The longest rivers in the world–besides having length in common–are quite unique. Located on nearly every continent and winding through vastly different landscapes, each of the longest rivers in the world has its own unique identity. From the arid interior of Africa to the lush rainforests of South America, these monstrous watersheds move almost unfathomable amounts of water across impressive distances. Read on to learn more about them and see which of these mighty rivers comes out on top.
- The Mississippi-Missouri River system. Coming in at 2,320 miles (the fourth longest in the world), this river system runs from the mountainous West of the United States to the Midwest, and drains south into the Gulf of Mexico. Used by Lewis and Clark to map the entire country in the early nineteenth century, the Mississippi has been a key navigation and trade route throughout much of the United States’ history. Along its banks are several cultural hubs, including Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans.
- The Yangtze River. Asia might be the largest continent on earth, but its biggest river–the Yangtze–comes in third among the world’s longest rivers. It begins in the Himalayan plateaus of Western China and runs all the way to the coastal city of Shanghai, where it flows into the East China Sea. In its continual journey, the Yangtze passes through several different climate zones and ecosystems, draining almost twenty percent of all the water in China along the way.
- The Amazon River. It might not be the longest river in the world, but South America’s Amazon River is easily the biggest river on Earth by volume. In fact, it discharges more water than all the other rivers on this list combined. It runs through the rainforests of the continent’s upper portion, ambling its way through beautiful ecosystems, interesting wildlife, and some very unique human cultures. During the wet season, the Amazon can run as wide as 30 miles. Think of it as a giant lake – with constant current.
- The Nile River. At over 4,000 miles long, the Nile is the single lengthiest river in the world. Its beginnings are located in the central African country of Burundi, from which it flows northward all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Because it’s located in a desert region, all local cultures–from the Ancient Egyptians to modern Africans–have depended on the river as an integral source of life. The delta that formed in its Mediterranean drainage area, meanwhile, has served as a center for civilization for thousands of years.