The amazing rivers of North America showcase many of the continent’s best outdoor recreation opportunities, and for this week’s installment of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge, we’re celebrating the unique adventures that can be found in the farthest corners of our river watersheds. Some of the world’s most interesting river basins enervate the North American continent, extending from coast to coast and everywhere in between.
Just about everything east of the Rocky Mountains and south of the 49th parallel drains into the Mississippi River, a basin that is fourth largest among the world’s rivers, draining 3,200,000 square kilometers of the North American continent. This is the river that inspired freedom for generations of European Americans. When the British enforced strict taxation on the American Colonies, Irish settlers fled west into the Ohio River valley, where they built the continent’s first distilleries and floated barrels of whisky down the Mississippi to New Orleans and the international market. For Mark Twain, it was a frontier beyond the confines of so-called civilized society where his characters were freer and more human.
Comprised of the Missouri, Ohio, and Arkansas river basins, the Mississippi River system is a geopolitical landmark that has characterized and shaped American history since its inception as a modern nation. It also offers some of the best whitewater in North America, finds its source as far west as Yellowstone, and cuts through high plains, the Rockies, and the glacially carved Midwest.
The headwaters of the Columbia River have no humble beginnings, and the Colorado’s mighty northwestern companion, one of the world’s most voluminous rivers, drains a basin the size of Texas. Like sandstone, the volcanic basalt of the Pacific Northwest’s ancient lava flows is easily molded under the force of water, and the rains fall heavier here than they do in the desert. That, and the deluge of prehistoric inland seas—like, an 80-mile-per-hour outflow of glacial waters—have carved the Columbia watershed into what it is today, a mountainous landscape marked by high desert plateau, temperate rainforests, and basaltic waterfalls.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado River begins its 1,450-mile journey toward Baja, California. The source of the Southwest’s only major river—lifeblood for the region’s economy and energy—is a pristine alpine meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, the first of 11 national parks along the river's course to the Gulf of California. The river rarely gets there; since the 1960s, the flow of the river has dwindled behind hydroelectric dams and intensified irrigation. Where the river delta once flowed into the Pacific Ocean is, in most years, a dry floodplain with scars where the Colorado cut into the desert. But from source to seashore, the Colorado is perhaps the most dramatic of North America’s watersheds, carving a sandstone plateau rich with slot canyons, cliff dwellings, and ancient mysteries.
We believe good things come from people spending time outside. We strive to provide inspiration and supporting information on incredible adventures to make it easy for you to get outdoors and explore new places. We understand that life is busy, but we strongly encourage you to make time for outdoor recreation on a weekly, if not daily, basis. To keep you inspired all year, we've put together a list of 52 geologic features and adventure themes. Check them out and join us in our #52AdventureChallenge!