Triple Divides in the United States

Caitlin Dempsey


A triple divide is a point on Earth where water from that location can potentially travel into three different watersheds.

A triple divide, or triple watershed, marks the location of where three drainage basins meet.

Some of these triple divides mark the intersection of continental divides. Other triple divides mark the intersection of multiple watersheds within the boundaries of one continental divide.

Hydrological apex

When a triple divide results in water flowing to three separate oceans, it is known as a hydrological apex.

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North America is the only continent with a hydrological apex. Triple Divide Peak located in the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park in Montana is a hydrological apex.

At an elevation of 8,025 feet (2,446 meters) this triple divide in the Lewis Range has water that can flow from the peak into either the Pacific OceanAtlantic Ocean, or Arctic Ocean (via the Hudson Bay).

A black and white photo showing a park range, a white man in a white shirt, and a young girl wearing light color top and shorts in front of mountains and a prairie.
A roadside exhibit with ranger and visitors describing Triple Divide Peak. The wayside exhibit is along the road bordering St. Marys Lake, Glacier National Park. Photo: NPS, public domain.

In the southeast section of Glacier National Park, creeks and streams feed into the Birch River and Marias River. The water then flows into the Missouri River and the Mississippi River before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean. 

In the northeast section of Glacier National Park, water empties into the St. Mary River that joins the Saskatchewan River Basin. Water from this basin flows, in part, into Lake Winnipeg and then the Nelson River which drains into the Hudson Bay, a tributary of the Arctic Ocean.

Water on the western side of Glacier National Park enters the Flathead River, which then flows through Flathead Lake and on into the Clark Fork. Water then flows into the Columbia River which empties in to the Pacific Ocean.

A shaded relief map showing the three ways water enters three different oceans from Triple Peak Divide in Montana.
Map showing the flow of water from Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park. Map: NPS, public domain.

Continental Divide

Triple Divide Peak is also is the location where the North American Continental Divide and the Northern or Laurentian Divide, two of the main continental divides in North America, converge.

Other triple divides in the United States

There are other triple divides in the United States. Here are some of them.

The Hill of Three Waters, Minnesota

This triple divide in Minnesota makes the boundary between the the Northern Divide and the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide. From this divide, water flows: north to Hudson Bay, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

Triple Continental Divide, Potter County, Pennsylvania

This is the only triple divide east of the Mississippi River in the United States. The triple divide at this location feeds water into the Allegheny River, the Genesee River, and Pine Creek and divides the Eastern Continental Divide and Saint Lawrence River Divide

Triple Peak Divide, Tulare County, California

This triple divide is found at a peak in the Sierra Nevada range at an elevation of 12,640 feet (3,853 meters). The divide is at the intersection of three watersheds: the Kern River, the Kaweah River, and the Kings River.

This triple divide is the highest significant triple divide in the lower 48 states.


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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.