Cape Fear River

Wilmington, North Carolina 28402

Cape Fear River

Cape Fear River Professional Review and Guide

"The Cape Fear River is formed by the confluence of the Haw and Deep Rivers, near Moncure and Haywood, 10 miles northeast of Sanford. It flows through Lillington, Fayetteville, Elizabethtown, Wilmington, and Southport. The river is named for the dangerous Cape Fear shoals off Bald Head Island, near the river’s mouth. The upper Cape Fear was known as “Sapona” by Indians. Italian explorer Verrazzano, backed by the French government to discover a westward passage to Asia, came to the lower Cape Fear in 1524.

The Cape Fear is the only large river in North Carolina flowing directly into the Atlantic Ocean instead of into a sound. There are four dams on the river, and the lower three have locks to make the river navigable by large boats all the way to Fayetteville. The locks were built in the early 1900s for commercial traffic, but there has been none in many years. The paddling sections described from Jordan Dam to Wilmington cover 172 miles. This eTrail contains 13 sections of the Cape Fear River from Jordan Dam Road (Chatam Co. 1970) access on the Haw River to Dram Tree Park access in Wilmington."

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Cape Fear River Reviews

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Sections 2–3, pages 50–52 Update: Cape Fear RV and Canoe Center in Lillington outfits trips, rents canoes, and provides shuttles. Sections 7–12, pages 54–58 Update: The three locks on the Cape Fear River were closed in July and will remain closed indefinitely because money has not been budgeted for maintenance in the latest proposed federal budget. The situation could change when the final budget is approved. For paddlers, there is a portage path around each lock. The portage path at Lock # 2 is the longest at about 300 yards. The other two locks are about 100 yards. Potable water, restrooms, and picnic tables are available at each lock. Camping is not allowed. A private campground, H to H Camping (910-520-5756), is adjacent to Lock # 1. Robin Hall has been lockmaster at Lock # 1 for eighteen years. He is helpful with information on current conditions and can be reached at 910-655-2605.

Cape Fear River Photos

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Trail Information

Nearby City
Skill Level
Class I-II
Gauge information and route specifics are provided for each section in the eTrail.
Local Contacts
USGS Merry Oaks, Moncure, Cokesbury, Mamers, Lillington, Coats, Erwin, Wade, Slocomb, Vander, Cedar Creek, Duart, Tar Heel, Dublin, Elizabethtown North, Elizabethtown South, Singletary Lake, Council, Kelly, Point Caswell, Acme, Leland, Castle Hayne, Wilmington
Local Maps