Dan River

The Dan River is a major river in the Southeastern United States that flows for about 344 kilometers from Patrick County in Virginia into Kerr Lake in North Carolina. This river crosses the North Carolina-Virginia border eight times on its way to the Kerr Reservoir. The Dan is one of the tributaries of the Roanoke River, hence the name South Branch Roanoke River. Its major tributaries include Smith, Mayo, Banister, Sandy, and Hyco Rivers. The river’s name first appeared in William Byrd II’s 1728 records during his survey of the Virginia border. However, William did not explain the reason or origin of the name.  The Dan River Basin was home to several native tribes, including the Sappony people.

Geography Of The Dan River

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Dan River in Danville, Virginia.

The Dan River is one of the principal rivers in both Virginia and North Carolina states. This stream is considered Virginia's 6th longest river and North Carolina's 8th longest stream. It is a tributary of the Roanoke River, the longest river in the two US states. At 344 kilometers, the Dan River is almost half the length of the Roanoke River. It flows through eight counties; five in Virginia and three in North Carolina. The counties along Dan’s path are Pittsylvania, Halifax, Patrick, Floyd, Mecklenburg in Virginia, Stokes, Rockingham, and Caswell in North Carolina.

The Dan River rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains at 970 meters above Sea level. It drains an area of approximately 8,500 square kilometers and joins the Roanoke River via John H Kerr Reservoir, located in the Stanton River State Park. It discharges an average of 117 cubic meters of water per second into the reservoir. The Roanoke River empties into the Albemarle Sound of the Atlantic Ocean. The Dan River Basin is about a third of Roanoke Basin.

Course Of The Dan River

Roanoke river
The Blue Ridge Mountains is the source of the Dan River.

The headwaters of the Dan River are located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The river begins its flow in Patrick County in south-central Virginia and flows between high rocks on its way to Stokes County, North Carolina. In Stokes County, the river flows through rhododendron-covered steep bluffs. As it enters Rockingham County, the Dan River slows and widens into a piedmont that once supported a mill industry. Then the river reenters Virginia and flows through Danville and Pittsylvania before returning to North Carolina for the second time. It flows a few kilometers in northern Caswell County before reentering Virginia, where it briefly flows in Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties. Finally, the Dan River empties into Roanoke River via the 200 square kilometer John H Kerr Reservoir.

Wildlife In The Dan River Basin

The Dan River is known for its outstanding beauty and plenty of wildlife, with several plants growing along the riverbank, including goldenseal, and the threatened Virginia cup plant. The river contains several endangered and rare fish species and mussels, including bigeye jump rock, orangefin madtom, and James Spinymussel. Trout fishing is common in the Dan River, especially the section near US Highway 58. However, fishing is limited in other parts of the river because of its slow flow. However, species such as sunfish, largemouth bass, and catfish are found in the river. 

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