About Minnesota

Mississippi River Facts

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Mississippi river facts, stories, songs, and recreational opportunities abound here in the state that is the source of the mighty Mississippi River. 

Most family vacation destinations in Minnesota include beautiful family vacation resorts, cabins, and dozens of state parks and many other top family vacations spots.

You can experience the Mississippi River in Minnesota in some of the same ways as did Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau when they explored the river by steamboat.

"The Mississippi, the Ganges, and the Nile,... the Rocky Mountains, the Himalaya, and Mountains of the Moon, have a kind of personal importance in the annals of the world." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Fun Mississippi River Facts:

  • At its headwaters, the Mississippi River is less than 3 feet deep.
  • At the Mississippi river's deepest section, between Governor Nicholls Wharf and Algiers Point in New Orleans, it is 200 feet deep!
Mississippi River Facts

The Mississippi River source, or headwaters, is Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park.

A Minnesota tradition is to walk across the Mississippi river on the stone path at the headwaters.

In one spot, in our neighboring state of Wisconsin, the Mississippi River is almost 4 miles wide. This is at Lake Onalaska, near LaCrosse, where Mississippi River water is held behind Lock and Dam #7 and the damming of the Black River forms this broad span of the Mississippi River.

The history of Minnesota is deeply intertwined with the legends and lore of the Mississippi River.

Some Basic Mississippi River Facts:

Your Great River Road Trip in Minnesota begins at the Mississippi River Headwaters.

  • The Mississippi River flows south from Lake Itasca, in Northern Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana.
  • The Mississippi River, at 740 miles in length, is the third longest river in North America.
  • The Mississippi River is a watershed for over 1.2 million square miles.
  • The Mighty Mississippi incorporates tributary rivers from 32 states and two Canadian provinces.
  • The Mississippi and its tributaries drain almost all the plains between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. Its drainage basin is the third largest in the world, exceeded in size only by the watersheds of the Amazon and Congo Rivers.
  • The Mississippi River was discovered by De Soto in 1541.

If you want a map of Mississippi River areas there are many available including beautiful, historic, Mississippi River maps suitable for framing.  

Explore the Mississippi River: Road Trip USA Great River Road

Many Mississippi River Facts are also Minnesota Facts:

Here are just a few:

  • Bemidji, the first city on the Mississippi River is located in the state of Minnesota, 100 miles south of the Canadian border.
  • The Ojibwe people of Northern Minnesota called it ''Messipi'' or The Big River. It was also known as the Mee-zee-see-bee or Father of Waters.
  • At Lake Itasca, the elevation of the Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop occurs within the state of Minnesota.
  • Water skiing was invented in 1922 on the Mississippi River in a wide part of the river known as Lake Pepin, between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Mississippi River Recreation

Opportunities to enjoy the wonderful resources of the Mississippi River abound in Minnesota.

As well as visiting the Mississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park you can visit the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

In 1988, seventy-two miles of the Mississippi River, from the cities of Dayton and Ramsey (north of the Twin Cities) to near Hastings (south of the Twin Cities) were designated as a place to explore the river.  The Mississippi River is just one of Minnesota's Water Trails that offer thousands of miles of canoe and kayak routes through the state.

See the Mississippi River up close on Mississippi River Boat Cruises that depart from Saint Paul, Minneapolis and several other locations in Minnesota.

Reviews of the Best Things to See and Do in Minnesota

The Mississippi winds through the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The southern portion of the Mississippi flows past the charming river towns of Red Wing, Lake City, Wabasha, and Winona. 

The Mississippi River Museum located at the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul encourages visitors to think about how their actions impact the river. Learn some Mississippi River facts about the influence the river has on our lives, and the river ecosystem that is complex and ever-changing. Learn more about the Mississippi River Gallery with this fact sheet.

While you are at the Science Museum, you will find the  Mississippi River Visitor Center located directly across the Science Museum lobby. The Center invites visitors to explore Mississippi River resources that may be close as their own backyard.

Mississippi River Cleanup

One of the most troubling of Mississippi River facts is that, from its source at Lake Itasca to where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, this amazing river has become increasingly polluted. All types of garbage and refuse, including old tires and scrap metal,  is dumped into this national resource.

In recent years many river cleanup groups have been organized. No matter where you live along the river, you can volunteer to help keep our river clean with the Great Mississippi River Cleanup. Here is their mission statement:

In 2010, the Great Mississippi River Cleanup (GMRC) was initiated by Living Lands & Waters (LL&W) to inspire communities to host an annual cleanup event. After four very successful years cleaning up primarily the Upper Mississippi River, we expanded our cleanup efforts to the full length of the river! From the Headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, volunteers participate by cleaning up the Mighty Mississippi and taking action that produces results, not rhetoric! To date, we’ve worked with 105 sites and, with the help of more than 8,000 volunteers, removed 513,782 lbs of debris from Mississippi River.

Copy and paste the link below into your browser to find a Mississippi River cleanup organization near you.


Mississippi River Guides

Explore the Great River Road established in 1938 as the national parkway of the Mississippi River. Its route traverses nearly 3,000 miles through 10 states. Read more about the Great River Road in Road Trip USA Great River Road

Mississippi River Facts Related Pages:

Mississippi River Boat Cruises

Map of Mississippi River

Minnesota Water Trails

Lake Superior Facts

Fishing Minnesota

Minnesota Adventures

Mississippi River

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