7 Amazing North Carolina Rivers You Should Check Out

7 Amazing North Carolina Rivers You Should Check Out

North Carolina is home to over 40,000 miles of scenic rivers and streams. You could literally float a mile of stream a day for 100 years and still not see all of them. From kayaking to fishing, these rivers offer an abundance of recreational activities, and they tell us stories, too.

Our Rivers Are Rich in North Carolina History

To think of the history that these ancient bodies of waters have witnessed is amazing in itself. North Carolina is home to one of the world’s oldest rivers, the beautiful New River out near Boone. Some people even believe this river is older than the Nile or the Amazon. The New River actually pre-dates the forming of the Appalachian Mountain range, which is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As another NC aquatic staple, the French Broad River (which curves through Asheville) is also thought to be one of the oldest rivers in the world. These rivers have a story to tell if you listen.

North Carolina Haw River
Image courtesy of Gene Gallin on Unsplash.

Endless Outdoor Recreational Opportunities

North Carolina rivers come in all shapes, sizes and depths, and so if you’re looking for an outdoor activity on a river, you can find something for any of your interests. Be sure to check out information such as flow and depth. That information changes daily, but is important know for whatever activity you’re doing. Here are some fun activities you can try that vary in level of difficulty:

Image courtesy of Jennifer Russell.
  • River rafting and tubing
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Stand-up paddleboarding
  • Fishing (from fly-fishing to saltwater fishing)
  • Nature and wildlife tours

Have you heard of these seven rivers in NC?

There are several well-known rivers in NC, but also a few you may not have heard of or visited.

1. French Broad River

Starting as a small stream high in the NC mountains, the French Broad flows over 200 miles to Knoxville and helps form the Tennessee River. It runs across and through the NC mountains, rather than down them. This ancient river is thought to be one of the oldest in the world. It’s also a popular destination for kayaking, whitewater rafting, tubing, and bird watching. Check out French Broad Outfitters near downtown Asheville for all of your adventuring needs. There, you can rent a paddle board, kayak, canoe, tube, camping gear, or book a tour.

2. Nantahala River

Nantahala, derived from the Cherokee language, means “land of the noon-day sun.” This 40-mile river runs near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a popular destination for kayaking and rafting rapids (which reange from Class 2 to Class 4). It’s also a great place for fishing and was once named Top 100 Trout Rivers in North America by Trout Unlimited. The gorge section of the river is hatchery-supported by the State of North Carolina and is stocked from March through October.

3. Pigeon River

The Pigeon River gets its name from the passenger pigeon which used this river as a pattern of migration. Unfortunately, this bird has been extinct since 1914, but this beautiful river remains strong and thriving. It begins in Haywood County, NC, and ends in east Tennessee, eventually merging into the French Broad River. It has two distinct sections: the Upper and Lower. The Upper section has Class 3 and Class 4 rapids with plenty of big waves and drops, while the Lower section is scenic and gentle with only Class 1 and Class 2 rapids. You cannot beat this river for whitewater rafting or fishing.

4. Eno River

This scenic 40-mile river is situated in Orange and Durham counties, and we know it for its beauty and water quality which has been preserved through diligent citizen efforts. History tells us that the first men walked trails along the Eno long before recorded history. The of the Eno, Shakori and Occoneechee tribes lived along the river when the first European explorers passed through. Today, the Eno River State Park offers a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling and fishing. It’s also home to the annual Festival for the Eno which is a great place to hear live music and check out local arts and crafts.

5. Haw River

This 110-mile river is a tributary of the Cape Fear River. It flows from its headwaters in the north-central Piedmont region to the Cape Fear River just below Jordan Lake Reservoir. The Haw is a 1,700 square mile watershed which houses a variety of fish and wildlife, including blue heron, bald eagle, beaver, deer, otter, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bowfin, crappie, carp, and bluegill. It’s great for fishing but also known for its recreational activities such as hiking, paddling, swimming and picknicking. It is the most popular whitewater paddling river in the Piedmont regions.

6. Cape Fear River

The Cape Fear River system is the largest in North Carolina. This 9,000-square-mile basin includes streams flowing within 29 of the state’s 100 counties. It is a blackwater river, beginning in Chatham County and dumping into the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s also one of North Carolina’s most important natural resources. The Cape Fear Estuary, a 35-mile section between Wilmington and the Atlantic, features saline waters which are important habitats and breeding grounds for several saltwater animals including fish, shrimp and crabs. You can kayak nearly the entire river (146 mi.) from Lillington to Wilmington, if you have a fair amount of paddling experience and time. However, there are shorter sections of the river that you can also kayak, canoe, paddle board, or tube.

7. Neuse River

The Neuse rises in the Piedmont and empties in the Pamlico Sound near New Bern. At 275 miles, this river is the longest in North Carolina. Its history dates back thousands of years before Europeans arrived, as artifacts found along the banks show that Indigenous people originally inhabited the area. The Neuse offers a ton of recreational activities including camping, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, biking, and fishing. If you are in Raleigh, be sure to plan a scenic bike ride along the Neuse River Greenway Trail.

North Carolina Pigeon River
Image courtesy of visitncsmokies.

Now that you know the major players, check out some of these amazing North Carolina rivers! There are tons of activities for everyone at all times of the year.

Also be sure to view NCND’s other article Are Outdoor Gear Makers in NC Getting a COVID-19 Bump. Support these NC based gear makers for all of your adventure needs.