The Shortest River in the United States

Caitlin Dempsey


The smallest recorded river in the United States is the Roe River in Montana. The Roe River flows only 201 feet (61 meters) in Cascade County before meeting the Missouri River.

Roe River was unnamed until 1988 when a group of fifth graders in Great Falls, Montana led a drive to get the name accepted by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The same fifth graders also successfully petitioned Guinness starting in 1987 to get the river named as the world’s shortest, knocking a four-hundred long river in Lincoln City, Oregon, the D River, out of the top spot.

Roe River was given its name by the fifth-graders after “roe” for fish eggs due to the small river being near the State Fish Hatchery.

Great Springs and the Roe River in Montana.
Great Springs and the Roe River in Montana. Photo: © Tony/

Is the Roe River Actually the Shortest River in the World?

While the Roe River is the smallest recorded river in the United States, there are other much smaller rivers elsewhere in the world. For example. the Tamborasi River located in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia is only 65.6 feet (20 meters) long and is considered the smallest river in Southeast Asia.

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In Finland, the Kuokanjoki is only about 11 feet (3.5 meters) long and connects Lake Sumiainen and Lake Keitele.

The Reprua River in the country of Georgia is only 27 m (89 ft) long.

The Ombla River in Croatia is only 98 feet (30 meters) long.

The Los Patos located in the Dominican Republic also measures 201 feet (61 meters), depending on the tide.

Headwaters of the Roe River

The headwaters of the Roe River is Giant Springs. Giant Springs is considered one of the largest springs in the United States and is a first magnitude freshwater spring.

1895 photo of Giant Springs in Montana.
Photograph showing view of the Giant Springs in Great Falls, Montana, with pumping stations or mills in the background. Photo: The Albertype Co., 1895. Via Library of Congress.

William Clark came upon Great Springs on June 18, 1805 and wrote in the journal documenting the Lewis and Clark Expedition, “… we proceeded on up the river a little more than a mile to the largest fountain or Spring I ever Saw, and doubt if it is not the largest in America Known, this water boils up from under th rocks near the edge of the river and falls imediately into the river 8 feet and keeps its Colour for ½ a mile which is emencely Clear and of a bluish Cast…”

Giant Springs is located in a park northeast of the city of Great Falls, in Cascade County, Montana.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.