Rivers hold economic, agricultural, and scientific benefits for the communities through which they run. Breathtaking river destinations bring in tourist dollars, drawing millions of travelers each year who want to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of these waterways. Rivers also provide an array of exciting adventures for getaway thrillists, from whitewater rafting to ziplining. But not all rivers fall under the category of safe getaways. The most dangerous rivers in the world pose potentially deadly threats, from man-made environmental hazards to natural ones that visitors may not be aware of.
In Yorkshire, England, the deceptively peaceful-looking River Wharfe has a reputation for swallowing up those unfortunate enough to fall into its waters. The most dangerous segment of the river is the picturesque but deadly Bolton Strid, a six-foot-wide mountain stream that flows between Barden Tower and Bolton Abbey. It may look narrow and harmless, but its flow changes orientation, creating powerful undercurrents that pull victims into its hidden deep caves and tunnels.
At 164 miles, the Kern River may not be the longest in the world, but some parts of it are fiercely dangerous. Between 1968 and 2021, a total of 315 people lost their lives on this beautiful, treacherous waterway. The high flow rate of the river, the slippery, smooth rocks along its banks, and its underwater rocks, branches, and debris create numerous hazards. People usually underestimate how powerful the river is and overestimate their swimming abilities, which leads to numerous injuries and deaths each year.
This 4000-mile long river starts in the Andes mountains and flows to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the lifeline for an endless array of wildlife, some of which are lethal. Piranhas, black caiman alligators, snakes, eels, botflies, poisonous spiders, parasitic fish, and leeches are just some of the hazards. Pathogens and bacteria in the water can also lead to illness and even death. Mosquitoes living in areas around the river transmit malaria and yellow fever and the Amazon’s waters contain dangerous levels of mercury pollution that affect millions of people each year.
Flowing from the south to the north through six Russian cities and across central Siberia, the Yenisei River floods with a rage that spares little in its path. The floods are the worst in East Siberia. But this river is also full of industrial contaminants and toxins, including radioactive compounds discharged from a bomb-grade plutonium factory near Bolshoi. Researchers have documented increased rates of breast cancer, leukemia, and genetic issues in communities downstream from the plant.
It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but its flooding, robust currents, massive waterfalls, and turbulent rapids make the Orinoco River one of the most dangerous on the planet. Running west-north-northeast across Venezuela and Colombia, the Orinoco, like many other rivers around the globe, is in danger due to mines and industries discharging pollutants into its waters. Piranhas, electric eels, giant anacondas, giant river otters, and the Orinoco crocodile all make their home in or near the river.
Experts warn travelers about the forceful rapids and currents in the Zambezi River, home to the largest waterfall in the world: Victoria Falls. It’s the fourth-longest river in Africa, starting in Zambia and flowing through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eastern Angola, and Mozambique, before arriving at the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi has the largest concentration of grade 5 rapids in the world, compounded by massive, sharp stones that can cause major injuries. Bull sharks reside in the river, as do massive hippos and hungry crocodiles.
When visitors look out over the Potomac River just outside of Washington, D.C., they see a calm and tranquil surface. Underneath, there is a high-volume flow creating a super-strength undercurrent, with sharp rocks and a multitude of underwater obstacles. It’s so murky that it’s nearly impossible to see even close-up objects. The most dangerous part of the river, the Potomac Gorge, contains uprooted trees and boulders that can trap those who fall in.
The Red River gets its name from its color. The ochre-red waters flow through New Mexico and southeast through Texas, forming a border with Oklahoma and continuing on into Louisiana, where they enter the Atchafalaya. Locals who live along the river are well aware of the dangerous undercurrents. These below-surface, erratic currents mesh together to create powerful whirlpools that can entrap unwary individuals who try to swim or wade across.
The world’s deepest river carries about 1.25 million cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second. The upper sections of the river are peaceful and slow-moving up to the first 2500 miles. From that point, the powerful currents take charge. The Congo drops into chaos, and a spine-chilling, dangerous series of 12-foot turbulent descents occur every mile until the river empties into the ocean.
Natural beauty makes Australia one of the top travel destinations in the world, but this river that flows through Queensland isn’t your typical people-friendly locale. The Brisbane River is one of the country’s deadliest spots due to the number of drownings that have occurred here. Bull sharks are also a major concern. One study counted between 1000 and 3000 of the species in the river, and there have been attacks through the years against both humans and pets who wander into the water.
Reaching temperatures of more than 200 degrees, the Shanay-Timpishka or La Bomba is the only one of its kind in the world. It’s an Amazon River tributary, hidden deep in the jungles of Peru. If a human touches the water, they will receive third-degree burns. Small animals who fall into the river meet a tragic fate.
A toxic mix of mining by-products, heavy metals, and acid drain-off give this river its strange, other-worldly appearance. Rio Tinto runs 62 miles across Andalusia, Spain, and is unsafe for humans to touch. Bacteria that live in the river feed off sulfide and iron in the rocks. Environmental groups list Rio Tinto as one of the country’s worst environmental casualties.
Originating in the Pavagadh Hills, this river flows east to west between two other rivers, the Narmada and the Mahi in Gujarat, India. Hundreds of crocodiles live and hunt in the river, and because it goes through the city of Vadodara, humans are easy prey, as are their pets and cattle. Flooding is an issue, but sewage waste also combines with industrial waste from major factories in the area to create a dangerous environmental situation. In recent years, however, there have been steps taken to clean up the river.
Although rare species of dolphins and turtles live here, it’s not safe for humans. The Mekong River flows through Laos, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand and is famous for its dangerous rapids and wild, water-level fluctuations. Navigation is not possible. Heavy rains in the region bring about massive river flooding that has led to numerous deaths and millions of dollars in damage and destruction of homes, bridges, and crops.
Flowing more than 3,000 miles through Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, the Parana is a powerful and deadly river and home to the world’s second-largest waterfall, Iguazu Falls. Only experienced boat operators navigate these super-currents. Floods occurring in 1905, 1983, 1992, and 1998 are among the worst in the river’s history, but it also faces threats from construction, industrial sites, and land alterations. These issues have caused major pollution run-off, soil erosion, and a decrease in water quality, as well as a change in water-flow patterns that leads to overflow and destruction.