Most Dangerous Rivers in the World
Rivers provide water, food and transportation to communities around the world. They’re also beautiful to look at, refreshing to swim in and incredibly fun to raft or kayak through.
But as wonderful as rivers are and as much as we appreciate them, they also can turn deadly. Rivers will betray you in a matter of seconds with strong undercurrents, rocks, wild animals and pollution (though we have only ourselves to blame for this one).
These are the world’s most dangerous rivers.
25. Red River of the South
Country: United States
Length: 1,360 miles
Danger point: Strong undercurrents, whirlpools
What Makes Red River So Deadly
With its deep ochre color, Red River is an unusual body of water that passes through New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
What makes it dangerous is its capricious nature, as the currents of the river are fairly unpredictable and can change without warning. Strong undercurrents also combine to form whirlpools that can trap anyone unfortunate enough to encounter them.
24. Brisbane River
Length: 214 miles
Danger point: Deadly animals, flooding
What Makes Brisbane River So Deadly
Though this river certainly imparts a charming beauty to the city of Brisbane, it also presents a danger to it.
The river floods occasionally, causing headaches for the city and its inhabitants. But the real danger is when people decide to plunge into it. Authorities advise against it due to the high number of drownings that have occurred. That and the large population of bull sharks that have made a cozy home within it.
Bull sharks are a particularly aggressive species of shark that will attack without reason. They also make it a habit to live in rivers whenever possible. Brisbane River has an estimated population of 500 bull sharks, which is 500 too many for our comfort.
23. Kern River
Country: United States
Length: 164 miles
Danger point: Fast currents, high water levels
What Makes Kern River So Deadly
This California river is considered one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the United States.
Although it is not very long, it is fed by the snow at the peak of the Sierra Nevadas, which means that its water levels are fairly high. It also has a fast current that has trapped several people in its deadly snare. Since 2000, 96 people have died in this river, prompting the authorities to issue warnings to the public.
Not all areas of the Kern River are dangerous, but it's often difficult to know which ones are. Even those simply walking rather than swimming have fallen victim to the river. This is mostly because the river banks have smooth granite rocks that often cause people to slip and fall into the water.
All of these factors have earned the river the nickname "Killer Kern."
22. Potomac River
Country: United States
Length: 405 miles
Danger point: Strong undercurrents
What Makes the Potomac River So Deadly
Americans are probably scratching their heads with this one, given that the Potomac is simply thought of as a river that provides beautiful scenery and fun outdoor activities.
However, the reality is that the waters of the Potomac follow the American worth ethic and are constantly rushing to their next destination.
The river's speed creates undercurrents that have proven deadly to swimmers who have either fallen into the river, gone for a splash or consciously braved them while on a whitewater rafting trip.
21. Shanay-Timpishka (the Boiling River)
Length: 4 miles
Danger point: Extremely high temperatures
What Makes Shanay-Timpishka So Deadly
Up until relatively recently, this boiling river was a mere myth to westerners. Hidden deep within the Amazonian jungles of Peru, it was a secret that the Asháninka indigenous community kept well due to its sacredness.
Also known as "La Bomba," the river reaches temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit — high enough to cook small animals alive and to impart third-degree burns on humans. The heat is geothermal but, interestingly, does not come from volcanoes.
Asháninka shamans use this Amazon River tributary for important rituals.
20. Rio Tinto
Length: 62 miles
Danger point: Pollution
What Makes the Rio Tinto So Deadly
Rio Tinto (meaning Red River) is mesmerizing with its deep ocher-colored water. But while it may look cool it’s certainly not a place you would want to take a dip. The water’s color comes from its high acidity levels and unusual concentration of heavy metals like copper, silver and gold.
Of course, these metals have attracted the greed of humans. The river saw centuries of mining along its banks. The practice of burning off sulfur killed vegetation and affected the health of animals and humans living in the area.
The river is considered one of Spain’s worst environmental catastrophes.
19. Vishwamitri River
Length: 547 miles
Danger point: Deadly animals, flooding, pollution
What Makes the Vishwamitri River So Deadly
Like many dangerous rivers, the Vishwamitri is home to hundreds of crocodiles. What makes it deadly, however, is not that these reptiles live in its waters, but that it passes through cities, bringing its resident crocs along.
This is particularly an issue in the city of Vadodara, where residents have to be constantly on the lookout for crocodiles, especially when the tide is high. Crocodiles have been found in unlikely places in the city, including parks, bathrooms and railways.
As if this weren't enough, the river is also prone to flooding and is highly polluted.
18. Niger River
Countries: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Mali
Length: 2,597 miles
Danger point: Flooding, deadly animals, pollution
What Makes Niger River So Deadly
The third longest river in Africa, the Niger River crosses through 10 countries and brings water into the southern Sahara Desert.
Unfortunately, as with many other rivers, the Niger has a propensity to flood unexpectedly, having claimed the lives of thousands of people. Animals that are essential to the livelihood of the riverside communities are also often victims of the flooding. This means that even when people survive, they face a loss of property that threatens their ability to meet even their most basic needs.
Besides flooding, the river attracts mosquitos, which bring with them diseases such as malaria and dengue. These diseases are often deadly, particularly for children and immunocompromised people.
A more modern problem for the Niger River is its level of pollution, which makes its water unsafe to drink. Since many communities don't have other sources of water, they are exposed to waterborne illnesses.
17. Mekong River
Countries: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam
Length: 2,703 miles
Danger point: Strong undercurrents, flooding, deadly animals
What Makes the Mekong River So Deadly
Running through six Asian countries, the Mekong is a life source for an estimated 60 million people. Many parts of the river are calm enough to live in, and several communities have adapted to its extreme changes in water levels by creating floating villages.
However, other parts of the river are not as friendly, considered virtually impossible to navigate through. Floods still affect most communities near the river, causing deaths and irreparable destruction.
Those who navigate the river also have to make sure they are careful not to fall, since Siamese crocodiles inhabit it.
16. Parana River
Countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay
Length: 3,030 miles
Danger point: Strong currents, flooding
What Makes the Parana River So Deadly
Unlike other rivers on this list, the Parana River is not made dangerous by animals or pollution, but rather by its sheer strength and force.
The river often overflows, flooding villages and towns and sometimes forcing people to emigrate from the area when the damage is impossible to avoid.
It also has very strong currents, so that only experts can navigate it with at least a semblance of ease.
15. Brahmaputra River
Countries: Bangladesh, India, Tibet
Length: 2,391 miles
Danger point: Flooding, dangerous animals
What Makes the Brahmaputra River So Deadly
The Brahmaputra is incredibly important to the people who live in the Himalayan region.
Climate change is causing the snow from the Himalaya to melt more quickly, so the river has become more prone to flooding. Each year during rainy season, several villages have to be evacuated in their entirety, and the destruction endangers the quality of life of villagers.
The river also has bull sharks, so caution is strongly advised to those considering swimming in it.
14. River Wharfe
Countries: United Kingdom
Length: 65 miles
Danger point: Strong undercurrent, hidden tunnels
What Makes the River Wharfe So Deadly
At first glance, River Wharfe looks so innocent, you’d gladly let your children play in it. Sadly, many people have made this exact mistake and suffered fatal consequences.
The current of the river at a part known as the Strid— which is narrow enough that you can jump from one bank to the other — is surprisingly strong and has been known to swiftly carry people away. The river also has hidden tunnels whose pressure sucks people in, leaving them with little chance of being rescued.
River Wharfe’s reputation is dire. So much so, that it is featured in William Wordsworth's poem, "The Force of Prayer."
13. Yangtze River
Length: 3,915 miles
Danger point: Flooding, pollution
What Makes the Yangtze River So Deadly
The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world, after the Nile and the Amazon.
Though many communities in China depend on it for water, food and transportation, it is also a perilous river to live close to. The Yangtze has been prone to overflowing and has destroyed many homes and communities in the past 100 years.
The river has been made more dangerous by people since it has been used as the dumping ground for agricultural and industrial runoff of countless towns and cities, including megacities like Shanghai.
12. Tarcoles River
Country: Costa Rica
Length: 69 miles
Danger point: Deadly animals
What Makes the Tarcoles River So Deadly
The Tarcoles is included here simply because it is the most crocodile-laden river in the entire world. With more than 2,000 crocs making their home here, it is estimated that there are 63 of them per square mile.
If you’ve ever lived somewhere where there are crocodiles, you know how absurdly dense that is and you probably know that there is no way in the dark pits of Hades that you should ever go into this river.
11. Mississippi River
Country: United States
Length: 2,340 miles
Danger point: Strong undercurrents, deadly animals, pollution
What Makes the Mississippi River So Deadly
The longest river in the U.S., the Mississippi traverses ten states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Parts of the river are calm and easy to navigate, but at any moment, you could be surprised by a strong undercurrent, which often proves deadly to swimmers.
There are also dangerous creatures that dwell within it, including pike fish, alligators and sometimes bull sharks.
As if this weren’t enough, vessels and swimmers have to be careful with the debris that can be found in the river, such as cars, boats and other forms of toxic trash.
10. Murray River
Length: 1,558 miles
Danger point: Strong currents and undercurrents, sharp temperature drops
What Makes Murray River So Deadly
The Murray River in southeastern Australia has the most number of drownings out of all rivers in the country. Between 2002 and 2017, 70 people drowned in it.
These deaths occur because people underestimate the strength of the river's currents and undercurrents, which easily trap swimmers. Whirlpools can form unexpectedly, and the murky waters make it difficult to estimate depth and to see trees or branches under the surface.
Swimmers have also been caught off guard by sharp temperature drops. In some parts of the river, the temperature drops 15 degrees in a mere 3.3 feet. This proves deadly by causing cramps.
That said, most deaths have involved young people drunkenly daring each other to take a dip in the Murray. Keep this in mind the next time you're drinking with friends near this river.
9. Citarum River
Length: 170 miles
Danger point: Pollution
What Makes the Citarum River So Deadly
The Citarum River should be a life source for humans and animals. Instead, it is the most polluted river in the world and poses an extreme hazard to surrounding communities, threatening the life of the fauna and flora that once depended on it.
Blame belongs to the hundreds of textile factories that dump their industrial and chemical run-off in the river. This run-off includes toxic dyes and poisonous chemicals such as mercury and arsenic.
This river has also become a landfill for many of the communities that live on its banks, receiving the brunt of their human-made waste. During rain season, trash clogs drainage systems and causes towns to flood more.
8. Orinoco River
Countries: Colombia and Venezuela
Length: 1330 miles
Danger point: Strong current, fast rapids, waterfalls, flooding
What Makes the Orinoco River So Deadly
The Orinoco is a labyrinth of a river where those who don’t know the way can easily get lost. The river is notorious for being hard to navigate, due to the quickness of its flow, which often makes it difficult to control vessels. There are also waterfalls and rapids that create strong currents.
The river is prone to flooding, which has created several tragedies for communities that live along its banks.
Of course, you can expect to find dangerous animals like the Orinoco cayman and anacondas.
7. Yellow River
Danger point: Strong currents, flooding, pollution
What Makes Yellow River So Deadly
Because it is a vital source of water for millions of people in northern China, Yellow River is nicknamed the "Mother River." Its other nickname is the "River of Sorrow."
Huang He, as it is called in China, is extremely destructive. Its incredibly strong currents make it difficult for anyone who falls in to survive. Even the bodies of its victims are unlikely to be recovered.
Besides this, the river is temperamental, sometimes changing its course and being prone to constant flooding. These floods have been responsible for millions of deaths and displacements as well as food shortages due to the destruction of crops.
To make matters worse, the river is so polluted due to factory and sewage discharges that it has now been deemed unusable. Some communities still rely on it, however, so they have no choice but to be exposed to harmful runoff.
6. Yenisei River
Length: 2,167 miles
Danger point: Flooding, radioactive pollution
What Makes Yenisei River So Deadly
As the longest river in Russia, the Yenisei is very important to the country. But what it provides in life, it also claims in deaths.
Communities that live close to the river are always at risk of devastating floods. Many have had their life completely upended by these floods.
But what really lands the river so highly on this list is that it's polluted. And not just with "normal" pollution, but with radioactive particles, courtesy of nearby plutonium factories. This pollution has proven deadly, as towns along the banks of the river have been seeing increased cases of cancer in its inhabitants.
5. Nile River
Countries: Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda
Length: 4,130 miles
Danger point: Deadly animals
What Makes the Nile River So Deadly
The longest river in the world, the Nile gave rise to several ancient civilizations in East Africa and continues to be one of the most important bodies of water on the planet.
But as much as it makes life possible along its banks, the Nile has also proven to be deadly, mostly because of the numerous lethal animals that inhabit it. This includes, of course, crocodiles, but also snakes like black mambas and Egyptian cobras, hippopotamuses and mosquitos carrying life-threatening diseases such as malaria and the West Nile Virus.
4. East Alligator River
Length: 99 miles
Danger point: Strong currents, deadly animals
What Makes East Alligator River So Deadly
When a river is named after alligators, do we need to explain why it's dangerous? Located in Kakadu National Park, East Alligator River is one of three Alligator rivers in Australia (West and South are the others), but this one is more famous than its counterparts because of Cahills Crossing.
Partially submerged, the crossing is just shallow enough that people cross in cars or foot, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes just for the thrill of a near-death experience. Those who make it across get bragging rights, but very often cars and individuals are dragged out by unexpected currents into the river, where crocodiles gather and are not afraid to attack.
The crossing is also the site of a horrific 1978 incident, in which a man was decapitated by a jumping crocodile while he was fishing with friends.
3. Amazon River
Countries: Brazil, Colombia and Peru
Length: 4,000 miles
Danger point: Deadly animals
What Makes the Amazon River So Deadly
The largest river in the world by volume, the Amazon feeds the jungle and all its inhabitants. This important river is beautiful, but can also be deadly, mostly because of the animals that live within its waters and along its shores.
These dangerous animals include anacondas, piranhas, the venomous Brazilian wandering spider, pit vipers, black caiman crocodiles and bull sharks. (What is it with these bull sharks?)
There are many things in Amazon waters that want to kill and/or eat you.
2. Congo River
Countries: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Zambia
Length: 3,000 miles
Danger point: Strong rapids, deep canyons, deadly animals
What Makes the Congo River So Deadly
The Congo River is the world’s deepest river (720 feet at its deepest point) and has many rapids, gorges and waterfalls that pose a threat to the numerous vessels that traverse it, mostly carrying imports and exports.
One of the river’s most treacherous parts is a wide canyon known as the "Gates of Hell" because it is virtually impossible to navigate through the narrow gorge that forms it.
If you’ve ever wondered why Busch Gardens has a ride called "Congo River Rapids," here’s your answer.
1. Zambezi River
Countries: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Length: 1,599 miles
Danger point: Fast rapids, strong undercurrents, deadly animals
What Makes the Zambezi So Deadly
Some people consider the Zambezi River to be the most dangerous river in the entire world, though, of course, the qualifier is somewhat subjective. Many factors contribute to this dishonorable (or honorable, depending on how cynical you are) crown.
First, you have rapids and currents that are extremely fast and strong. This is the perfect combination for flipped vessels. If you get thrown off your vessel and into the river, you may have the misfortune of hitting big, sharp stones that can kill you on impact.
You also could encounter deadly animals like crocodiles, hippos and — you guessed it — bull sharks, which are known locally as Zambezi sharks.
On the plus side, the Zambezi River is home to the amazing Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.
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