation. The Red River had a significant role in the early 19th century as a route for steamboats, promoting trade and allowing the area to be settled.

The Red River’s position has major ecological value in addition to its historical and cultural significance. A wide variety of plants and animals can find a rich habitat on the floodplain of the river. It sustains a number of habitats, including bottomland hardwood forests, prairie grasslands, and wetlands, all of which are home to various animal species. The river and its surroundings are particularly significant for migrating birds because they provide necessary stopping locations on their migration routes.

John H. Overton Lock and Dam, Red River, near Pineville, Louisiana

The Red River of the South (pictured) has numerous dams throughout different states.

©Judy M Darby/

Red River of the South Size and Depth

The Red River travels 1,360 miles from its source in eastern New Mexico to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Louisiana, as we noted earlier. This makes it a major river because it spans a huge area across several southern states. It also has a depth of about 90 feet.

The Red River’s breadth fluctuates along its course as a result of things like channel depth, water flow, and the existence of floodplains. The river may be rather narrow in certain places, covering only a few hundred feet or less. The Red River’s breadth can reach several miles and cover a larger region of land. It can also be increased at times of high water levels or in areas with bigger floodplains.

It’s crucial to remember that the Red River’s width may vary considerably, particularly during times of floods or drought. Rainfall, snowmelt, and the geological features of the surrounding area all have an impact on the river’s breadth. As a result, while the Red River’s length is generally steady, its width can vary greatly depending on the location and environmental factors along its path.

Red River of the South History

The growth and discovery of the southern United States are intricately entwined with the history of the Red River of the South. Native American tribes like the Caddo and Comanche depended on the river for food and commerce for hundreds of years. The reddish-brown silt the river carries gave it the moniker “Red River.”

The Red River was crucial to westward migration and the movement of goods throughout the 19th century. By navigating its waters, steamboats provided a vital trading route for cotton, wood, and other goods. Numerous river towns and settlements relied on the river for survival, which boosted their economies.

However, there was fighting along the Red River as well during the Civil War. During the Red River Campaign in 1864, Union soldiers sought to seize the river and cut off the Confederates’ supply routes. The effort was unsuccessful, but it demonstrated the Red River’s strategic significance in the conflict.

The river’s flooding patterns over time brought both difficulties and advantages. Periodic floods would destroy the settlements along the river, but they also left behind nutrient-rich material that nourished the lush floodplain and supported agriculture.

The Red River has been used for many different things in the contemporary age. Along its path, dams and reservoirs have been built for flood control, hydroelectric power production, and water supply. The natural flow and ecosystems of the river have been altered by these engineering initiatives, with both favorable and unfavorable results.

The Red River continues to be a crucial waterway for leisure, transportation, and animal habitats today. It embodies both the difficulties and opportunities brought about by the forces of nature, continuing to affect the history, culture, and environment of the southern United States.

Red River of the South Source

Eastern New Mexico in the United States is home to the source of the Red River of the South. The river’s source is specifically in the area of the high plains close to the Texas-New Mexico border. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, are where the Red River’s main source may be found.

More specifically, a spring-fed creek called Buckskin Creek is where the river’s origins can be found. This little brook is influenced by snowfall and rainfall as it emerges from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ eastern slopes. The Red River’s beginnings are formed as Buckskin Creek’s water accumulates and gets stronger. In eastern New Mexico, there are high plains, canyons, and breathtaking vistas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The river’s journey from its source via several states significantly affects the areas it passes through.

Red River of the South Fish

Numerous fish species may be found in the Red River of the South. To start, the Red River is well known for its abundance of catfish. Channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish are common species. Anglers are drawn to these catfish because of their size and mouthwatering flavor.

The Red River also has both smallmouth and largemouth bass. These sportfish are popular targets for anglers due to their toughness and value as valued captures.

In the Red River, crappies (both black and white crappies) are common game fish. They are frequently pursued by anglers due to their excellent meat and difficult fishing methods. 

Bluegill, redgear, and longear sunfish are just a few of the sunfish species that may be found in the Red River. Anglers frequently catch these little fish, which make excellent panfish.

The Red River is home to several gar species, such as alligator gar and longnose gar. With their large snouts and pointed teeth, these fish have an antique appearance and may reach astonishing sizes. The Red River also has common carp. Anglers do not often target them, but they do provide an extra possibility for those who want to capture various species.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Red River’s fish species composition might change throughout different segments because of things like water quality, habitat accessibility, and environmental variables. The distribution of fish populations within the river can also be affected by seasonal variations and natural occurrences like floods.

largemouth bass

Largemouth bass (pictured) are a popular fish species to fish for along the banks of the Red River of the South.


Red River of the South Geology

The Red River of the South’s geology is the consequence of millions of years’ worth of geological activity. This activity has shaped the river’s surroundings and the environment around it. Sedimentary rock formations dominate the region’s geology. It has an impact on the river’s shape, flow, and the types of soils found along its banks.

The Red River travels from its source in eastern New Mexico through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Thus, it passes through many geological provinces. The river meanders across the High Plains in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle, where sedimentary rocks, including sandstone, siltstone, shale, and limestone, make up the majority of the region’s geology. Over millions of years, these formations were laid down when sediments were collected in old inland seas and river systems.

Red River of the South Activities

Both residents and tourists may enjoy a variety of activities along the Red River of the South. Some of the activities that are frequently related to the Red River are listed below.


The Red River is popular among fishermen seeking to reel in a variety of species because of its diversified fish populations. Catfish, bass, crappie, and sunfish are common catches. Fishing fans might go boating, shore fishing, or even enroll in fishing competitions.

Recreational Boating

There are boating, kayaking, and canoeing options along the Red River’s navigable portions. Boaters have a variety of activities at their disposal, including leisurely cruises, water skiing, and wakeboarding. However, it’s crucial to be updated about river conditions. One should always be conscious of any limits or laws that may be in force.

Wildlife Watching

Numerous ecosystems are supported by the Red River and its adjacent floodplain. This floodplain also acts as home for various animal species. Birdwatchers can see resident and migratory species, especially in the bottomland woods and marshes along the river. The region is also home to a variety of animals, reptiles, and amphibians. It is certainly possible to see wildlife and take pictures of the natural world.

Camping and Hiking

Along the Red River, there are a number of parks and natural areas that offer camping spots and hiking routes. These places provide options for outdoor activity, picnics, and overnight camping, allowing visitors to fully appreciate the natural splendor of the river’s surroundings.

Cultural and Historical Research

A significant historical and cultural history may be found in the Red River region. The significance of the river in the history of the Native Americans, the westward migration, and the Civil War are highlighted at historical sites, museums, and interpretive centers that history buffs may visit. To learn more about the history of the area, certain places along the river also provide guided tours and educational resources.

Festivals and Events on the Riverfront

Numerous towns along the Red River have celebrations of the history, customs, and culture of the river. These gatherings frequently feature regional cuisine, entertainment, arts and crafts, and music, fostering a lively atmosphere that both locals and visitors may enjoy.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Bob Pool/

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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