French Broad River

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French Broad River
French broad river 9228.JPG
French Broad River in Henderson County, North Carolina
French Broad River watershed
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina, Tennessee
Physical characteristics
SourceNorth Fork French Broad River
 ⁃ locationTransylvania County, North Carolina
 ⁃ coordinates35°15′57″N 82°53′20″W / 35.26583°N 82.88889°W / 35.26583; -82.88889[1][2]
 ⁃ elevation3,189 ft (972 m)
2nd sourceWest Fork French Broad River
 ⁃ locationTransylvania County, North Carolina
 ⁃ coordinates35°11′09″N 82°59′01″W / 35.18583°N 82.98361°W / 35.18583; -82.98361[3]
 ⁃ elevation3,440 ft (1,050 m)
Source confluence 
 ⁃ locationRosman, North Carolina
 ⁃ coordinates35°08′33″N 82°50′19″W / 35.14250°N 82.83861°W / 35.14250; -82.83861[5][4]
 ⁃ elevation2,195 ft (669 m)
MouthTennessee River
 ⁃ location
Knoxville, Tennessee
 ⁃ coordinates
35°57′33″N 83°51′0″W / 35.95917°N 83.85000°W / 35.95917; -83.85000Coordinates: 35°57′33″N 83°51′0″W / 35.95917°N 83.85000°W / 35.95917; -83.85000[4]
 ⁃ elevation
814 ft (248 m)[4]
Length218 mi (351 km)[5]
Basin size5,124 sq mi (13,270 km2)[7]
 ⁃ locationRiverdale, Tennessee, 7.5 miles (12.1 km) above the mouth(mean for water years 1945–1983)[6]
 ⁃ average7,878 cu ft/s (223.1 m3/s)(mean for water years 1945–1983)[6]
 ⁃ minimum67 cu ft/s (1.9 m3/s)October 1953[6]
 ⁃ maximum160,000 cu ft/s (4,500 m3/s)July 1867[6]
Basin features
River systemTennesseeOhioMississippi
 ⁃ leftPigeon River, Little Pigeon River
 ⁃ rightSwannanoa River, Nolichucky River

The French Broad River flows 218 miles (351 km)[5] from near the town of Rosman in Transylvania County, North Carolina, into the state of Tennessee. Its confluence with the Holston River at Knoxville is the beginning of the Tennessee River. The river flows through the counties of Transylvania, Buncombe, Henderson, and Madison in North Carolina, and Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier, and Knox in Tennessee, and drains large portions of the Pisgah National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest.


The headwaters of the French Broad River are near the town of Rosman in Transylvania County, North Carolina, just northwest of the Eastern Continental Divide near the northwest border of South Carolina. They spill from a 50-foot waterfall called Courthouse Falls at the terminus of Courthouse Creek near Balsam Grove. The waterfall feeds into a creek that becomes the North Fork, which joins the West Fork west of Rosman. South of Rosman, the stream is joined by the Middle Fork and East Fork to form the French Broad River. From there it flows northeast through the Appalachian Mountains into Henderson, and Buncombe counties. In Buncombe County, the river flows through the city of Asheville, where it receives the water of the Swannanoa River. Downstream of Asheville, the river proceeds north through Madison County, where it flows through its county seat, Marshall. After passing through the mountain resort of Hot Springs in the Bald Mountains, the river enters Cocke County, Tennessee.

In Cocke County, the river passes through the community of Del Rio, and receives the waters of both the Pigeon River and the Nolichucky River northwest of Cocke's county seat, Newport. The river then enters the slack waters of Douglas Lake, which is created by the Tennessee Valley Authority's Douglas Dam in Sevier County, approximately 32 miles (51 km) upstream from the river's mouth. Near Sevierville, at Kodak, the French Broad River receives the flow of the Little Pigeon River, which drains much of the Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains. After flowing through a wide gap in Bays Mountain, it enters Knox County. It joins the Holston River to form the Tennessee at a place known as "Forks of the River" at the eastern edge of Knoxville.

Major tributaries[edit]

  • North Fork
  • West Fork
  • East Fork
  • Middle Fork
  • Pigeon River
  • Nolichucky River
  • Mills River
  • Davidson River
  • Swannanoa River
  • Little River (French Broad River)


The French Broad River is believed to be one of the oldest in the world based on dating of rocks. Jeff Wilcox of UNC-Asheville described it as "a meandering river, which typically form in relatively flat landscapes." He said this likely meant the river predated the Appalachian Mountains and was lifted up as the mountains formed, later eroding the rocks it passed through.[8]

The French Broad River was named by European settlers centuries ago because it was one of the two broad rivers in western North Carolina. The one which flowed into land claimed by France at that time was named the "French Broad River", whereas the other, which stayed in land claimed by England – the Colony of North Carolina – was named the "English Broad River". (The latter was later renamed simply the "Broad River"). The Indigenous Americans of this area, the Cherokee Indians, called it different names: Poelico, Agiqua (broad) in the mountains, Tahkeeosteh (racing waters) from Asheville down and Zillicoah above Asheville.[9] The French called it the Agiqua, borrowing one of the Cherokee names.

Douglas Dam, built on the lower French Broad by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) during the 1940s, is one of the larger TVA developments on a tributary of the Tennessee River. (The two other very large ones are Norris Lake on the Clinch River and Cherokee Lake on the Holston River.)

In 1987, the North Carolina General Assembly established the French Broad River State Trail as a blueway which follows the river for 67 miles. The paddle trail is a part of North Carolina State Trails Program, which is a section of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation. A system of launch point locations was created along the river for the trail.

The portion of the French Broad River in Tennessee was designated a state scenic river by the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Approximately 33 miles (53 km) of the river in Cocke County, starting at the North Carolina border and extending downstream to the place where it flows into Douglas Lake, are designated as a Class III, Partially Developed River.


The following is a partial list of crossings of the French Broad from Brevard to the confluence with the Tennessee River.

North Carolina[edit]


Further reading[edit]

Wilma Dykeman wrote the book The French Broad (1955) about the river. The book brought public attention to concerns about the polluted condition of parts of the river. The river is also the subject of the monograph Watershed: The French Broad River (2012) by Jeff Rich.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: North Fork French Broad River
  2. ^ John Hairr, North Carolina Rivers: Facts, Legend, and Lore (History Press, 2007), p. 90.
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: West Fork French Broad River
  4. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: French Broad River
  5. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey. Rosman, NC. 1:24,000.
  6. ^ a b c d United States Geological Survey, Water Resources Data Tennessee: Water Year 1983, Water Data Report TN-83-1, p. 116.
  7. ^ U.S. Geological Survey, "Introduction to the Upper Tennessee River Basin," 11 January 2013. Accessed: 31 May 2015.
  8. ^ Boyle, John (August 2, 2018). "Answer Man: Is the French Broad one of the world's oldest rivers?". Asheville Citizen-Times. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  9. ^ French Broad River, Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

External links[edit]