Distributed hydrological models rely on hydrography data such as flow direction, river length, slope and width. For large-scale applications, many of these models still rely on a few flow direction datasets, which are often manually derived. We propose the Iterative Hydrography Upscaling (IHU) method to upscale high-resolution flow direction data to the typically coarser resolutions of distributed hydrological models. The IHU aims to preserve the upstream-downstream relationship of river structure, including basin boundaries, river meanders and confluences, in the D8 format, which is commonly used to describe river networks in models. Additionally, it derives representative sub-grid river length and slope parameters, which are required for resolution-independent model results. We derived the multi-resolution MERIT Hydro IHU dataset at resolutions of 30 arcsec (∼1 km), 5 arcmin (∼10 km) and 15 arcmin (∼30 km) by applying IHU to the recently published 3 arcsec MERIT Hydro data. Results indicate improved accuracy of IHU at all resolutions studied compared to other often-applied upscaling methods. Furthermore, we show that MERIT Hydro IHU minimizes the errors made in the timing and magnitude of simulated peak discharge throughout the Rhine basin compared to simulations at the native data resolutions. As the method is open source and fully automated, it can be applied to other high-resolution hydrography datasets to increase the accuracy and enhance the uptake of new datasets in distributed hydrological models in the future.