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French Broad River
French broad river 9228.JPG
French Broad River in Henderson County, North Carolina
French Broad River watershed
Country United States
State North Carolina, Tennessee
Physical characteristics
Main source North Fork French Broad River
Transylvania County, North Carolina
3,189 ft (972 m)
2nd source West Fork French Broad River
Transylvania County, North Carolina
3,440 ft (1,050 m)
River mouth Tennessee River
Knoxville, Tennessee
814 ft (248 m)
Length 219 mi (352 km)
Basin features
Progression French Broad → TennesseeOhioMississippi
Basin size 5,124 sq mi (13,270 km2)

The French Broad River flows 218 miles (351 km) 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. It 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 and East forks 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 passes north through Madison County, where the county seat, Marshall, developed along the river. 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 and the Nolichucky rivers northwest of Cocke's county seat, Newport. The river enters the slack waters of Douglas Lake, which was 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. Its confluence with the Holston River forms the Tennessee River at a place known as "Forks of the River", at the eastern edge of present-day Knoxville.

Major tributaries

  • 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 because it cuts through ancient rocks in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. However, the current topographic relief of the Southern Appalachians is relatively new, making it virtually impossible to estimate the age of the river.

The nearby Broad River was originally named the "English Broad River".

The Cherokee people, the historic Indigenous Americans who occupied this area at the time of European encounter, referred to the river by different names: Poelico and Agiqua ("broad") in the mountains of the headwaters; Zillicoah upriver of the confluence at present-day Asheville; and Tahkeeosteh (racing waters) from Asheville downriver. The river is considered to roughly mark the eastern boundary of the Cherokee homelands in this region, which included areas of present-day northwestern South Carolina, northeastern Georgia, and southeastern Tennessee. The French called the river the Agiqua, borrowing one of the Cherokee names.

Initiated as a project during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas Dam was completed in the 1940s on the lower French Broad by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to provide electricity and flood control. It 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 117 miles (188 km). The paddle trail is a part of the North Carolina State Trails System, which is a section of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation. A system of launch point sites was created along the river to support the trail.

The portion of the French Broad River in Tennessee was designated as 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

  • Transylvania and Henderson counties
    • Patton Bridge
    • Crab Creek Road
    • Blantyre Road
    • Etowah School Road in Etowah
    • McLean Bridge (U.S. 64) in Etowah
    • Johnson Bridge
    • Fannings Bridge
    • Butler Bridge
    • Kings Bridge (N.C. 191)
    • Boylston Highway (N.C. 280) at the Asheville Regional Airport
  • Buncombe County/Asheville
  • Madison County
    • Two Bridges connecting Marshall to Blannahasset Island
    • Little Pine Road
    • Barnard Road in Barnard (put-in for Section 9 of the French Broad, a Class III-IV whitewater run that is the most frequently paddled section of the river)
    • (U.S. 25)/(U.S. 70) in Hot Springs (takeout for Section 9); the Appalachian Trail crosses this bridge.


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