All the Rivers in the Continental US: An Explorable Map

Nelson US Rivers Map 3

Just one look at Google engineer Nelson Minar’s river map of the continental US and it’s impossible to deny this is a country absolutely filled with waterways. He says he worked just a few weeks creating the extensive map, which is both beautiful for its artery-like depiction of the countries life-giving river systems, and fascinating to explore in the way it demonstrates the nation’s topography through the system’s many paths.


Observing the way rivers are spread across the US reveals the many mountain ranges and valleys that crisscross the country. In California we see the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains shedding their water into the large central valley below. Stretching all the way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, we see the mighty Mississippi river boldly dividing the nation. At the base of Texas we see the Rio Grande forming the border of the largest continental state and Mexico as it meanders towards the Gulf. Many portions of states are similarly outlined by waterways, revealing a past when they had much more influence on travel, both facilitating it and hindering it in the eyes of those who drew borders.

Nelson’s map comes to us in a number of explorable vector-based versions and – as the files are simply to large to display – as beautiful fully detailed renderings on Flickr. You can read more about the technical side of this project on his blog, or explore the vector map here.

A portion of California, showing the central valley and Sierra Nevada mountains
Nelson US Rivers Map 1

The end of the Mississippi as it meanders towards the Gulf of Mexico
Nelson US Rivers Map 2

Via 22 Words

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