Let’s explore the Rhône’s main tributaries together, with their unique characteristics and their ecological, historical and geographical importance. From the Swiss border to the Mediterranean, travel from the Ain to the Durance to discover the rivers that run alongside the river.

The Rhône's tributaries

The Rhône and its rivers

The Rhône is considered one of France’s vital river arteries, playing a major role in the country’s economy, geography and ecology. Over the centuries, the Rhône has always been at the heart of cultural and commercial exchanges between different regions of France and Europe.

The Rhône River, one of Western Europe’s main waterways, drains much of the natural waters of Switzerland and France before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. Along its course, the Rhône receives numerous tributaries that contribute to its flow and power.

The Rhône’s tributaries

Here is a list of the Rhône’s main tributaries, with their average flow rates:

  • Arve, 73.90 m3/s at Arthaz-Pont-Notre-Dame
  • Ain, 123 m3/s at the confluence with the Rhône
  • Saône, 473 m3/s (Couzon-au-Mont-d’Or)
  • Isère, 333 m3/s at Beaumont-Monteux
  • Drôme, 20 m3/s at the confluence with the Rhône
  • Ardèche, 65 m3/s at its confluence with the Rhône
  • Durance, 180 m3/s at Mirabeau
  • Gardon, 32.7 m3/s at Sanilhac-Sagriès

And to complete the picture of the Rhône’s tributaries, here’s a map.

  • Map of the tributaries of the Rhône river
Tributaries of the Rhône
Tributaries of the Rhône / Wikimedia

Here is an overview of the Rhône’s main tributaries, classified according to their geographical location.

Swiss tributaries of the Rhône

We will shortly be returning to the Rhône’s tributaries in Switzerland and upstream of Lake Geneva.

The Arve river

Downstream of Lake Geneva, the Arve is one of the Rhône’s main tributaries in Switzerland. It rises in the Swiss Alps and flows into the Rhône at Geneva, making a significant contribution to its flow.

Situated between Switzerland and France, the Arve rises in the Swiss Alps, more specifically in the Mont Blanc massif on the slopes of the tête de Balme and theAiguillette. It then flows towards the city of Geneva, through the Valais and Haute-Savoie, to join the Rhône at the confluence of the Jonction.

  • Map of the Arve route
The Arve River, a Rhône tributary
The Arve River / Wikimedia

Tributaries of the Rhône in France

After the Swiss border, blue and grey under the influences of the Arve, the Rhône continues on its way to the next river.

The Ain river

The Ain is a 190-kilometre tributary of the Rhône, rising at Conte in the Jura département. Most of its water comes from the Jura mountains.

The Ain plays an essential role in the local ecosystem, providing a habitat for a wide variety of animal and plant species. It also contributes to the region’s economic development through its water resources, which are used for agriculture, industry and the production of hydroelectric power.

  • Map of the Ain
The Ain river, a Rhône tributary
The river Ain / Wikimedia

The Saône river

The Saône is the longest of the Rhône’s tributaries, with a total length of 480 kilometres. It rises in the Vosges mountains at the foot of the Monts Faucilles cliffs in the commune of Vioménil and flows through a number of historic French towns, including Chalon-sur-Saône and Mâcon.

It reaches Lyon to the north of the city, before flowing into its confluence to the south, an important geographical point where the Confluence museum stands watch between the two banks.

The Saône is a key part of the French river network, linking the Rhône to the Seine watershed.

  • Map of the Saône route
The Saône river, a Rhône tributary
The Saône river / Wikimedia

The Isère river

The 286-kilometre Isère is another Alpine tributary of the Rhône, remarkable for its unique geographical features. It rises in the Galise glacier at the foot of the summit of the Grande Aiguille Rousse in the Alps. Born of Alpine glaciers, it flows through spectacular gorges and narrow valleys upstream of Grenoble before joining the Rhône north of Valence.

The Isère has a significant impact on local biodiversity and is home to many endemic species.

  • Map of the course of the Isère
The Isère river, a Rhône tributary
The Isère river / Wikimedia

Find out more about the Isère, Wikipedia

The Drôme river

The Drôme is another of the Rhône’s tributaries, flowing for 110 kilometres through diverse cultural and natural landscapes between the Vercors and Provence. It plays a central role in the history and culture of the region, as evidenced by the many castles and hilltop villages that line its course as far south as the conurbation of Valence in the department of the same name.

Environmental issues relating to the Drôme include the preservation of its fragile ecosystem and the sustainable management of its water resources.

  • Map of the Drôme route
The Drôme river, a Rhône tributary
The Drôme river / Wikimedia

Find out more about the Drôme, Wikipedia

The Ardèche river

The Ardèche, on its right bank, is a tributary of the Rhône. It rises in the Massif Central at the Col de la Chavade in the commune of Astet and flows into the Rhône near Pont-Saint-Esprit.

The Ardèche, 125 kilometres long, is a popular river for its tourist potential and exceptional natural wealth. Every year, its spectacular gorges attract hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to enjoy outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking and climbing.

Conserving this unique environment is essential to preserving the Ardèche’s biodiversity and natural heritage, with the Gorges de l’Ardèche nature reserve (French) in particular.

  • Map of the Ardèche route
The Ardèche river, a Rhône tributary
The Ardèche river / Wikimedia

Find out more about the Ardèche, Wikipedia

The Durance river

The Durance, 324 kilometres long, is one of the Rhône’s tributaries of strategic importance in terms of water management and sustainable development.

It rises in the French Alps at Pré de Gondran, at the foot of the summit of Les Anges in the commune of Montgenèvre, and flows through several départements in south-eastern France before emptying into the Rhône at Avignon.

It supplies a large proportion of the water resources of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in particular for agricultural irrigation, hydroelectric power stations and drinking water. The Marseilles canal is a prime example of this, with its 160 kilometres of diversion to the city of Marseilles.

Preserving the quality of its water and preventing flooding are major challenges for local stakeholders.

  • Map of the Durance
The Durance river, a Rhône tributary
The Durance river / Wikimedia

Find out more about the Durance, Wikipedia

The Gardon river

The Gardon is the last major tributary of the Rhône before reaching the Mediterranean. It stretches for 133 kilometres and rises at Saint-Martin-de-Lansuscle in the Gard département and the Cévennes massif, before joining the Rhône near Beaucaire.

The river presents specific flooding challenges. Sudden and violent flooding of the Gardon can cause major damage to infrastructure and homes. Appropriate protective measures, such as reinforcing dykes and setting up weather warnings, are essential to limit the risks associated with these natural phenomena, such as the Cevenol* episode.

  • Map of the Gardon river
The Gardon river, a Rhône tributary
The Gardon river / Wikimedia

The Rhône’s tributaries play a fundamental role in life around the river, each with their own ecological, historical and geographical characteristics. They shape the landscape, support ecosystems and contribute to the economic development of the areas they cross.

Awareness of their importance and action to preserve them is essential if we are to ensure a sustainable future for these exceptional waterways.

Along the Rhône

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