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Where does the Missouri River begin?

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  • The 2,342-mile Missouri River flows through the United States from Three Forks, Montana, to Missouri.
  • The Missouri River runs through the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan
  • The Missouri River meets the Mississippi River about 20 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri, where the two great rivers meet and flow through Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

Today we're going to learn about America's longest river – the Missouri River! Research shows that the Missouri River formed nearly 30 million years ago! However, its most recent course change occurred about 115,000 years ago. The flow of the Missouri River is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The once free-flowing river was later dredged in its lower reaches. It is also held back by at least six dams in the northern region. So where exactly did this historic river begin? Let's find out!

Where exactly does the Missouri River begin?

where does the missouri river begin 1
The Missouri River originates in the Rocky Mountains.

©iStock.com/bobloblaw

The Missouri River rises from the Rocky Mountains in Three Forks, Montana. It flows 2,342 miles through the United States, stopping in Missouri. It drains 1/6 of the United States, flowing east and south. Covering approximately 500,000 square miles, this fascinating river runs through 10 US states and two Canadian provinces.

How deep is the Missouri River?

The average depth of the Missouri River is 10 to 20 feet.

©iStock.com/Matthew Howieson

The average depth of the Missouri River channel is about 10-20 feet , depending on the area. Some of its deeper parts are said to range from 120 to 150 feet. However, this river joins another river to form one of the largest flow systems in the world. It is said that the depth at this time can reach nearly 200 feet!

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Although the average depth of this body of water is not very deep, this is due to the abundance of sand and water-soaked gravel beneath the surface. Sandbars of varying heights, rocks, caves, and fast-moving currents make it unsafe to swim in the Missouri River. Even paddlers must exercise caution as the river's depth changes frequently.

Which states does the Missouri River flow through?

The Missouri River flows through seven different states in the United States and two provinces in Canada. Starting in Montana, its 2,342-mile journey then flows through:

  • iowa
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

As for the Canadian provinces, the Missouri River runs through Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Does the Missouri River intersect with another river?

The Mississippi River joins the Missouri River at St. Louis.

© iStock.com/Willard

The Missouri River meets the Mississippi River about 20 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri. It flows southeast from Montana to Missouri. The Mississippi River originates in Minnesota and flows through the Midwest until it joins the Missouri River in Missouri. The two rivers join here and flow through Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The mouth then opens into the Gulf of Mexico about a hundred miles south of New Orleans!

Where is the Missouri River ranked in the world?

Combined, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are the fourth longest river in the world at 3,710 miles. It follows the Yangtze River in third at 3,964 miles, and the Amazon River in second at 4,000 miles. The first place is the Nile River, 4,160 miles long.

What animals live on the Missouri River?

What do bluegill sunfish eat
Bluegills abound in the Missouri River!

©iStock.com/mpwoodib

The Missouri River is home to over 25 different species of wildlife! You can find many different types of fish and amphibians. The river is also a passage for many different species of birds, most importantly the American Bald Eagle! You can even find over 12 different types of snakes and turtles by the river. Large mammals such as foxes, black bears, grizzlies, and coyotes call the Missouri River home. It also hosts many different kinds of small mammals such as mice, squirrels and groundhogs!

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Over the years, the Missouri River has been used not only for tourism, water and drainage, but also for hunting and fishing. The river is home to a variety of fish, the most popular of which are bluegill, bass, trout and catfish. On rare occasions, bull sharks swim from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River, crossing the Missouri River. They've even been spotted in St. Louis, Missouri, a landlocked state with no sharks!

What is the history of the Missouri River?

Within the walls of Fort Union Trading Post, a major fur trading post on the upper Missouri River in North Dakota.

©iStock.com/chamey

Not only is the Missouri River home to many unusual wildlife, it also has a rich history! Native American tribes traveled and formed along the Missouri River before many European settlers came to the Americas. However, it became notorious long after English settlers and other European settlers came to North America.

It was when Thomas Jefferson was elected as president in 1800 that the Missouri River would then become a key component in expanding the United States further west. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition began in 1804, two men crossed the Missouri River. They worked their way up from St. Louis until they discovered the Pacific Northwest. This inevitably led to the purchase of Louisiana and expanded the United States by 828,000 square miles!

In summary

The Missouri may be the longest river in America, but it's also the river with the most vivid backstory. After all, it was the river that separated the British colony from the formerly French-owned Westland. It allowed settlers to expand the country into several different states. The river has been used as a source of water, food and drainage for centuries, long before humans. It is one of the most living and important rivers in North America and it still fascinates people today!

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big muddy sunset
The Missouri River is the largest river

© iStock.com/Matthew Howieson


about the author


I have spent a large part of my life as a writer and artist with great respect for viewing nature analytically and metaphysically. After careful investigation, the natural world reveals truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of everything we have is embodied in our planet; the process of writing and creating art around this subject is an attempt to convey the wonder of it.

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