Mississippi River

Sail the Mississippi River past the famous St. Louis Arch

About The Mississippi River

The name “Mississippi” comes from the French translation, “Messipi,” of the native American Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river, “Misi-ziibi,” or “Great River.”
From its source in northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River flows southward for 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. Passing through or border the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, it ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river in the world by discharge.
The country’s most iconic river, it is also one of its most perennially popular, a bucket-list experience for generations of Americans lured by the history and beauty of the region. Given its length, the river is usually divided into three parts, each typically taking a week to explore: the Lower Mississippi, which runs from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee; the Middle Mississippi, stretching from Memphis to St. Louis; and the Upper Mississippi, considered the most scenic stretch, which runs from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Two companies are veterans of the Mississippi, American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company. Itineraries vary depending on temperatures in each region of the country, with summer’s heat causing the bulk of the summer season to be split between Upper Mississippi and Ohio River sailings.

Mississippi River Stats

Length: 2,320 miles
Depth: Average 50 to 100 feet with max depth of 200 feet
Source: Lake Itasca, Minnesota, USA
Mouth: Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Locks: 29
Countries: United States of America

Learn More About the Mississippi River of the United States

The Mississippi River, often referred to as the “Mighty Mississippi,” is one of the most iconic and significant rivers in the United States. Stretching approximately 2,320 miles from its source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, the Mississippi River weaves a rich tapestry of history, ecology, culture, and commerce. In this extensive exploration, we will delve into the various facets that make the Mississippi River an extraordinary natural wonder and a vital part of American heritage.


Geography and Formation

The Mississippi River begins its journey in northern Minnesota, where it originates from Lake Itasca. From this modest starting point, it winds its way through ten U.S. states—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana—before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Its vast drainage basin, which extends into parts of Canada, covers approximately 1.2 million square miles, making it the third-largest in the world.  The river’s formation can be traced back to the last Ice Age when glaciers carved out the river’s channel, setting the stage for the modern Mississippi. Over millennia, the river has shaped its surroundings, creating an intricate system of wetlands, bayous, and floodplains that serve as vital habitats for a diverse array of plant and animal species.


Ecology and Biodiversity

The Mississippi River and its associated ecosystems are renowned for their ecological diversity. The river and its floodplains are home to a wide range of wildlife, including numerous fish species like catfish, bass, and sturgeon, as well as iconic reptiles like alligators and snapping turtles. The region also hosts a variety of migratory birds and waterfowl, such as eagles, pelicans, and herons.  The river’s seasonal flooding plays a crucial role in rejuvenating its floodplain habitats and supporting the growth of diverse flora. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain, often referred to as the “Delta,” is a prime example of this phenomenon. It’s a vast expanse of fertile land where cotton, soybeans, and rice are grown, contributing significantly to the nation’s agricultural output.


History and Culture

The Mississippi River has played an integral role in American history and culture. For Native American tribes like the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Sioux, the river was a lifeline, providing sustenance and transportation. In the early 17th century, European explorers like Hernando de Soto and Jacques Marquette ventured along its banks, paving the way for European settlement and trade in the region.  During the 19th century, the Mississippi River became a vital artery for trade and transportation, with steamboats and paddlewheelers plying its waters. The river was central to the growth of cities like St. Louis and New Orleans, serving as a commercial gateway to the heartland of America.  The Mississippi River has also inspired countless artists, writers, and musicians. Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” are enduring literary classics set along the river. The blues, a genre of music rooted in the Mississippi Delta, has had a profound impact on American music and culture, influencing legends like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.


Challenges and Conservation

While the Mississippi River has provided immeasurable benefits to the United States, it has also faced significant environmental challenges. Urbanization, industrialization, and agriculture have led to pollution, habitat destruction, and altered hydrology. The introduction of non-native species, such as Asian carp, has further disrupted the river’s ecosystem.  Efforts to restore the Mississippi River and its tributaries have gained momentum in recent years. Conservation initiatives seek to address water quality issues, protect and restore critical habitats, and manage floodwaters more effectively. These efforts are vital not only for the river’s ecological health but also for the millions of people who depend on it for drinking water, agriculture, and transportation.


Economic Significance

The Mississippi River remains a linchpin of the U.S. economy. It continues to be a major transportation corridor for goods, with barges carrying billions of tons of cargo annually. Ports along the river, like the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Baton Rouge, handle a substantial portion of the nation’s imports and exports.  Moreover, the river’s role in agriculture cannot be overstated. The fertile soils of the Mississippi Valley contribute significantly to the production of corn, soybeans, and wheat, which are essential crops for both domestic consumption and international trade.


Recreational Opportunities

Beyond its economic and ecological significance, the Mississippi River offers abundant recreational opportunities. Fishing, boating, and wildlife watching draw millions of visitors each year. National parks and wildlife refuges along the river, such as the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, provide pristine environments for outdoor enthusiasts.


The Mississippi River, with its grandeur, history, and multifaceted importance, stands as a testament to the enduring power of nature and human ingenuity. Its waters have shaped landscapes, cultures, and economies, leaving an indelible mark on the American psyche. As we continue to face environmental challenges and seek sustainable ways to coexist with this mighty river, it is imperative that we remember and honor its significance, ensuring that future generations can appreciate the beauty and bounty of the Mississippi.

Your Mississippi River Cruise Awaits!

Are you ready to start planning your Mississippi River Cruise Vacation Your Way? A River Cruise Artist at River Cruise Your Way is ready to be your vacation concierge. Contact us today at 1-800-259-7612 or use the form below and let us know when it is most convenient to call you, we will confirm via e-mail, and then reach out at the agreed upon time and date.