Oldest Rivers in the World

7 Oldest Rivers in the World

Determining the exact age of a river is difficult and so many different factors have to be taken into consideration. Scientists often have to test sediments and the surrounding rocks to find the approximate age of a river, but they never know for sure how old a river really is. Due to this, there is often a lot of debate over which river in the world is the oldest. Depending on who you ask, the answer to that question will be very different.

For this list, we’ve found the oldest rivers in the world whose ages have been researched. At the time of this writing, the ages of the rivers on this list are accurate – however, newer research can change a river’s age. Overall, the oldest rivers in the world are over 300 million years old and formed during a time of high geological activity.

7. Nile River

Age: c.30 million years old
Location:  runs through Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Eritrea
Length:  6,853 km (4,258 mi)
Outflow:  Mediterranean Sea

photo source:  Wikimedia Commons via Rod Waddington

The Nile River is known for being the longest river in the world at 6,853 km (4,258 mi) in length. Additionally, the Nile River is associated with some of the world’s first civilizations and is sometimes considered the oldest river in the world because of this. However, the Nile River is significantly younger than the other rivers on this list. The Nile River is estimated to be at least 30 million years old and first started to form when the Mediterranean Sea started to evaporate.

Although the Nile River flows through 11 countries, it is mostly associated with Egypt and the Ancient Egyptian Civilization, which formed around 3000 BCE. Without the Nile River, the Ancient Egyptians would have never become one of the greatest civilizations in history.


6. Colorado River

Age: 6 – 70 million years old
Location:  runs through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California USA; Baja California and Sonora, Mexico
Length:  1,450 mi (2,334 km)
Outflow:  Gulf of California

Colorado River Usaphoto source:  Maxpixel

The Colorado River is one of the most famous rivers in the world and one of the most important in the Southwestern United States. You can’t talk about the Colorado River without also mentioning the Grand Canyon, which was formed by the Colorado River.

The age of both the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon is closely linked. There has been a long debate in the scientific community over just how old the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon really are. Scientists do know that the modern Colorado River formed about 6 million years ago, but the river’s ancestor first formed as early as 70 million years ago. While scientists disagree about the exact age of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, they do all believe that both formed within the last 80 million years after the sea left the area.


5. Susquehanna River

Age: over 300 million years old
Location:  runs through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York
Length:  464 mi (747 km)
Outflow:  Chesapeake Bay

Susquehanna Riverphoto source:  Flickr via Nicholas A. Tonelli

The Susquehanna River is another old river in the United States associated with the Appalachian Mountains. There is geological evidence that the Susquehanna River predates the formation of the Appalachian Mountains over 300 million years ago. Due to this, there are claims that the Susquehanna is either the oldest or second oldest river in the world.

In 2016, the Susquehanna River was listed as number three on American Rivers’ list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. According to American Rivers, the Susquehanna River was added to the list because of the negative impact of Conowingo Dam. The Dam has altered river flow, blocked fish, and affected the water quality of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, which the river flows into.


4. French Broad River

Age: over 300 million years old
Location:  runs through North Carolina and Tennessee, USA
Length:  218 mi (351 km)
Outflow:  Tennessee River

French Broad Riverphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The French Broad River is closely associated with another old river on this list, the New River, because both rivers flow through the Appalachian Mountains, which are estimated to be over 300 million years old. Like the New River, the French Broad River is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, and is often said to be the third oldest river, after the Nile and the New River.

The myth that the French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world persists, despite evidence from scientists who say that they don’t know for sure if its the third oldest. Scientists do acknowledge that there is “a real possibility that the French Broad and New River, but not the Nile, are hundreds of millions of years old.” While the French Broad River might not be as old as people think, it is true that the river flows from south to north instead of the north to south.


3. Meuse

Age: 320 – 340 million years old
Location:  runs through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands
Length:  950 km (590 mi)
Outflow:  North Sea

Meusephoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The Meuse river flows through parts of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands before reaching the North Sea. The Meuse dissects the Ardennes, which dates back to the Paleozoic era, making the Meuse over 300 million years old.

The wetlands around the Meuse are considered biodiversity hotspots, with many rare and sensitive species. Some of the rarest birds in the world live near the Meuse, including the Eurasian curlew, corn crakes, and whinchats, which are nearly extinct. Due to this diversity and being home to threatened species, the Meuse is a Natura 2000 zone, which makes it a protected area.


2. New River

Age: 3 – 360 million years old
Location:  runs through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, USA
Length:  320 mi (515 km)
Outflow:  Kanawha River

New Riverphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

Although the New River is acknowledged as one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimates for its age range widely from as low as 3 million years to over 360 million years on the upper end. The New River is often cited as being the second oldest river in the world, behind the Nile or the Finke River depending on who you ask.

While its exact age is unknown, the New River is responsible for carving out the New River Gorge, which has rocks that are over 300 million years old. The part of New River that is in West Virginia is designated as the New River Gorge National River. The New River is also one of the United States’ American Heritage Rivers.


1. Finke River

Age: over 300 – 340 million years old
Location:  Northern Territory and northern South Australia, Australia
Length:  750 km (466 mi)
Outflow:  Lake Eyre (occasionally)

Finke Riverphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The Finke River, which is also called Larapinta by the Aboriginal People, in central Australia is believed to be the oldest river in the world. While the Finke River’s exact age is unknown, it is at least over 300 million years old and some of the oldest parts of the river may be over 340 million years old. According to the Northern Territory Government, the Finke River has been on its present course for about 100 million years.

The Finke River runs through central Australia’s Finke Gorge National Park and is about 750 km (466 mi) long. Aboriginal legend says that the Finke River was formed when the Rainbow Serpent shot out from Lake Erye.

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