Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Virginia

(757) 986-3705

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

The Great Dismal Swamp has long been considered a place of natural beauty, mystery, and legend. The swamp is an integral part of the cultural history of the region and remains a place of refuge for both wildlife and people. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. It was established in 1974 to protect the unique ecosystem of the Great Dismal Swamp. It includes over 111,000-acres of forested wetlands, with Lake Drummond, a 3,100-acre lake, at its heart. The eastern side of the refuge is bound by the Dismal Swamp Canal, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Along the western border of the refuge is access to over 30 miles of hiking trails in the northwest portion of the refuge. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located not only between two states, but also between two eco-regions, allowing for a wide range of plant and animal species. Cypress, black gum, maple, Atlantic white cedar, and pine are the predominant tree species found on the refuge and support the wildlife within. Many mammal species, including black bear, bobcat, otter, and weasel along with over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians call the swamp home. More than 200 bird species can be seen at the swamp throughout the year, while 96 of those are known to nest on the refuge.

Map of Great Dismal Swamp NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 36.617923, -76.561507

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Activities

  • Boating

    Fishing and boating is permitted year-round on Lake Drummond with access via the Feeder Ditch, connecting Lake Drummond with the Dismal Swamp Canal. A public boat ramp is located north of the Feeder Ditch on the Dismal Swamp Canal. Boats must be small enough to portage around the water control structure near the lake or to be lifted by electric tram to the higher level of the Lake. Lift weight is restricted to a maximum of 1,000 lbs. Vessels are limited to 25 hp on the Lake.

    Boating access at the Interior Ditch boat ramp is by special permit on weekends only during the fishing season of April 1 to June 15. Additional information is available from the refuge office.

  • Bird Watching

    Over two hundred species of birds have been identified on the refuge since its establishment; ninety-six of these species have been reported as nesting on or near the refuge. Birding is best during spring migration from April to June when the greatest diversity of species (particularly warblers) occurs. Winter brings massive movements of blackbirds and robins to the swamp. Two southern species, the Swainson's warbler and Wayne's warbler (a race of the Black-throated Green warbler), are more common in the Great Dismal Swamp than in other coastal locations. Other birds of interest are the wood duck, barred owl, pileated woodpecker, and prothonotary warbler.

  • Bicycling

    A variety of unpaved roads provides opportunities for hiking and biking. Recommended is the Washington Ditch Trail, a 4 1/2 mile route to Lake Drummond and the elevated wooden Dismal Town Boardwalk Trail, located adjacent to the Washington Ditch parking area. The boardwalk meanders for a mile through a representative portion of swamp habitats.

  • Fishing

    Permitted year-round. A Virginia fishing license is required.

  • Hiking

    Most refuge trails are open to hiking and biking only. Visitors must stay on designated trails. Parking is available at both the Washington Ditch and Jericho Lane entrances. Trails are open daily, sunrise to sunset, unless otherwise posted.

  • Historic Sites

    In 2004 the refuge was named part of the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some a refuge, however treacherous, from slavery. Visitors can see Jericho Ditch and Washington Ditch, where 18th and 19th-century slave crews felled trees for lumber mills in sweltering heat amid venomous snakes. Currently, archeologists are excavating important sites deep inside the swamp of "maroon" settlements of escaped slaves and their descendents who hid out there for two centuries up to the start of the Civil War. These remote and inhospitable dig sites are not accessible to the public, but soon visitors will be able to view refuge exhibits detailing how swamp dwellers survived.

  • Hunting

    Hunting programs occur on the refuge during posted seasons in October through mid November and portions of the refuge are closed to other trail access during these times.

  • Wildlife Watching

    The swamp supports a variety of mammals including otter, bats, raccoon, mink, grey and red foxes, and grey squirrels. White-tailed deer are common throughout the refuge and, although rarely observed, black bear and bobcat inhabit the area.

    Loaner backpacks are available for you to check-out for your day excursion on the trails of the Great Dismal Swamp. These backpacks are equipped with everything you need to make your wildlife observation experience more enjoyable including: two pairs of binoculars, species lists, field guide, magnifying glass and much more.

Seasonality/Weather

Open year-round. Dress appropriately for winter walks. By layering, it is easy to adjust to changing temperatures. Sturdy trail shoes are best for the dirt roads.

Directions

Driving

Directions for Trail-heads and Headquarters

For using internet mapping and direction software, use 3100 Desert Road, Suffolk, VA 23434 for the headquarters. For trail-heads, use 1325 White Marsh Road for Jericho Lane entrance, and 3100 White Marsh Road for Washington Ditch entrance. All are in Suffolk, VA 23434.

Note: For canoe, kayak, and small vessel access, you must enter the refuge from the east, via the Dismal Swamp Canal to the Feeder Ditch to Lake Drummond. Recommended water access is at the Chesapeake Dismal Swamp Public Boat Ramp. From U.S. Highway 17 in southern Chesapeake, exit at Ballahack Road. Continue west on Ballahack Road to reach the old George Washington Hwy. The boat ramp is just north of this intersection.

From Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, VA via I-64

Take I-64 East (Hampton Roads Inner Loop) toward Suffolk, VA Merge onto I-664 North via EXIT 299B on the LEFT toward US-13/BOWERS HILL/US-58/SUFFOLK/US-460/NEWPORT NEWS Move to the right two lanes and merge onto US-460 W/US-58 W/US-13 S via EXIT 13A toward SUFFOLK Exit onto US-58 Business Route (BR) W/US-460 BR W/PORTSMOUTH BLVD/US-13 BR S. Follow TO REFUGE TRAILHEADS or HEADQUARTERS below.

From Williamsburg/Richmond, VA

Follow I-64 East to I-664 South. Take Exit 13A- Suffolk (460/58/13 west), then follow TO THE REFUGE TRAILHEADS or HEADQUARTERS below.

To the Refuge Trailheads or Headquarters

Turn Left at the first light onto ROUTE 337, EAST WASHINGTON ST. At the second traffic light, turn left onto ROUTE 642, WHITE MARSH ROAD. Jericho Lane and Washington Ditch trailheads are on White Marsh Road. To continue to the headquarters, proceed on WHITE MARSH ROAD to the four-way stop. Turn left onto DESERT ROAD. Proceed 2 miles to the refuge office at 3100 DESERT ROAD.

From Southwest Virginia/ Western North Carolina

Follow US 58 EAST to Suffolk. Exit onto US 58 BUSINESS toward Downtown Suffolk. Merge onto ROUTE 337, WEST WASHINGTON STREET by proceeding straight ahead at the Hardee's. Turn right onto ROUTE 642/ WHITE MARSH ROAD JERICHO LANE AND WASHINGTON DITCH TRAILHEADS are on White Marsh Road. To continue to the headquarters, proceed on WHITE MARSH ROAD to the four-way stop. Turn left onto DESERT ROAD. Proceed 2 miles to the refuge office at 3100 DESERT ROAD.

From Eastern North Carolina

Take US 158 to ROUTE 32 NORTH. Turn Right onto WHITE MARSH ROAD (RT. 642). From the four-way stop, turn right onto DESERT ROAD and go about 2 miles to the refuge office. Also from the four-way stop, continue straight on WHITE MARSH ROAD to go to Washington Ditch and Jericho Lane trailheads.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(757) 986-3705

Links