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French Broad River

French Broad River
French Broad River in Henderson County, North Carolina
Country United States
States North Carolina, Tennessee
Part of TennesseeOhioMississippi
 - left Pigeon River, Little Pigeon River
 - right Swannanoa River, Nolichucky River
Primary source North Fork French Broad River
 - location Transylvania County, North Carolina
 - elevation 3,189 ft (972 m)
 - coordinates  [1][2]
Secondary source West Fork French Broad River
 - location Transylvania County, North Carolina
 - elevation 3,440 ft (1,049 m)
 - coordinates  [3]
Source confluence
 - location Rosman, North Carolina
 - elevation 2,195 ft (669 m)
 - coordinates  [4][5]
Mouth Tennessee River
 - location Knoxville, Tennessee
 - elevation 814 ft (248 m) [4]
 - coordinates  [4]
Length 218 mi (351 km) [5]
Basin 5,124 sq mi (13,271 km2) [6]
Discharge for Riverdale, Tennessee, 7.5 miles (12.1 km) above the mouth
 - average 7,878 cu ft/s (223 m3/s) (mean for water years 1945–1983)[7]
 - max 160,000 cu ft/s (4,531 m3/s) July 1867[7]
 - min 67 cu ft/s (1.9 m3/s) October 1953[7]
French Broad River watershed

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.


  • Course 1
  • History 2
  • Crossings 3
    • North Carolina 3.1
    • Tennessee 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The French Broad River begins just west of the Eastern Continental Divide, and from there, it flows northeasterly through the Appalachian Mountains. The river follows a general northeasterly direction as it flows through Transylvania, 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 of 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 of 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, 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.


The French Broad is one of several ancient rivers which flow across and through rather than down from the Appalachian mountains. It is an example of an antecedence, meaning it or its ancestor existed before the mountains. As an antecedence, the river was flowing from southeast to northwest before the Appalachians were created. It cut a path through the mountains as they were created when North America collided with Africa in Pangaea 300 million years ago. Its ancient age is how it is presently able to flow from North Carolina through the mountains to Tennessee rather than draining to the Atlantic Ocean.[8]

The French Broad River was named by white 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 name of the French Broad River in French was the Agiqua River, the Native 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]

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 points locations were 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.

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.


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

North Carolina


See also


  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. ^ U.S. Geological Survey, "Introduction to the Upper Tennessee River Basin," 11 January 2013. Accessed: 31 May 2015.
  7. ^ a b c United States Geological Survey, Water Resources Data Tennessee: Water Year 1983, Water Data Report TN-83-1, p. 116.
  8. ^ Butler, Bill. "Ancestral Rivers of the Eastern United States". Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  9. ^ French Broad River, Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

External links

  • U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: French Broad River
  • French Broad Riverkeeper, conservation group that monitors water quality in the French Broad Watershed.
  • RiverLink, regional conservation group

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