Eco Trips & Trails
Great Dismal Swamp
Remote and wild, the lush, scenic 125,000-acre Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge crosses the North Carolina-Virginia border. Each year, thousands of people hike or paddle away from civilization to explore the secrets of the swamp that have drawn man’s interest for millennium.
The promise of fertile farmland has long compelled men to drain the swamp, including George Washington. The work has nibbled down the Great Dismal Swamp to roughly half its original size of 2,000 square miles. But today, in the swamp’s heart, Native Americans would still feel at home among the same plants and animals that thrived thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
Your first stop should be the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center in South Mills, NC. It’s the only visitor center in the country where you can arrive by car or boat. The center offers 150 feet of dock space for boaters navigating the Dismal Swamp Canal, which is an alternate route along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Nearly 2,000 skippers take advantage of the center’s hospitality each year.
It’s here, too, where friendly staffers can help set your course to a variety of adventures, whether it is on foot down miles of hiking trails or by canoe or kayak across dark waters. Be sure to bring your camera and a good set of binoculars – there’s lots to see.
Cottonmouth and copperhead join 18 non-poisonous species of snake slithering through the pine, Atlantic white cedar, red maple, tupelo and bald cypress forests. Turtles, toads, lizards and salamanders splash in the often green-skinned water of the swamp and Lake Drummond, where you can cast a line and catch any one of 23 different species of fish.
Shy black bear and bobcats usually roam unseen while gray and red foxes, mink and white-tailed deer are common sights. Overhead in Carolina blue skies, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks wheel in search of food.
Blooming orchids, coral honeysuckle, yellow jessamine and the silky camellia offer brilliant sights and smells. The swamp is also home to a large population of one of the rarest American ferns, the log fern.
Your easiest access point in North Carolina is the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center, approximately three miles south of the North Carolina-Virginia state line on U.S. 17.
By boat on the Dismal Swamp Canal to the visitor center, it is approximately five miles north of the South Mills Locks.
The Albemarle Region Canoe Trail system follows the Upper Pasquotank River and offers swamp access. Canoes and small boats can access 3,000-acre Lake Drummond by a feeder ditch from U.S. 17 and the Dismal Swamp Canal on the east side of the refuge. U.S. 158 skirts the southern border of the refuge.
by Peter Anderson
by Peter Anderson
added: July 24, 2009
updated: September 24, 2009