While Wilmington visitors will arguably enjoy the best views of the Cape Fear River, this distinctive river actually spreads out throughout most of the coastal and piedmont regions of North Carolina, originating in the town of Haywood, just north of Greensboro, NC, and flowing all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Wilmington Riverwalk

The river and the region itself was first "discovered"by European explorers, and was thoroughly documented in 1662, when an English explorer named William Hilton, Jr. embarked on a brief reconnaissance mission exploring the lower Cape Fear regions. Upon discovering the wealth of fish, waterfowl, wildlife, and a handful of more or less friendly natives which Hilton described as "very poor and silly Creatures," the captain stayed for several months, eventually purchasing a large chunk of the river's borders to create a permanent home.

USS North Carolina on the Cape Fear River

Centuries of migration continued, and still today thousands of visitors and new residents float into Wilmington on a daily basis to get close and admire the sprawling Cape Fear River. At 202 miles long, the Cape Fear River Basin is the largest in the state, flowing through 27 counties, and acting as the primary contributor to Wilmington's centuries' old reputation and development as a busy port community.

Wilmington Riverwalk on the Cape Fear River

Visitors will find ample opportunities to catch a glimpse of the river, both from the highways and bridges sprinkled throughout the area, (like the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge in Wilmington, the highest in North Carolina), and from local historical sites, attractions, and parks that can be found along its borders. The easiest way to get up-close and personal with the Cape Fear Rover is via a stroll along the Riverwalk, a mile long wooden boardwalk in Downtown Wilmington that hugs the river's borders and features outstanding views of the open water, as well as the docked USS North Carolina Battleship.

The Cape Fear River is also an integral and popular portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, the East Coast passageway for recreational and small shipping boats, which extends through the river all the way to the southern North Carolina towns of Southport and Oak Island.

Cape Fear River

The popularity of the Cape Fear River, as well as its accessibility, has also spawned a number of boat tours and river cruises which are always happy to take newcomers out on the water. Water lovers can opt to climb onboard the Henrietta III, the largest riverboat in North Carolina, for an extensive cruise through Downtown Wilmington. Special tours are available, including sunset tours, romantic dinner tours, and kid-friendly adventures, and the cruise boat can even be booked for special parties and weddings with advanced notice.

Dozens of smaller cruises are also available through a number of local businesses, as well as inshore fishing trips, Wilmington by Water tours, and special nature and wildlife tours that wind through some of the Cape Fear River Basin's more secluded regions.

Several advocacy groups have sprung up over the past few decades to preserve and protect the Cape Fear River and keep it pristine despite the boom in Wilmington's population. The Cape Fear River Watch recruits volunteers and residents from all over the Cape Fear region to help protect the waters, report issues as they occur, and improve the overall water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action. This group often hosts engaging fundraisers throughout the year, including riverfront membership parties and fun runs or 5Ks, and also provides special educational seminars and classes to teach newcomers about the delicate condition of the Cape Fear River. Interested parties can even sign up for the annual "Paddle Series" which takes tour-goers on guided kayak tours through some of the Cape fear's most scenic and wild regions. Visitors can find more information about the Cape Fear River Watch, including membership information and upcoming special events, at their website.

Cape Fear River

Of course, the easiest way to admire the river is to simply book a waterfront hotel, motel or vacation rental, or settle in for a feast at one of Wilmington's many waterfront restaurants, and simply unwind and enjoy the view.

Clearly, the Cape Fear River has been inspiring North Carolina visitors for generations, encouraging newcomers as far back as the 1600s to pull in, raise the anchor, and stay a while. Whether a visitor explores the river via a scenic drive, a stroll along the Riverwalk, from the waterfront deck of an upscale cafe, or from the side of a tour boat or kayak, the views are always nothing short of stunning. Discover the miles of Cape Fear waterfront on your next Wilmington vacation, and see why North Carolina's largest river lends itself well to Wilmington's easy-going, scenic charm.

A boat on the Cape Fear River

A small pier in Southport on the Cape Fear River

Sunset on the Cape Fear River

A sailboat on the Cape Fear River

Cape Fear River

Smithfield's Chicken N Bar-B-Q
Victory Beach Vacations

Victory Beach Vacations

Visitors who are on the hunt for the postcard-perfect vacation rental in the heart of the Carolina Beach or Kure Beach area will find an enticing selection and plenty of friendly customer service when they rent through Victory Beach Vacations. Based in Carolina Beach in the coastal Cape Fear region, Victory Beach Vacations has more than 100 vacation rentals in all shapes and sizes to ensure that every vacationing family can find their dream home away from home on the beach.   When you book your Cape Fear getaway with Victory Beach Vacations, the fun doesn’t end when you leave the beach, it continues with an array of privately-owned properties outfitted with all of the amenities needed for a fabulous beach vacation.   Jenna Lanier, General Manager, explains that her family first opened the rental and property management business in 2002. At the forefront of Victory Beach operations is Lanier’s mother, Caroline Meeks. Meeks is both the Broker in Charge and co-owner with husband, Buck Meeks, who manages the Field Services team with Lanier’s husband, Scott.   For nearly 20 years, the Victory Beach team has worked tirelessly to establish a network of top-of-the-line rental properties for Cape Fear visitors to enjoy. “As far as our properties go,” explains Lanier, “they are all updated, well-furnished and appointed. “We have always performed post-cleaning inspections and since the pandemic, have put freshly laundered duvets over all of the comforters between rentals.”   Lanier emphasizes how important the guests experience is “we strive to give our guests a relaxing, stress free, memorable vacation.” This emphasis on customer service has led to Victory Beach Vacations having a 4.8 Google rating with over 300 reviews by happy owners and guests.In addition to Victory Beach’s superior sanitation practices, the company offers properties for every type of visitor. Choose from luxury oceanfront houses and condos to more reasonbly priced 2nd row properties with oceanviews. Many properties include pools and hot tubs as well, perfect for outdoor entertaining, and many are dog friendly.   Lanier also notes that all properties are within walking or driving distance to Pleasure Island’s main attractions – Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. The former, as described by Lanier, is the more commercialized of the two destinations and features a boardwalk, outdoor dining options and a plethora of weekly activities including fireworks, live music, amusement park pop-ups, and movies under the stars. Kure Beach offers a more residential feel with its fishing pier, intimate restaurants and family favorite, North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.More water fun awaits, too. “There is a harbor and a canal that feed into the intercoastal. We have several properties on the harbor so guests can bring their boat, kayak, [or jet ski] and travel between islands,” says Lanier.   A stay with Victory Beach Vacations is an annual pilgrimage for most. “A large percentage of guests are previous guests. Some even reserve the same property for the next year as they’re checking out,” Lanier says. “It’s almost like it’s their personal vacation home.”   Even before guests arrive at their vacation destination, the Victory Beach Vacations’ website greets them with a live beach cam and exquisite aerial footage of both Carolina and Kure Beaches. See for yourself by scanning the QR code and call Victory Beach Vacations at 910.458.0868 to book your Cape Fear getaway. Start making your memories today! —Grace Silipigni

Wrightsville Beach Guide