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Weekend Getaways

Where Does the Ohio River Start?

Where Does the Ohio River Start?

The Ohio River flows across six states, and its basin spreads over 14 different states. As with most waterways, this one also supports many cities and a thriving commercial shipping industry that contributes significantly to the states’ economies through which the river flows. Besides this, the Ohio River sustains a vast selection of wildlife, with some animals on endangered and protected lists. So, if the Ohio River and its tributaries flow across 14 states, where does the Ohio River start?

The Start of the Ohio River

The headwaters of the Ohio River are at the junction of the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From this point, the Ohio River flows for 981 miles and ends in Cairo, Illinois. As a matter of interest, the Ohio River is the largest tributary of the Mississippi and ends when pouring into this river.

The Course of the Ohio River

After forming at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, the Ohio River flows through the Allegheny and Beaver counties. Next, it courses through the West Virginia–Ohio–Pennsylvania triple-state line before forming the border between West Virginia and Ohio.

At this point, it flows until it reaches Cincinnati and eventually forms the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. Its path also includes the borders of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Finally, the Ohio River ends and empties into the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois.

The Ohio River Enters Six States

The Ohio River starts in Pennsylvania and eventually ends in Illinois. The other four states in which the river flows are:

  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Ohio
  • West Virginia

The Ohio River Basin Covers 14 States

The Ohio River’s drainage basin spans 205,000 square miles. Despite the river only crossing six states, its basin spreads across 14 states. In reality, the river basin covers roughly 5% of the U.S. mainland, which is many of the southeastern states. The 14 conditions that the Ohio River basin covers include:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • West Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi

Ohio River – Width and Depth

Where Does the Ohio River Start - Where Does the Ohio River Start - August 9, 2022
The Ohio River’s average width is about half a mile.jessica.kirsh/

The Ohio River’s average width is about half a mile, but its widest point reaches roughly one mile. This point is at the Smithland Dam in Kentucky. Also, the Ohio River’s depth varies, with many parts differing due to human intervention in dam construction. On average, though, the Ohio River’s depth is 24 feet, with the deepest point of the river being 168 feet near Louisville, Kentucky. This Louisville area is also where many large shipping vessels travel up and down the Ohio River.

The Ohio River and Its Economy

The Ohio River has given life and led to the spouting of many significant cities near its banks. Many of these major cities include:

  • Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania
  • Cincinnati in Ohio
  • Louisville in Kentucky
  • Evansville in Indiana
  • Huntington in West Virginia

Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh are home to the main ports of the river. Also, because the Ohio River is almost 1,000 miles long, it is a significant transportation route for the states through which it courses. Besides, the Ohio River has a stable flow of water and only has one major obstacle, the Falls of Ohio close to Louisville.

As a result, authorities have built locks at the falls, controlling the descent and navigation of ships past the falls for commerce. Other than the falls, there are 13 dams and waves along the river, ensuring the smooth travel of vessels for longer distances. Ships transport coal, oil, steel, gravel, petroleum products, and manufactured goods up and down the Ohio River.

Wildlife Along the Ohio River

smallmouth vs largemouth bass
The Ohio River is where various endangered animals and wildlife

Fishing is a popular activity on the Ohio River. Anglers catch a selection of fish like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, black bass, white bass, striped bass, sauger, walleye, blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish. Bass are standard in creeks during the spring and in deeper water during the summer. Sauger and walleye live in the tailwater areas during the spring, fall, and winter and in streams during the summer. Catfish are another species that make the Ohio River their home.

The Ohio River is where various endangered animals and wildlife live. You can spot several endangered birds along the Ohio River, including the Kirtland’s warblers and piping plovers. An endangered fish that you can find in the Ohio River is the Scioto madtom. The Ohio River is also home to threatened marine life like club shell mussels, fan shell mussels, northern rifle shell mussels, and the pink mucket pearly mussel.

Mussels live throughout the Ohio River, with 45 species of native freshwater mussels making this river their breeding grounds. These shellfish filter the river’s water and reduce silt, sediment, and pollutants in the river’s water as they feed.

You might also be lucky to spot two official state animals in the Ohio River. One is the spotted salamander, the official state amphibian of Ohio. Spotted salamanders live in woodlands around creeks, swamps, and ponds. The second is the bullfrog, the official state frog of Ohio. This frog is the largest in the U.S. and lives in ponds, slow streams, and marshes.

Mammals also live along the Ohio River. For instance, the carnivorous North American black bear lives along the Ohio River. This bear is known to hunt fish and other mammals and attack humans, so be careful if you spot one. You might also see the white-tail deer here, the official state mammal of Ohio, with a population of over 600,000.

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