The Rhine drains much of northern Switzerland and flows to the North Sea. Its largest tributary is the Aare, which drains most of the Swiss Plateau and the southern slopes of the Jura.
The Rhone, the other great European river originating in Switzerland, flows west and south to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Ticino river system in southern Switzerland flows to the Po and into the Adriatic Sea. The Inn drains eastern Switzerland and flows into the Danube, which empties into the Black Sea.
Switzerland’s mountain systems contain innumerable picturesque valleys, most of which are traversed by streams and rivers. Waterfalls frequently issue from the slopes above. Some waterfalls are exceptionally high.
The spectacular Staubbach Falls in the canton of Bern is one of the world’s highest, with a drop of some 300 m (about 980 ft). Glaciers feed many Swiss rivers. Among the best known is the Rhone Glacier, a vast glittering cascade of ice at the headwaters of the Rhone River. The Bernese Alps have the highest concentration of glaciers in the Alps.
Most rivers in Switzerland are not suited for navigation. Their fall is too great and their currents too swift. Even the Rhine is broken by dramatic falls near the northern city of Schaffhausen. It is not suited for commercial navigation in Switzerland until Basel, just inside the border with Germany.
Switzerland is famous for its many scenic lakes, especially those of the Alpine region. Lakes have long been important for transportation in Switzerland, and many towns are situated along lakeshores.
Several lakes are shared with other countries, including Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s largest lake, on the western frontier with France, and Bodensee (Lake of Constance), on the northeastern frontier with Germany and Austria.
On the southern frontier with Italy are Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore, which lies at 190 m (640 ft) above sea level, the country’s lowest point. Lakes entirely within Switzerland include Lake of Neuchatel, Lake of Lucerne (Vierwaldstatter See), Lake of Zurich (Zurichsee), Brienzersee, and Thunersee.