According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.9 square miles (20.4 km²), of which, 7.8 square miles (20.3 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.51%) is water.
It is located on the Roanoke River in North Carolina's Inner Banks at the fall line, which marks the area where an upland region (continental bedrock) and a coastal plain (coastal alluvia) meet. The fall line is typically prominent where a river crosses it, for there will usually be rapids or waterfalls. Because of these features river boats typically can not travel any further inland. Because of the need of a port, and ready supply of water power, settlements often developed where the river crosses the fall line. In fact, this river is what caused Roanoke Rapids to initially develop. Sam Patterson and other textile contractors originally built their mills along this river to promote their business in a better location than they previously had.
The seven mile long Roanoke Rapids Canal trail starts at the Roanoke dam and ends roughly a mile after passing the historic aqueduct. The trail is fairly narrow, which limits access only to walkers, runners, and bikers.
There were 6,909 households out of which 32.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.0% were married couples living together, 16.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.5% were non-families. 29.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 3.00.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.7% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 28.1% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 83.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,745, and the median income for a family was $40,337. Males had a median income of $31,756 versus $21,305 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,972. About 15.1% of families and 18.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.2% of those under age 18 and 16.6% of those age 65 or over.
Roanoke Rapids has planned Carolina Crossroads, an entertainment district founded by Dolly Parton and her brother Randy Parton. Attractions are to include the Roanoke Rapids Theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a campground, an aquarium, and water park. A Black Widow Billiards Center was also announced by Jeanette Lee.