your paddlesports destination

Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia

Trip Overview

Slide up the feeder ditch (4 miles) from the intercoastal at hwy 17. Big challenge is to avoid eating all the powerbars, or drinking all the wicked 12 oz'ers. Note: There is no truth to the NC rumor that the only reason you go to the Dismal is to "dispose" of a body. No truth. None. Pop the tent and drop the weight at the (only) campground. Take your boat, a liter of h2o, jacket, flashlight, crackers, your sweetest paddle, and anything labeled "Godiva" and put in above the camp (10 yard portage). Welcome to an odd corner of the planet. Lake Drummond, in the middle of the Swamp, is a nearly circular lake- about 2 1/2 miles across. On windy days stay near the edge. On quiet days stay below that line that separates the water from the sky. The bald cypresses invite you to check around the next corner, and the next. In a hostile environ, that could get you lost. Here, it's only 7 or 8 miles around to point of beginning. Relax, paddle, and enjoy. Ignore those big fish swirls. Dark? No problem. Let your eyes adjust to the moon and stars. The campground is marked with a big yellow arrow. You remembered the flashlight, didn't you? The lake and the blackwater canals around it are quiet now. It takes imagination to see 200 years of history- timber harvest to tourist hotel. George Washington was here. Why is there a round lake in the middle of a swamp? Lotsa bears, but they are shy of humans- smart bears. Uncounted slaves preferred the swamp to the plantation. Peat fires smoldered for years. Drummond water stayed sweet for long sea voyages. If this water could talk... On dark nights, they say an Indian princess guides her canoe across the lake with a firefly lantern. Let your eyes adjust.


Fine campground (no RV's!) at lake outflow, 4 miles from putin. Good grass for tent stakes. No potable water. Restrooms. Grills for charcoal. Steaks are mandatory. Summer hazard: cub scout hoards. Bugs are surprisingly few for a swamp, and frost is your best defense. Fall is best season.


A bathtub would do. Any canoe, kayak, inflatable, or rowboat will do. Traditional is a canal barge. Motor boats are permitted (10 hp limit in the lake) but are few and friendly. We used a canoe and a hobie mirage, a sot pedal kayak.


Find Suffolk, Va, and hwy 17. Park/putin at good (ok secure) ramp on hwy 17 a couple miles north of VA/NC line. Swamp canal visitor center (info, restrooms) is a couple miles south of the state line in NC.


Bland: Dismal Swamp Memoir... I love maps, but it is hard to get lost in the lake/canals. I used to have the USGS and the Va topo map book. Now, I just watch the sun.

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip