Explore Articles

Spotlight: The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Spotlight: The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Dismal Sunlight through the pines (USFWS)

“The Dismal Swamp… remains one of the last major repositories of eastern wildlife, both southern and northern varieties, a boggy, watery wilderness full of secrets.” ~Jack Olsen, Sports Illustrated

What You’ll Find

This unique forested, wetland ecosystem spreads across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina forming the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge encompasses 111,203 acres including Lake Drummond, the largest natural lake in Virginia.

Hiking and biking trails in the refuge take you deep into the swamp and to Lake Drummond. Break out your fishing pole and see what you can reel in. Stop by the refuge headquarters in Suffolk, Virginia, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for additional information. Use this refuge trail map to help you plan a visit.

Attention birders! Raise your binoculars and take part in the 2014 Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival. More than 200 species of birds provide plenty of opportunity to enjoy this experience. Guided bird walks, bus tours, photography workshops, beginning birding classes and more await you.

Getting There

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located near Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. You can reach the refuge by car, bike or boat.

Stay Here

There are no established campgrounds or backcountry camping available in the refuge. Several campgrounds, bed and breakfast inns, hotels and cabins are in the area. Check these sites for camping and lodging information:

Suffolk County, Virginia Tourism

Chesapeake, Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau

Elizabeth City, North Carolina Convention and Visitors Bureau

Make Sure You

Walk or bike the 4.5 miles along the Washington Ditch Trail to Lake Drummond.

Walk the one-mile elevated Dismal Town Boardwalk Trail and discover a representative section of swamp habitat.

Read about the ongoing refuge archaeological work and stop by the refuge headquarters for archaeological-related exhibits.

Try This

If hiking was not in your plans, yet exploring the Great Dismal on foot is something you cannot resist, pick up a Loaner Backpack complete with binoculars, wildlife guides and other items that will help you enjoy a trail outing to experience the sights, sounds and wildlife of the swamp.

Hike Washington Ditch trail and find more than 200 species of birds in the refuge using our bird list, or search for swamp creatures using our wildlife checklist. Volunteer on January 4th for the Christmas Bird Count.

Boat and fish year-round on Lake Drummond by accessing the Feeder Ditch which connects the lake with the Dismal Swamp Canal. Discover other visitor opportunities at the refuge.

Don’t Forget

Hunting is allowed on the refuge and portions of the refuge will be closed at various times this fall—carefully review all of the the Hunt Program Information for 2013 webpage. Be sure to check all scouting and hunting closures and dates before you go. Read our article about hunting safety.

Both the Railroad Ditch and the Jericho Ditch entrances will be closed to all public access for the 2013 scouting and hunt days except to hunters with valid refuge hunt permits. The Washington Ditch boardwalk and trail will remain open for hiking and biking.

Scouting Days: Nov. 14, 2013 (Bear)

Hunt days: Nov. 8, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23

Read-up about the Dismal Swamp before you arrive! It has often been used as a stage for poetry and novels, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1842 poem "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp" from his collection Poems on Slavery.

Get Started

Visit the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge website and the Great Dismal Swamp State Park website for details about a Great Dismal Swamp experience.

Did You Know?

In 2004, the refuge is an important landmark on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Download "The Great Dismal Swamp Great Dismal Swamp and the Underground Railroad".