What Are Two Large Tributaries Of The Mississippi River


As the longest river in the United States, the Mississippi River is immensely influential in the country’s ecology, economics, and history. Spanning almost 4,000 miles, the river has many tributaries that flow into and merge with it. The two largest tributaries of the Mississippi River are the Ohio and Missouri rivers.

The Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and flows south through Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois until it meets the Mississippi in Cairo, Illinois. It is 981 miles long, measuring about 320 miles longer than the Missouri River. Through its course, the Ohio River and its tributaries drain parts of 15 states with a drainage area of 204,000 square miles.

The Missouri River flows west from its source in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. It passes through five states—Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa—along its course before finally merging with the Mississippi in St. Louis, Missouri. At 2,341 miles long, the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States after the Mississippi River. Its drainage basin is 562,000 square miles, making it the third-largest drainage basin in the nation.

The lengths of both rivers and the areas they drain have exerted a major influence on the development and history of the United States. The Ohio River, for instance, was deeply influential in the early history of the country and played an essential role in mediation between the original 13 colonies, Native American tribes, as well as France and Great Britain. The Missouri River, on the other hand, was an important transportation route for American settlers during the westward expansion of the 19th century.

The Ohio and Missouri rivers, as two of the largest tributaries of the Mississippi river, have also had a significant impact on the ecology of the region. The rivers merge together near St. Louis and create the fertile Mississippi River Basin, which provides a home to a variety of waterfowl, as well as boatmen, settlers, and miners. The sediment-filled river is an important food source for the area, providing sustenance to the many plants, animals, and people who inhabit the region.

The two rivers also have an effect on the water quality of the Mississippi River. On its own, the Mississippi River is quite acidic and polluted due to decades of industrial use. When the Ohio and Missouri rivers merge with the Mississippi, however, their fresh, oxygenated waters serve to dilute the pollution and reduce the acidity of the river.

The Ohio and Missouri rivers are both essential players in the ecology, economics, and history of the United States, and their importance in the Mississippi River Basin is undeniable. They serve as vital sources of transportation and food, help to protect the environment from pollution, and are a major contributing factor to the development of the nation.


The watersheds of both the Ohio and Missouri rivers overlap with several states and provide the perfect environment for agricultural production. The area is highly productive land, with some of the most fertile soils in the nation. Due to mild winters and abundant rainfall, the region has become famous for its high-yielding corn, soybean, and wheat farms. The two rivers are also highly important in irrigating the land, providing a dependable water source for the many thousands of farms that grow and produce crops in the area.

In addition to its agricultural importance, the Ohio and Missouri rivers help to support the commercial fishing industry. Both rivers have freshwater fishing opportunities and their waters are filled with species such as catfish, bass, bluegill, and crappie. The rivers also host several annual fishing tournaments, drawing in hundreds of enthusiasts from across the country.


The Ohio and Missouri rivers have served as major transportation routes for centuries. The shallow, curving streams of each river are especially suited for boating and other vessels, and they provide an efficient, cost-effective way to transport goods across the nation. Waterways created by the two rivers, such as the Illinois and Missouri canals, have also been linked together with other rivers and canals to create larger commercial networks, increasing the ease with which goods can travel.

The two rivers are a favored destination for recreational boaters and fishermen, as well. The rivers offer scenic views and tranquil settings, making them the perfect place for relaxation and adventure. The rivers also draw in cruises and tour boats, allowing visitors a unique way to experience and enjoy the area.


The Ohio and Missouri rivers both face numerous challenges related to their health and conservation. Pollution from agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and sewage has posed a major issue for both rivers, and both have suffered from excessive sediment buildup from riverside mining, logging, and construction. In addition, the increasing demands on the rivers for recreational, commercial, and agricultural use have led to a decrease in water quality, with water in certain areas contaminated with toxic chemicals.

In recent years, both rivers have been the focus of restoration projects aimed at preserving the unique ecosystems and beauty of the region. Several national parks and conservation sites, including the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the Cody Memorial Natural Area, and the Cote Brilliante Natural Area, have been established to protect the area’s landscapes and habitats. The extensive success of these programs has led to the rivers being recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as sources of exceptional quality waters.

Economic Impact

The Ohio and Missouri rivers are major economic forces for the United States. With their expansive lengths and expansive drainage areas, the rivers serve as a major source of transportation, recreation, and agriculture for many states. The rivers also bring in significant amounts of tourist money, allowing numerous riverside businesses and communities to benefit from the increased economic activity.

The Ohio and Missouri rivers are each home to several major metropolitan areas and economic hubs, as well. From Louisville, Kentucky to Omaha, Nebraska, the rivers provide a corridor of economic stability and growth. By connecting dozens of cities and providing a backbone to the Midwest, these rivers not only affect the economy but also drive innovation and progress across the entire region.

Impact on Society

In addition to their economic value, the Ohio and Missouri rivers have also shaped the social, cultural, and religious life of the region and its inhabitants. The rivers have played a vital role in the history and development of several Native American tribes, and their waters served as vital transportation and communication routes for American settlers. The rivers are also heavily entrenched in the nation’s folklore and literature, with authors such as Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper writing extensively about them.

The Ohio and Missouri rivers are essential threads in the social and cultural tapestry of the United States. They are deeply woven into the nation’s identity, helping to shape the culture and environment of the country as a whole. From economic development to conservation efforts, the Ohio and Missouri rivers will continue to be major contributors to the nation’s growth and progress in the 21st century and beyond.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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