The Susquehanna River

The following information was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), as part of their Watershed Education Campaign.

Susquehanna River Basin Facts

Drainage Area:

Length of River: Headwaters to Mouth: Major Tributaries in Pennsylvania: Population along River: Major Cities in Pennsylvania: Who Is Responsible for the Overall Management of the Water Basin? Economic Importance and Uses: Industrial Uses: Consumptive Uses: Agricultural Uses: Historical Uses: Recreational Uses: Pennsylvania State Parks in the Susquehanna River Basin: Geological Informsation: Unique Features: More Detailed Information About the Susquehanna River and its Basin

Susquehanna River Basin Character Statement:

The Susquehanna River begins it journey at Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, New York. The River meanders southward through Pennsylvania until it joins the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland and then on to the Atlantic Ocean. Flowing a distance of 444 miles, it is a river as rich in history as it is in natural resources and beauty.

The Susquehanna is one of the largest rivers on the eastern coast of the United States. Considered Pennsylvania's river, the Susquehanna drains 46% of the state. More than three-quarters of the entire river basin (20,960 square miles) is located in Pennsylvania. The remainder of the basin is located in the states of New York (6,275 square miles) and Maryland (275 square miles).

The basin is home to approximately 3.8 million people who use its water resources for drinking as well as agricultural and industrial purposes. A total of 19 million gallons a minute of freshwater flows from the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake Bay, supplying the Bay with half of its freshwater.


Flowing across three physiographic provinces, the river begins in the Appalachian Plateau Province, which is characterized by rugged hills of gently tilted sandstones and shales. It then curves its way through the Valley and Ridge Province past forests and farmlands, small historic towns, major industries, and transportation routes. The Valley and Ridge Province is where resistant sandstone and crystalline rocks produce long narrow ridges separated by long valleys underlain by shales and limestones. The river flows through the Piedmont Province, which is dominated by rolling lowlands and broad highlands and ridges before it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.


The origin of the Susquehanna's name and its precise meaning is uncertain. The suffix, hanna, is Algonquin for "stream or river". During his 1608 exploration of the river, Captain John Smith was accompanied by interpreters who spoke Algonquin, which probably accounts for the suffix usage in the river's name. Smith refered to the natives who he met on the river as Sasquesahannocks and Sasquesahanougs. The tribe eventually came to be known as Susquehannocks.

An eighteenth-century authority on Indians and place names claimed that the Susquehanna was a corruption of the word Queischachgekhanne, which means "the long reach river", a name used to refer to the river's west branch. Still others speculate that the name means "long crooked river". To the contrary, others favor "the place of the straight river", based on a translation of the Delaware word saskwihanang.

Riparian forest buffers along the Susquehanna River