The World's Longest Rivers

There are 242 major rivers in the world, but only a small number are free-flowing throughout their entire length. Among them, the Nile, the Amur, the Amazon, and the Rio Grande. According to an international team of researchers led by Gunther Grill of McGill University, 91 of them once emptied into the ocean.

Nile River

The Nile River is one of the longest rivers on the planet and carries a lot of water. The river rises in Ethiopia and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. During its long journey, it passes through 11 countries and drains an area of approximately 1,293,000 square miles.

Amur River

The Amur River in Russia is one of the longest in the world. It starts in a constrictive gorge between low mountains, and then flows out onto a low-lying plain. It is divided into three sections by channels, and has a number of lakes and ponds along the way. The upper Amur river flows through a restricted channel between mountains, then enters the lower Amur riverbed, which is comprised of marshy land and two large lakes.

Amazon River

During the dry season, the Amazon River stretches two to six miles wide. The river’s width increases to 30 miles during the wet season, when flooding occurs. It runs through Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. It covers 40 percent of South America, and is the largest river basin in the world.

Rio Grande

The Rio Grande is the longest river in the world and spans more than 355 miles. It flows through the states of New Mexico, Texas, and Durango. At its mouth, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, where it is used to irrigate farmlands. Along its route, it passes through different ecosystems, including arid and warm lands, mountain ranges, and forests. This diverse habitat supports a wide variety of plants and animals.

Yenisey River

The Yenisey River is the world’s longest river, flowing for 2,475 kilometers (1,000 miles) through the Siberian steppe. It is ice-bound for half of the year, causing major flooding. During this time, shipping lanes are maintained by icebreakers. In September 2001, an Australian-Canadian team successfully navigated the entire length of the river. The team members, including Colin Angus, Ben Kozel and Tim Cope, published a book about the expedition, and the trip was documented by National Geographic television.

Congo River

The Congo River begins in savannas south of Lake Tanganyika and gradually widens. It reaches a 75-mile-long canyon of rapids, nicknamed the “Gates of Hell”. At the bottom of the canyon, the river enters a lush tropical forest, forming the Lualaba area. In its middle course, the Congo crosses the equator twice.


Each of these rivers is a major player in the global water cycle, with important ecological and economic impacts. Each river has unique features that make it an important part of the ecosystem, as well as human societies and economies.

Bill Sutton
The World’s Longest Rivers