6 Enticing Rivers in Cornwall for a Watery Adventure

Written by: Eliot Prince

Choosing to holiday anywhere along the Cornwall rivers, waterways, and coast will bring you nothing but fun, relaxation, and some well-deserved downtime.

Cornwall is famous for its world-class surf beaches, Cornish pasties, and beautifully crafted mead. It has also helped inspire famous literary works such as The Lake House by Kate Morton, and even Five Go Down to the Sea by Enid Blyton!

Accompanying the fantastic beaches and estuaries around Cornwall are the many rivers and streams you can explore.

With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that Cornwall has been previously ranked the number one holiday destination in the entire UK.

You may be wondering which rivers are the best fit for your holiday needs, which is a perfectly understandable dilemma because of how many great options there are. 

In this guide, we’ve gathered a list of the top rivers in Cornwall that you should be putting on your trip’s must-see list!

How Many Rivers Are There in Cornwall?

There are over 40 different creeks, catchments, and rivers in the county. 

The rivers of Cornwall flow out to various places such as the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean, and different bays along the Cornish Coast. 

Some Cornish rivers also lead to other rivers in the area, creating a complex map of interconnecting waterways.

River Fal

River Fal

River Fal is perhaps one of the most beautiful rivers in Cornwall. Aside from its beauty, there are many leisure activities that can be done on and around it. 

This makes the river a fantastic option for your coastal holiday!

At Falmouth Bay where the River Fal reaches the ocean, dolphins frequently visit in pods of between 20 and 30. Booking a dolphin sightseeing trip is therefore something to add to your to-do list for the River Fal!

Kayaking up and down the river is also a fantastic option, as you will be heading past all the incredible wildlife that River Fal has to offer.

For those who enjoy strolling around the Falmouth area, the National Maritime Museum, Pendennis Castle, sub-tropical gardens, and scenic river banks will be yours to enjoy during your stay in Cornwall.

Interestingly, this beautiful river connects to the third-largest natural harbour in the world, measuring up to 34 metres in depth!

The docks in Falmouth were developed as early as 1858, with the railway following suit in 1863. For nearly 200 years, the River Fal and its surrounding areas have been hosting tourists just like you!

River Tamar

River Tamar from above

River Tamar has many high-interest points if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind waterway to visit during your holiday in Cornwall.

This river is filled with scientific research projects, as well as both wildlife on land and marine life within the estuary. It’s also rich in folklore!

If you are somebody who enjoys cycling, this river could be a fantastic spot for you as there are two on-road cycle circuits to enjoy near the water.

Mountain biking is also an option at this location as it features 25km of off-roading fun for families and other sports lovers. Located near the border of Devon and Cornwall, the Tamar Trails are sure to provide you with a full day’s worth of excitement and thrills.

Other activities based at the Tamar Trails include canoeing, tree surfing, walking, and shopping at the gift shop and café!

Fishing is another activity you may be interested in taking part in on the Tamar River, as Visit Tamar Valley notes that salmon can be caught from March 1st to October 14th during the salmon season.

You will also have a chance to catch brown trout, sea trout, and greyling during your time at the Tamar, but make sure you arrange a fishing licence before you get that line in the water!

River Fowey

paddleboarding on Fowey river

With its sparkling water and local historical buildings, River Fowey is simply stunning.

There is much to do if you choose to visit this 43-km-long river that also features its own ferry and range of activities.

Historically, the last King of Cornwall, Dungarth, supposedly drowned in 875 in the waters of the Fowey river. King Doniert’s Stone, his grave marker, now stands near St Cleer.

Pirates who went by the name “Fowley Giants” were known to attack vessels from the fourteenth to fifteenth century on the Fowey river.

As far as present-day water activities go, you can enjoy hiring a kayak for the day, mastering an inflatable SUP, or cruising with a self-drive boat for some fun and relaxation.

If you’re interested in travelling to the Polruan village, an ancient fishing site known for its beautiful boats and hillside cottages, there’s a ferry just for that. 

With crossings every 15 minutes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an excuse not to jump aboard and explore this quaint, little town!

With such a range of history and excitement to be had at the River Fowey, you should definitely consider visiting this river during your time in Cornwall.

River Camel

Padstow to Rock ferry crossing over the river camel

River Camel (from the Cornish word Kammel) is a 48-km-long river that flows over a range of different terrain before finishing its journey at an estuary in Padstow Bay.

Historically, this river has been used ever since Roman times as a safe passageway from the Atlantic Ocean inland. 

True to its Cornish name, the river itself is incredibly windy and was favoured by smaller ships attempting to escape the roughness of the ocean.

There’s a folk story about the famous “doom bar” at the mouth of the river: Legends say that this sand bank was placed by mermaids. That aside, the doom bar has a reputation for being extremely hazardous to ships passing through this waterway.

If you are a lover of nature and wildlife, visiting this river is a must. Many species of protected wildlife reside here including otters, kingfishers, and bullhead fish!

If you’re the type to get excited at the thought of a scenic ferry ride, you’ll be pleased to learn that there is a ferry that departs from Rock Beach and which passes through the lovely, scenic Camel Estuary– all the way to the wonderful Padstow harbour town.

Water-skiing and sailing are also popular activities inside Rock Beach’s wide estuary, which is sheltered from all angles from wind and the harsh Atlantic Ocean currents. 

Both beginner and expert water sport goers will love taking advantage of this beautiful river.

A range of lovely circular walks are also available along the Camel River, including one named the Polzeath to St Enodoc Church walk. This easy, 6-km path follows a few small beaches which are riddled with tidepools and shipwreck remains!

When the track finally heads inland, you will pass by the St Enodoc Church and the Oystercatcher pub, which you can head into if you fancy a cold beverage during the day.

Finally, for wine lovers, there is a vineyard near Nanstallon on the Camel river called the Camel Valley. Make sure to book a tour and a tasting on their website to enjoy their many delicious wines.

Helford River

Helford River from above

Nowadays, the Helford River in Cornwall is known as a peaceful, relaxing spot for leisure activities and holidays. 

It may be difficult now to visualise this waterway as a historically bustling trading port filled with fishermen, smugglers, and trading ships.

From the Iron Age through the end of the Mediaeval Period, the interconnecting waterways of the Helford River were used for trade. The high trade activity even warranted the creation of a customs building near the entrance of the river!

The mouth of the Helford river sits protected within a sheltered estuary, which once featured cliffside castles, inns, and buried stashes of 4th Century AD Roman coins/

Unfortunately, for a time in its history, Helford was known by the nickname of “Stealford” due to the amount of pirate activity going on at the port and within the waterways.

Eventually, the river’s reputation was fortunately redeemed during World War II. Back then, American servicemen and troops used the waterway as a strategic location to depart for Omaha Beach in 1944.

Let’s fast-forward to the present day. If you’re interested in land activities such as bird watching or walking, it’s highly recommended that you take a stroll down the Helford and Frenchman’s Creek and walk through the wooded valley. 

You’re sure to spy some incredible birdlife along your path while soaking up the glorious nature around you.

If wandering around creeks and villages is more your style, then why not try the Helford to Dennis Head loop walk as your go-to for exploration around the Helford River?

On a wonderful sunny day, you may wish to be in the water instead for some kayaking, sailing, or snorkelling. 

Helford River features a large estuary located between Falmouth Bay and The Lizard Peninsula, which is sheltered and perfect for your water-based leisure activities.

Finally, for animal lovers, head over to a Cornish seal sanctuary called the Sea Life Trust. Situated nine kilometres from the Helford river, the site could be a head-turner for you if you are passionate about environmental preservation and wildlife!

Truro River

Truro and Malpas River

Truro actually gets its name from a Cornish term “Tr-veru”, which means three rivers. In this instance, the three rivers are the Truro, the Kenwyn, and the Allen rivers.

The Kenwyn river flows from the west of Truro city, while the Allen comes down from the north. All of these waterways come together just past the Harbour Master’s Office, becoming the Truro river.

Situated in Cornwall’s capital city, this river is close to a range of different activities such as nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and shopping! 

If you are looking for a holiday spot near a river and a large variety of different city activities, this spot may be just what you’ve been looking for.

Because of how wide the river looks at high tide, it might be difficult to imagine how only a small channel of water flows down the centre of the river at low tide.

An old paddle steamboat called the Compton Castle rests on the Truro river to this day. Built in 1914, this boat has been stripped of its engine, paddles, and other essential mechanical parts. However, it still remains a landmark in the Truro river.

While the ship has been used for a variety of commercial purposes (and even hosted a florist shop and a coffee house at one point), the businesses on the boat are now permanently closed. 

If you happen to be taking a stroll down the Truro river, make sure you go check out this incredible piece of history on River St!

Alternatively, there’s a range of different river cruises you can take on the Truro river if you are looking for water activity. Trip Advisor features a list of multiple different boating trips you can take on the Truro river with a range of fishing, sailing, and cruising options.

If walking is more your style, try the St Clement and Malpas circular walk (6.1km). Rated easy to moderate, this pathway allows you to spot a range of birdlife– and even a mediaeval church!

What is the Longest River in Cornwall?

The longest river in Cornwall is the Tamar river, which winds its way through a varying landscape of woods, hills, and ragged rocks. 

This river helps form the border between Devon and Cornwall as it passes through multiple towns such as North Tamerton, Bridgerule, and Werrington.

The Beautiful Rivers of Cornwall

With these six top rivers Cornwall has to offer, you should hopefully have some exciting new ideas, places to visit, and things to do during your holiday along the Cornish coast!

Whether you’re planning to visit alone or with family and friends, you will always find something that suits everyone’s tastes. 

With different water activities like kayaking and paddleboarding to enjoy, multiple restaurants and castles to visit, a ton of historical facts to learn, and a multitude of wildlife species to look for, there’s an endless array of choices for you to pick from.

Remember to relax and enjoy your time away– and if you can’t fit everything into one trip, you will simply have to visit again soon!