Locations of Major Features in North America

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  • 0:01 North America
  • 0:57 Rivers
  • 1:49 Mountains
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explores the major physical features of North America. It highlights places like Denali, Death Valley, the Great Lakes, and the Sierra Madres of Mexico.

North America

I recently watched a TV show where a guy stood in the middle of Times Square and asked people to locate the Mississippi River on a map. Horror could be used to describe what I saw! Over half the people had no clue. The geography teacher in me grimaced!

Happily, we have today's lesson to keep us from being one of the clueless! Join me as we take a look at North America and its major features. For starters, here's a map of the world. Now, let's zoom into North America. Located in the Western Hemisphere, it's the third largest continent. Only Asia and Africa have more land area.

North America

North America is made up of Canada, the United States, Mexico, the countries of Central America, and many bordering islands. When speaking of land area, Canada comes in first, followed by the U.S., then Mexico.


For the geographically challenged of Times Square, let's start with rivers. Located in the U.S., the Mississippi River and all its tributaries make up the third largest river system in the world. A tributary is a body of water that flows into a larger body of water.

Although the Mississippi is a massive water system, the Missouri River is actually the longest river in North America. The Rio Grande is also pretty famous. It forms a natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. Moving way north, we find the St. Lawrence. This waterway provides ship passage between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes. Speaking of the Great Lakes, they are a group of interconnected freshwater lakes located on the U.S.-Canada border. West to east, they are Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.


North America also has some rather varied elevation. In geography, elevation is usually defined as height above sea level. Starting in the North, the Alaskan Range provides us with some pretty soaring elevations. It extends from Alaska to the Yukon Territory of Canada, and it's home to the highest peak in North America, Denali.

Moving a bit south, we hit the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies are about 3,000 miles in length. As a massive span, they extend from Northern Canada to New Mexico. Moving east, the Appalachian Mountains span from the Southeastern U.S. all the way into the Canadian province of Quebec.

Moving south into Mexico, we have the Sierra Madres. The Sierra Madres run along Mexico's Pacific Coast into Central America. Interestingly, rainforests and volcanoes make up much of the Sierra Madres.

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