Bemidji, the First City on the Mississippi River is located in the Continental United States in the state of
Minnesota, 100 miles south of the Canadian border
River is one of the world's
major river systems in size, habitat diversity, and biological
productivity. It is the longest and largest river in North America,
flowing 3,705 kilometers from its source at Lake Itasca
in the Minnesota
North Woods, through the mid-continental United States, the Gulf of
Mexico Coastal Plain, and its subtropical Louisiana Delta. "Mississippi"
is an Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian word meaning "great river or gathering of
waters" --an appropriate name because the river basin, or watershed,
extends from the Allegheny Mountains in the eastern United States to the
Rocky Mountains, including all or parts of 31 states (Fig. 1) and 2
Canadian provinces. The river basin measures 4.76 million square
kilometers, covering about 40% of the United States and about one-eighth
of North America. Of the world's rivers, the Mississippi ranks fourth in
length, third in watershed area, and fifth in average discharge.
The Mississippi River and its adjacent forests and wetlands provide
important habitat for fish and wildlife and include the largest
continuous system of wetlands in North America. The river supports a
diverse array of wetland, open-water, and floodplain habitats, including
extensive habitats on national wildlife refuges. Yet human activities
have greatly altered this river ecosystem. Most of the river and its
floodplain (defined as the adjacent, generally flat surface that is
periodically inundated by floodwaters overflowing the river's natural
banks) have been extensively modified for commercial navigation and
other human developments. Much of the watershed is intensively
cultivated, and many tributaries deliver substantial amounts of
sediment, nutrients, and pesticides into the river. Pollutants also
enter the river from metropolitan and industrial areas.
The Mississippi River is divided into three segments: the Headwaters,
the Upper Mississippi River, and the Lower Mississippi River. The
Headwaters is the reach from the source (Lake Itasca) downstream to St.
Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whereas the Upper Mississippi
River extends from St. Anthony Falls downstream to the mouth of the Ohio
River at Cairo, Illinois. The Lower Mississippi River flows from Cairo
to Head-of-Passes in the Gulf of Mexico. The 314-kilometer segment of
the Upper Mississippi River extending from the mouth of the Missouri
River (near St. Louis, Missouri) to the mouth of the Ohio is often
termed the Middle Mississippi River.
Mississippi River Facts
- The Mississippi River winds its way 2,552 miles as it travels from
the headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in
- The river begins 1,475 feet above sea level.
- The Mississippi is the longest river in North America.
- The Mississippi passes through ten states. Do you know which ones?
From north to south: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri,
Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
- The Mississippi--Missouri River system is the world’s fourth
longest. Only the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze Rivers are longer.
- The Mississippi River drains approximately 40% of the continental
United States-all or part of 31 states, and two Canadian provinces,
Ontario and Manitoba.
- The total drainage area of the Mississippi River is approximately
1.25 million square miles.
- The Mississippi releases 2.3 million cubic feet of water per
second into the Gulf of Mexico and more than 400-million cubic yards
of mud, sand and gravel each year.
- The Mississippi River provides transport for more than 472-million
tons of cargo each year, including 46% of the grain exported from the
- More than 12 million people live in the 125 counties and parishes
that border the Mississippi River.
- The Mississippi River valley generates over $7 billion in
agricultural and forest products and $29 million in manufacturing
goods each year.
- The Mississippi is a major flyway for migratory birds. It is used
by up to 40% of North America’s duck, goose, swan and eagle
- Waterfowl hunting in the flyway is valued at $58 million per year
and sport fishing is valued at over $100 million annually.
- The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge reports 3.5
million visits a year. That’s more than the number of visits to
Yellowstone National Park.
- International visitors spend an estimated $2.6 billion each year
throughout the ten river states, generating more than 53,000 jobs.
- The Mississippi River is a water source for over 4 million people.
- A system of 29 locks and dams control navigation on the Upper
Mississippi between Minneapolis, Minnesota and St. Louis, Missouri.
National Scenic Byway of the Mississippi River travels
more than 500 miles beside the legendary River. It is a network
of roadways that offers travelers a myriad of river experiences.
There are ample opportunities to view wildlife along the byway and
unique geological features throughout the 10 Great River Road State
Parks and numerous scenic areas that border its route. Six
distinct regions have been identified along the Minnesota Great River
Road, "anchored" on either end by larger cities that offer a
variety of lodging, dining and entertainment and transportation
For Great River Road Map:
contact MN Office of Tourism 800-657-3700.