The Waccamaw River is a river, approximately 140 miles (225 km) long, in southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina in the United States. It drains an area of approximately 1110 square miles (2886 km²) in the coastal plain along the eastern border between the two states into the Atlantic Ocean. Along its upper course, it is a slow-moving, blackwater river surrounded by vast wetlands, passable only by shallow-draft watercraft such as canoe. Along its lower course, it is lined by sandy banks and old plantation houses, providing an important navigation channel with a unique geography, flowing roughly parallel to the coast.
The Waccamaw River begins its course at Lake Waccamaw, a Carolina Bay in Columbus County, North Carolina. Downstream it forms the county line between Columbus and Brunswick Counties, flowing generally southwest and parallel to the coastline; it is separated from the ocean by approximately 15 miles (24 km). It enters South Carolina and flows southwest across Horry County, past Conway. Near Burgess it is joined from the northwest by the Great Pee Dee River which rises in north central North Carolina. It continues southwest, separated from the ocean by only five miles (8 km) in a long tidal estuary. The long narrow point of land along the ocean formed by the lower river is called Waccamaw Neck. At Georgetown it receives the Black River (South Carolina) from the north, then turns sharply to the southeast and enters the ocean at Winyah Bay, approximately five miles (8 km) north along the coast from the mouth of the Santee River.
The lower river is navigable as far as Conway, and has formed an important commercial route for the region since the 18th century. Before that, it was equally important for various Native American cultures. Its lower course in South Carolina forms part of the recreational Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which joins the river from the northeast at Bucksport, South Carolina.
"Extensive forest communities cover the Waccamaw floodplain, including cypress-gum swamp and bottomland hardwood forests. The bottomland hardwood forests of the Waccamaw are unique in the Carolinas in containing abundant Atlantic white cedar and live oaks, along with the more typical laurel and overcup oak and loblolly pine."
A portion of the habitat has been acquired by The Nature Conservancy. Land along the Waccamaw, the lower Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee rivers has been acquired for habitat preservation. Additional land is being acquired for the new Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
In the 19th century, planters had extensive rice cultivation on lands of the lower Waccamaw River. This labor-intensive crop required thousands of slaves, mostly Africans and their descendants. After the American Civil War, emancipation lead to decline of the industry.
- Winyah Rivers Foundation: About the Waccamaw River
- Albergotti, Dan. "Shadows Along the Waccamaw" Southern Spaces, November 24, 2008.