The magnitude and timing of water delivery in two large northern basins are analysed to clarify where runoff is generated and how their rivers acquire comparable regimes (or seasonal rhythms) of flow. These two rivers, the Mackenzie in Canada and the Yenisei in Russia, traverse similar latitudes, physiographic provinces, vegetation zones and climatic regions. Within the basins, mountainous terrain and high-precipitation sections usually yield large runoff, but low runoff comes from the plains, low plateaus and areas of aridity. Winter runoff is commonly low and snowmelt is responsible for annual peak runoff in most parts of these basins, though rainfall is a prominent runoff source in southern Yenisei. Many rivers in the drainage networks display a seasonal pattern that suggests the dominance of snowmelt to produce a spring freshet followed by a general decline in summer that diminishes to winter low flows. Regulation of reservoir outflow greatly distorts the natural flow regime. Yet, along the main river downstream of the reservoirs, the influx of tributary discharge can dilute such human influence. To truly understand how water is produced and transferred in large northern rivers, the spatial and temporal complexity of flow-generation mechanisms and storage effects need to be unravelled.