The Jordan River has an upper course from its sources to the Sea of Galilee, and a lower course south of the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. In traditional terminology, the upper course (or most of it) is commonly referred to as passing through the "Hula Valley", as opposed to "Upper Jordan Valley"; the Sea of Galilee through which the river passes is a separate entity; and the term Jordan Valley is reserved for the lower course, fed by the Yarmouk and Zarqa Rivers.
Over its upper course, fed by the Hasbani River in Banias and Dan, the river drops rapidly in a 75-kilometre (47 mi) run to the once large and swampy Lake Hula, which is slightly above sea level. Exiting the now much-diminished lake, it goes through an even steeper drop over the 25 kilometres (16 mi) down to the Sea of Galilee, which it enters at its northern end. The Jordan deposits much of the silt it is carrying within the lake, which it leaves again near its southern tip. At that point, the river is situated about 210 metres below sea level. The last 120-kilometre (75 mi)-long section follows what is commonly termed the "Jordan Valley", which has less gradient (the total drop is another 210 metres) so that the river meanders before entering the Dead Sea, a terminal lake about 422 metres below sea level with no outlet. Two major tributaries enter from the east during this last section: the Yarmouk River and Zarqa River.
Its section north of the Sea of Galilee is within the boundaries of Israel and forms the western boundary of the Golan Heights. South of the lake, it forms the border between the Kingdom of Jordan (to the east), and Israel (to the west).
The streams coming together to create the River Jordan in its upper basin are, west to east:
- Iyyon (Hebrew: עיון Iyyon, Arabic: دردره Dardara or براغيث Braghith – on old PEF maps (1871–77) as Wadi el-Kharrar in the Merj 'Ayun area and Nahr Bareighit in its lower part), a stream which flows from Lebanon.
- Hasbani (Arabic: الحاصباني Hasbani, Hebrew: either שניר Snir or Hatzbani), a stream which flows from the north-western foot of Mount Hermon in Lebanon.
- Dan (Arabic: اللدان Leddan, Hebrew: דן Dan), a stream whose source is also at the base of Mount Hermon.
- Banias (Arabic: بانياس Banias, Hebrew: either Banias or חרמון Hermon), a stream arising from a spring at Banias at the foot of Mount Hermon.
South of the Sea of Galilee the Jordan River receives the waters of further tributaries, the main ones being
Smaller tributaries in this segment are