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French Broad River

by Elizabeth Bayley, 2006

French Broad RiverFrench Broad River is formed by the junction of North Fork and West Fork in southern Transylvania County near the town of Rosman. It flows northeast into Henderson County, where it turns northwest and courses through Buncombe and Madison Counties. The French Broad flows through the city of Asheville, where it picks up the Swannanoa River and continues north into Tennessee. After leaving North Carolina, the French Broad proceeds west for 102 miles, joins the Holston River to form the Tennessee River near the city of Knoxville, and eventually flows into the Mississippi River.

The Cherokee names for the French Broad River vary, but the most common was Tah-kee-os-tee, meaning ‘‘racing waters.’’ Others, such as Peo-li-co, Agiqua, and Zillicoah, usually referred to only a part of the river. The English originally knew it as the Broad River—the way it was written on a 1766 map of Indian Nations. By 1776, however, the word ‘‘French’’ had been added because much of the territory west of the Blue Ridge, where the river drained, was occupied by the French in the 1700s.

The French Broad River has a North Carolina watershed of 2,830 square miles; its total length in North Carolina is about 70 miles. For much of the twentieth century the river was environmentally threatened, but through several public and private initiatives it has recovered and become an important natural and recreational area. The river basin encompasses 24 municipalities that had a total population of about 400,000 people in the early 2000s. One of two rivers in theUnited States that flows north, the French Broad is also one of the world’s oldest rivers, predated, by some estimations, only by the Nile and New Rivers (the New River is also in the North Carolina mountains).


Bland Simpson, "The French Broad: On the Road to Wellville," Wildlife in North Carolina 63 (November 1999).

Image credit:

Hairr, John. 1997. "The French Broad River near Hot Springs in Madison County."




Does anyone know in average how deep the river is or where there deepest point is and how deep?


Looking on Google Maps there is a McCracken Branch of the river and a Kimsey Way on one of the "fingers" of land in that area. Could you please tell me anything about those place - how they were named, who they were named for. I'm related to both families who lived in Buncombe Co. NC and moved into Grainger County TN. Thanks for your help.


I really think you should have added how old it was.


I think so too.


Current listings has the Finke River as the oldest at 400 ma, the Meuse River at 340 ma and the New, Susquehanna and the French Broad Rivers all in the range of 325 ma. The Nile River is actually younger than the Colorado River (75 ma) and parts of the Nile may only be one or two million years old. Determining the age of a river appears for of a headline marketing tool than actual science. Depending upon the parameters and testing methods utilized the New River can be aged at 320, 225, 65, 10, or 3 million years. However it is hard to resist a top ten list.


Your article says the French Broad is one of two rivers in the United States that flows north. There are at least three, the French Broad, the New and the St. Johns in Florida.


Where specifically is the french broad river? I'm confused cause some of the rivers kind of merge...


what about the Red River flowing north out of the U.S. between North Dakota and Minnesota into Canada and Lake Winnipeg?


Hi William,

Thanks for visiting NCPedia and contributing this.  I will look into adding an annotation or update to this entry.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government  & Heritage LIbrary


Seeking information about the naming of the McGaha Branch of the French Broad River, prominent in annals of the Walton War. Any credible reference would be appreciated.

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