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Humboldt River
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Humboldt River

The Humboldt River is a river in northern Nevada in the United States, approximately 300 mi (483 km). The longest river in the arid Great Basin of North America, it has no outlet to the ocean but empties into the Humboldt Sink. Through its tributaries, the river drains most of sparsely populated northern Nevada, traversing the state roughly east to west, passing through repeated gaps in the north-to-south running mountain ranges. It furnishes the only natural artery across the Great Basin and has provided the historical route for westward migration, railroads, and modern highways. The river is named for the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.


It is formed in northeastern Nevada on the western side of the East Humboldt Range, approximately 15 mi (24 km) southwest of Wells, by the confluence of Mary's Creek and Bishop Creek. It flows WSW through Elko County past Elko. In northern Eureka County it passes along the south end of the Tuscarora Mountains then along the north end of the Shoshone Range. At Battle Mountain it turns NW for approximately 50 mi (80 km) then southwest, flowing past Winnemuca and through Pershing County, along the western side of the Humboldt Range and the West Humboldt Range. It empties into an intermittent lake in the Humboldt Sink on the border between Pershing and Churchill counties, approximately 20 mi (32 km) southwest of Lovelock.

It receives the North Fork Humboldt River in Elko County, approximately 15 mi (24 km) upstream from Elko. It receives the Little Humboldt River approximately 5 mi (8 km) upstream from Winnemucca. It is impounded in central Pershing County by the Rye Patch Dam, forming the Rye Patch Reservoir.

The river is highly variable in flow, generally decreasing in volume downstream to the west.


The region of the river in northern Nevada was sparsely inhabited by the Paiute and Shoshone at the time of the arrival of European settlers. It was one of the last explored areas of North America, receiving little attention until the arrival of American fur trappers in the middle 19th century.

The first recorded sighting of the river was on November 9, 1828, by Peter Skene Ogden during his fifth expedition to the Snake Country. Odgen came southward along the Little Humboldt, encountering the main river at the confluence near Winnemucca. Ogden explored the river for several hundred miles, blazing a trail along it and making the first known map of the region. He initially named the river "Unknown River", then later "Paul's River", after one of his trappers who died on the expedition. He later changed it again to "Swampy River", then finally "Mary's River," named after the Native American wife of one of his trappers.

In 1833 the Bonneville-Walker fur party explored the river, naming it "Barren River". By the early 1840s the trail along the river was being used by settlers going west to California.

In 1848 it was explored by John C. Frémont, who made a thorough map of the region and gave the river its current name. The following year in 1849, the river became the route of the California Trail, the primary land route for migrants to the California gold fields. In 1869, the river was used as part of the route of the Central Pacific segment of the transcontinental railroad.

In the 20th century, the valley of the river became the route for U.S. Highway 40, later replaced by Interstate 80. Most of the population of northern Nevada lives along the valley of the river today.

See also