Continental Divide – Facts, Map, and More

continental divide

Along the great continental divide.

The continental divide passes right through the Rocky Mountains.  Here are some important facts about the continental divide in the US.

I can remember many times sitting in the car driving on a freeway somewhere in the western United States and seeing a road sign saying – continental divide.  Some of those signs are at the tops of impossibly high roads, which make sense.  But, other times I see those signs in areas that do not seem very high.  In my mind I always associated the continental divide with high mountains, but that is not necessarily true.

continental divide

Photo BLM via Flickr.

What Is The Continental Divide?

Every continent in the world has a continental divide.  It is basically the point at which rivers flow to opposite sides of the continent.

The great continental divide in North America separates rivers that flow east towards the Atlantic Ocean and those that flow west towards the Pacific Ocean.  Every river on the east side of the divide flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  Every river on the west side flows into the Pacific Ocean.

This means that the divide is not just one point or several, but is in fact a continuous line from north to south.  The divide changes in elevation and can be the tops of tall mountain passes, but in other areas it can be lower in elevation.  It will however always be such that water flows in opposite directions from it.

continental divide

Here is the great divide in the United States.

Where Does The Continental Divide Go?

In North America the great continental divide begins in Alaska and flows all the way down to Mexico.  In the United States the divide passes through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.  For the most part the divide follows the Rocky Mountains.

continental divide

Photo via Flickr.

Facts About The Continental Divide

The highest point of the continental divide in the USA is in Colorado at over 13,000 feet.

The lowest point of the continental divide in the USA is about 4,000 feet in New Mexico.

Most of the water that falls as rain on the west of the continental divide flows towards the pacific ocean and rain that falls to the east goes towards the Atlantic Ocean.  However, not all rain makes it to the ocean.  Some soaks into the soil or simply evaporates.  Other rivers may go into a large basin that has no outlet and simply has a very large lake that collects water.  The best example of this in the US is the great basin in Nevada and Utah.