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Spotlight: The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia and North Carolina

Spotlight: The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia and North Carolina

Venture into this diverse and mysterious landscape

Dismal Unique bald cypress trees stand in the middle of Lake Drummond, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (Ethan Bullard/Share the Experience)

“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 nearly 113,000 acres (45,729.5 hectares) including Lake Drummond, the largest natural lake in Virginia.

Five entrances to the refuge provide access to hiking and biking trails that take you deep into the swamp. Stop by the refuge headquarters in Suffolk, Virginia, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. for additional information. Use this refuge trail map (PDF) to help plan your visit.

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 or Elizabeth City, North Carolina Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Make Sure You

Raise your binoculars and take part in the 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. Read about the refuge archaeological work on Facebook and stop by the refuge headquarters for archaeological-related exhibits.

Try This

Enjoy the wildlife! Hike Washington Ditch trail and find more than 200 species of birds in the refuge using our bird list (PDF), or search for swamp creatures using our wildlife checklist (PDF). You can also volunteer for the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Don't Forget

Hunting is allowed on the refuge and portions of the refuge close at various times during hunting season. Be sure to check for road and other closures and dates before you go and read our article about hunting safety.

Read up about the Dismal Swamp before you arrive! Discover how it has 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?

The refuge is an important landmark on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Download the "The Great Dismal Swamp and the Underground Railroad (PDF) brochure to learn more.