Triple Divide Points and North American Drainage Basins
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Drainage Basins Explained

What is a continental divide? To address this question, we must back up and first define the terms "drainage basin" and "drainage divide." A drainage basin is the area drained by a river or lake. All the surface runoff within a drainage basin will drain eventually into a specific river or lake.

Drainage Basin

Triple Points
A triple point, or triple divide, is the place where two continental divides intersect and water drains into three different watersheds. Five widely-recognized triple divides exist in the United States, including: Triple Divide Peak, Montana, The Hill of Three Waters, Minnesota, Three Waters Mountain, Wyoming, an unnamed hilltop near Gold, Pennsylvania, and the unofficially named Headwaters Hill, Colorado.

Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana, marks the intersection of the Great Divide and Northern Divide. Water is diverted from Triple Divide Peak into the Pacific-bound Columbia basin, the Gulf of Mexico-bound Missouri basin, and the Hudson Bay-bound Saskatchewan and Nelson drainages.

Another triple point exists in northern Minnesota near Hibbing. Here the Northern Divide intersects the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide. From this point, water flows in three directions, north to Hudson Bay, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Chippewa Indians referred to the location as "The Hill of Three Waters" or "The Top of the World" and frequently held their council meetings there for tribes living within about a 100-mile radius. The site is not publicly accessible due to mining operations. Its official platting is Section 26, Township 58, Range 21. (Hibbing Chamber of Commerce, 2001).

Another triple point exists atop an unnamed peak near Gold, Pennsylvania, where waters separate into the Mississippi, Great Lakes, and Susquehanna drainages. Hopefully, someone will champion a fitting name for so distinguished a peak.

Hydrologic Cycle

The Hydrologic Cycle

Citation: Adapted from Gonzalez, Mark A., Summer 2003, Continental Divides in North Dakota and North America: North Dakota Geological Survey Newsletter, v. 30, no.