The Roanoke River Basin

The Roanoke River drains the largest bottomland swamp forest east of the Mississippi River.
The timeless Roanoke River silently rushes by Plymouth, indifferent to the human activities on shore, as it drains the largest bottomland swamp forest east of its larger cousin, the Mississippi River. Beginning in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, it steadfastly carries its wealth of fresh water toward the fertile coastal plain depositing rich nutrients and providing valuable habitat for an abundance of flora and fauna along its 410 mile journey. The Roanoke received its name from the Algonquin Indians. It is said to mean "River of Death", presumably due to once dangerous sporadic flooding before water control devices impeded its path toward the sea. The mighty Roanoke drains 9,580 square miles or about 5,000,000 acres of Virginia and North Carolina.

As the Roanoke leaves the North Carolina Piedmont and enters the flat rock-less fertile Coastal Plain it forms an increasingly wide and dispersed basin, ultimately culminating in a delta before resigning its fate to the expansive Albemarle Sound, five miles east of Plymouth. As the waters enter the wide timbered basin of the Plain, it spreads out and slows down taking on the tannin from the trees and swamps giving it a tea-colored patina. Only through the miracle of flight can the size and significance of the Roanoke Basin and Delta be fully appreciated. One is reminded of explorer David Livingstone's words when he first discovered Victoria Falls in Africa, "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." But only in the silence of a drifting boat, canoe, or kayak can its secrets be truly experienced and revealed.

Each season provides its own cacophony of sounds for the attentive visitor. The Roanoke River Basin is home to more breeding pairs of birds than any other part of the Coastal Plain, including more than 214 species. Within the Lower Roanoke Basin is the largest heron rookery in North Carolina. Cagey whitetail deer and wild turkey live enigmatic lives within its lush swampy reaches, where they are rarely disturbed by man. Black Bear amble along feeding opportunistically on gum berries, roots, and whatever the river offers up to fill their cavernous bellies. A cautious and careful exploration of the immense swamps of the Roanoke River Basin rewards the intrepid explorer with seldom seen sites of extraordinary trees, vast groves of cypress knees, and deep sloughs.

No matter the season, no matter the pursuit, Plymouth provides the perfect place to begin or end your journey through the lush labyrinth of the Roanoke River Basin. There are two public boat ramps on the Plymouth Waterfront. There are two more boat ramps located east of Plymouth on Highway 45, one of which is on the Roanoke River, and one on Conaby Creek, a tributary of the Roanoke.

"Nature is but another name for health, and the seasons are but different states of health."...Henry David Thoreau 1853