There are many reasons why a river might be deemed treacherous, and the dangerous rivers on this list demonstrate most of those threats. These rivers are the longest, deepest, and most deadly in the world. They contain numerous threats from animal life, rapids, swift, unpredictable currents, and waterfalls. Some are quite well-known, like the Congo and Amazon Rivers, others, like River Wharfe, are less so, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. 

River Wharfe

Location: England

Dangerous aspect: Hidden tunnels that can suck people in

The River Wharfe is known for hidden tunnels underneath the surface

Credit: Jon Pinder

The River Wharfe is located in Yorkshire, England, and has gained a reputation for killing anyone who falls into its waters, swallowing their bodies whole. The most famous section of the river is much small, only six feet across, located between Barden Tower and Bolton Abbey.  This narrow gap allows the river to gain immense speed.

Additionally, the visual width is an allusion. The banks are undercut, leading to a series of tunnels in which the rest of the river’s water flows. There are numerous stories, as recorded by locals and news organizations of men, women, and children, as recently as 2011, getting sucked under the banks of the dangerous river into these tunnels, never to be seen again. 

Congo River

Location: Africa

Dangerous aspect: Extremely deep, with many rapids and waterfalls

Deadly Congo River
The extremely deep Congo River Piet Clement

CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Congo River is part of the world’s ninth-longest river system. It is the second-longest in Africa and was formerly known as the Zaire River. It is also the world’s deepest river, reaching a depth of 720 feet or 220 meters. The river is too deep for light to penetrate. The Congo River is an incredibly popular means of transportation in Africa, and with more people attempting to navigate it, more accidents occur. The upper section of the dangerous river is filled with rapids and tributaries, while the lower section contains gorges and waterfalls, obvious dangers to those traveling along with it. 

Nile River

Location: Africa

Dangerous aspect: Contains many predators and hot spot for mosquitos with disease

Nile River is predator-filled

Credit: Rod Waddington

The Nile River is the longest in the world. It flows through eleven countries and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout history, the Nile has been incredibly important for civilizations throughout Africa, but it also presents numerous threats. These include crocodiles that can move around 30 miles an hour on land and kill around 200 people a year, hippopotamuses that have been known to attack boats, venomous snakes like the Black Mamba, and the Egyptian Cobra, and mosquitos. The latter cannot be understated. They are one of the most dangerous features of the Nile river due to their disease-carrying abilities. They are responsible for 500 million people falling ill each year and hundreds of thousands dying from malaria and the West Nile virus. 

Amazon River

Location: South America

Dangerous aspect: Contains a wide range of extremely dangerous animals

Perilous Amazon River
Amazon River is full of dangerous animals

Credit: Jlwad, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unsurprisingly, the Amazon River features on this list of the world’s most dangerous rivers. It is usually considered to be the second-largest river in the world after the Nile River, but when one accounts for volume, it is the largest by far. The river is filled with dangers, such as bull sharks, anacondas, and black caiman crocodiles. The latter and grow up to 16 feet in length and has no known predators.

Other threats include leeches that attach to mammal’s orifices, piranhas that have razor-sharp teeth, and the longest venomous snake in the western hemisphere, the bushmaster pit viper. That’s not all though if you evade these threats, you might be faced with electric eels that give off 600 volts of electricity, the botfly, or the Brazilian wandering spider that can kill you in 25 minutes without treatment. 

Mississippi River

Location: North America

Dangerous aspect: Surprising underwater currents

Mississippi River contains lots of underwater currents

Credit: Thomas R Machnitzki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mississippi River is the longest river in North America and one of the longest in the world. It stretches through several states, scubas Wisconsin and Iowa. The river is home to pike fish, bull sharks, and a variety of other dangerous creatures. The river is also, despite its placid image, incredibly dangerous for swimming. There are numerous undercurrents, many of which are unpredictable, that can easily pull a swimmer down into its depths.

Locals also warn about debris in the water that is hard to navigate and almost impossible to avoid if one is being pulled by the current. These include steamboats, cars, miscellaneous trash, and, unfortunately, the remains of men, women, and children who have fallen in and drowned. 

Mekong River 

Location: Asia

Dangerous aspect: Fast rapids

Mekong River contains many fast rapids

Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mekong River, the world’s twelfth longest river, is located in Asia. Historically the river is known as incredibly biodiverse and home to some very rare species of turtles and dolphins. The dangerous river also features perilous areas of rapids and is known for its fluctuations in water level. This has only grown worse over recent years with the hastening climate crisis. Water levels have recently dropped to unprecedented levels, leaving many communities without means of transportation and food.

Yangtze River

Location: Asia

Dangerous aspect: High risk of large floods

Yangtze River is likely to flood

Credit: Troy Parfitt, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Yangtze River is around 4,000 miles long, the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest river in the world. It flows into the East China Sea and acts as a natural dividing line between North and South China. Many of China’s most important cities are located on its banks, including Shanghai and Chongqing. The river is also incredibly polluted. It’s suffered from industrial and agricultural runoff, and pollution as china becomes increasingly industrialized. 

An additional threat is a massive run-off into the Yangtze that threatens the Three Gorges Dam. It’s possible that the river will become overstressed and overflow its capacity. The dangerous river has long had a tendency to flood that threatens the cities on its banks and all those who visit its shores. China has had severe deadly floods in the last 100 years, one of which, in 1931, killed around two million people. Floods are also a threat to the country’s economy. In 1998, a Yangtze flood caused more than $20 billion in damage. 

Orinoco River

Location: South America

Dangerous aspect: Hard to navigate and fast-flowing

Fast-flowing Orinoco River

Credit: Pedro Gutiérrez., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Orinoco River is located in South America and is the continent’s third longest waterway. It winds a complicated path through the landscape, making it deceptively hard to navigate and easy to lose one’s way on. The water runs quite quickly as well, making the reefs along its shore all the more dangerous. 

Zambezi River

Location: Africa

Dangerous aspect: Fast flow and dangerous rapids

Zambezi River contains many dangerous rapids

Credit: cardamom, CC BY 2.0

The Zambezi River is the fourth-longest river in Africa. It includes Victoria Falls, Chavuma Falls, and Ngonye Falls. These waterfalls are only one reason why some consider this river to be so dangerous. The rushing waters hide huge stones and trenches in the riverbed. Despite this, 50,000 people travel along the river each year. This dangerous river has huge rapids that attract adventure fans from all over the world.

Potomac River

Location: United States

Dangerous aspect: Rushing water and under currents

The fast flowing Potomac River

Credit: Bohemian Baltimore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the Potomac River’s pleasant-looking surface, the waters of this American river are far from safe. The waters rush quickly between its boundaries, creating deadly undercurrents that could quickly sweep a swimmer down into its depths. Accidental falls are one of the most common causes of death and injury around the river. These falls can quickly turn fatal, first responders describe. But, the river provides some of the best whitewater in the world for those seeking a thrill.

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