The Cape Fear River and its tributaries (e.g, Haw River and Deep River) wind for 200 miles through the heart of the North Carolina piedmont, crossing the coastal plain, and empties into the great Atlantic Ocean near Southport. The river begins near Greensboro and Winston-Salem as two rivers, the Deep River and the Haw River. These two rivers converge near Moncure to form the Cape Fear River. This is right below the outlet for Jordan Lake (which also forms part of the Cape Fear River.) The Black River joins the Cape Fear 15 miles above Wilmington, and the Northeast Cape Fear River enters the system at Wilmington.
The 35 miles of river between Wilmington and the ocean is called the Cape Fear Estuary because of the tidal influence and saline waters. This area of the river is extremely important for saltwater animals because of its function as a nursery for juvenile fish, crabs, and shrimp. The Cape Fear River and its tributaries are invaluable natural resources for the citizens of North Carolina. The Cape Fear River system provides freshwater for business and residential uses, routes for water borne transportation, various recreational opportunities, critical wildlife and fisheries habitat, as well as a number of other functions and benefits.