The 10 Longest Rivers in North Carolina

The Neuse River near Raleigh.
The Neuse River near Raleigh.

The US state of North Carolina lies in the southeastern region of the country and has a mixed landscape ranging from the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean to the mountainous Appalachian Mountains. The many rivers within the state eventually drain into either one of two drainage basins namely the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The rivers of North Carolina have several uses such as recreational, fishing, wildlife habitats, sources of water, cultural uses, and many more.

The 10 Longest Rivers in North Carolina

The longest river in North Carolina is the Roanoke River with an approximate length of 410 miles followed by the New River in the second position with a length of about 320 miles. The Neuse River is third with an approximate length of 275 miles. The Pee Dee and the Catawba rivers are in the fourth and the fifth positions with approximate lengths of 232 and 220 miles respectively. The differences in length between the rivers from the sixth position to the ninth does not exceed two miles. The Tar River in the sixth position has a length about 215 miles while the French Broad River in the ninth place is about 213 miles long. The shortest river is the Cape Fear River with a length of about 202 miles.

Roanoke River

This river is the longest in North Carolina with its flow starting at Lafayette, Virginia (where two its forks merge) and finally drains into the Atlantic Ocean. This river is responsible for the drainage of a large swath of land from the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains all the way to Albemarle Sound. The main tributaries include the Big Otter River, the Falling River, and the Dan River. An 81-mile stretch of the river between Lake Leesville and Lake Kerr, both in Virginia, is known as the Staunton River. Historically, the area around the river was the place where the first settlers of Virginia saw it fit to make the first settlements. Due to its dangerous spring floods, this river is sometimes known as the “River of Death.”

Neuse River

The Neuse River is the longest river within the state of North Carolina that flows entirely within the state. The river has its source at Piedmont in North Carolina and eventually drains into Pamlico Sound. The drainage basin of the river measures about 5,630 square miles and is also entirely within the state. Eventually, it joins up with other rivers and finally drains into the Atlantic Ocean. In recent times, the river has been affected negatively by several cases of pollution ranging from agricultural waste to storm runoffs. The Pfiesteria piscicida present in the water may also be responsible in some way for the death of fish.

Cape Fear River

This black-water river, which is also the shortest river on this list, is located on the eastern side of central North Carolina. The major source of the river is within the state of North Carolina while the mouth is at the Atlantic Ocean at a place close to Cape Fear. In the colonial times, the river was crucial in providing transportation towards the inner regions of North Carolina.

The 10 Longest Rivers in North Carolina

RankRiverLength (miles)Length (km)
1Roanoke River410660
2New River320510
3Neuse River275443
4Pee Dee River 232373
5Catawba River220350
6Tar River 215346
7Yadkin River215346
8Dan River 214344
9French Broad River213343
10Cape Fear River 202325

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