American River Trails
The Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh. From there, it flows northwest before making an abrupt turn to the southwest at the Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania border. The Ohio then follows a roughly west-northwest course until Cincinnati, before bending southwest for the remainder of its journey through the US Midwest and joining the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The 981 mile – 1,579 km – river flows through or along the border of six states; its basin includes parts of 15 states. The Ohio’s largest tributary is the Tennessee River.
Ohio means the Good River in Iroquoian
History the Ohio was important to Native Americans as several civilizations formed along its valley and used it as a transport and trading route. In the five centuries before European conquest, the Ohio Valley was characterized by numerous regional chiefdoms and earthwork mounds. In 1669, French explorers became the first Europeans to see it; later, it became a primary transportation route for pioneers during the westward expansion.
During the 19th century, the Ohio was the southern boundary of the Northwest Territory and the western end of the Mason-Dixon Line forming the border between free and slave states; it was the way to freedom for thousands of slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad resistance movement.
Economy trading boats and ships traveled south on the Mississippi to reach the Gulf coast and ports in the Americas and Europe providing an export route for goods. The need for access to the port of New Orleans by settlers in the Ohio Valley led to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Connections with Eastern states increased with the start of railroad service connecting the Potomac River and the Ohio Valley.
The Widest Point on the Ohio River is One Mile just west of downtown Louisville
Louisville is your anchor location for travel in the Midwest. Centrally located along the Ohio River, it is one America’s most accessible cities, within a day’s drive of more than half the nation’s population. Louisville was founded at the only major natural navigational barrier on the river. The Falls were a series of rapids where the river dropped 26 feet – 7.9 m. The Louisville and Portland Canal locks were built to circumnavigate the falls between 1825 and 1830.
Ohio River Itineraries