Our River


The Cape Fear River winds for 200 miles through the heart of the North Carolina piedmont, crossing the coastal plain, and empties into the great Atlantic Ocean near Southport.  The river begins near Greensboro and Winston-Salem as two rivers, the Deep River and the Haw River. These two rivers converge near Moncure to form the Cape Fear River. The Black River joins the Cape Fear 15 miles above Wilmington, and the Northeast Cape Fear River enters the system at Wilmington.


The 35 miles of river between Wilmington and the ocean is called the Cape Fear Estuary because of the tidal influence and saline waters.  This area of the river is extremely important for saltwater animals because of its function as a nursery for juvenile fish, crabs, and shrimp. The Cape Fear River system is North Carolina’s largest river system whose basin covers 9,000 square miles and encompasses streams in 29 of the state’s 100 counties, and is the most industrialized of all of North Carolina’s rivers.

boats on jordan lake

The Cape Fear River and its tributaries are invaluable natural resources for the citizens of North Carolina. It is the largest and most industrialized river system in our state and has tributaries in 29 of our 100 counties. The Cape Fear River Basin extends from the headwaters north of Greensboro to the river’s mouth in Southport, and the river proper is about 200 miles in length.

man with fish

Twenty-seven percent of our state’s population resides within the Cape Fear River Basin. The Cape Fear River system provides freshwater for business and residential uses, routes for water borne transportation, various recreational opportunities, critical wildlife and fisheries habitat, as well as a number of other functions and benefits.


NEED TO UPDATE:  The Census 2000 population of the Cape Fear River Basin is estimated to be 1,825,321 people in 708,344 households, representing a growth of 24.3% since 1990. This population figure was the result of a Census 2000 study conducted for the Cape Fear River Assembly by Triangle J Council of Governments. The study also found that 55% of the Cape Fear basin’s population is located within Hydrologic Units that comprise less than 10% of the total land area within the basin.

The river is an important natural resource that supports many uses including:

  • Industry

  • Transportation

  • Recreation

  • Drinking water

  • Aesthetic Enjoyment

kayak on river

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