Rising off Carboniferous limestone at Beckermonds, Langstrothdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Ribblehead, the river Wharfe joins the Ouse near Rhythor 130km further on. The river flows swiftly past Kettlewell, Grassington, Bolton Abbey, Addingham, Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Otley, Wetherby and Tadcaster through pasture land, but the last 16km below Tadcaster are tidal with a gentler flow. Here the river is more typical of a lowland river where flood embankments protect adjacent land. It is a public navigation from the weir at Tadcaster to its junction with the River Ouse near Cawood .
For much of its length it is the county boundary between West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. The name Wharfe derives from the Old English ‘weorf’ or Old Norse ‘hverfr’ and means “winding river”.