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Great Dismal Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Nowhere is the beauty and history of the Chesapeake, VA region on greater display than in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

From legends about the ghostly maiden sometimes seen paddling across Lake Drummond and the real-life saga of the swamp as a stop on the Underground Railroad to the tales day-trippers leave with about the wildlife they’ve seen, the canals they’ve kayaked, and the fish they’ve caught, one thing is abundantly clear: the Great Dismal Swamp is full of stories. Just one visit to this natural treasure is sure to leave you with memories of your own to tell.

Nature on Full Display

A person bird watching with binoculars at sunrise in Chesapeake VA

With more than 112,000 acres of forested wetlands covering about 170 square miles, the Great Dismal Swamp offers hikers, birders, photographers, and butterfly chasers countless opportunities to seek out once-in-a-lifetime memories, images of pristine nature, and undisturbed wildlife.
 
Rare native tree species such as the tupelo gum-bald cypress and Atlantic white-cedar make up approximately one-fifth of the swamp’s forest and that figure is projected to grow with the recovery efforts in place to restore the effects of past logging.

While the region’s native panthers can no longer be found, the swamp still abounds with a mind-boggling degree of biodiversity, including black bears. White-tail deer are a common sight, while sharp-eyed hikers and quick-clicking photographers can occasionally catch red foxes, beavers, river otters, bobcats, minks, and the southern flying squirrel.
 
In fact, it can be hard to keep your eyes on the trail when so much of the beauty is in the canopy, including more than 200 species of birds, nearly 100 species of butterflies, and—when the sun starts to go down—10 different species of bats.

Fishing and Waterways

If you’re eager to go beyond the miles of trails, you can paddle into the heart of the dense cypress swamp via the Great Dismal Swamp Canal to lose yourself in untouched nature  Or you can take a guided kayaking tour all the way to the Feeder Ditch and Army Corps of Engineers Spillway. Either way, be sure you find your way to majestic Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in the state of Virginia.
 
Photos and paddling callouses aren’t the only way to take home memories of the beauty of Lake Drummond, which offers some of the best angling for crappie, yellow perch, and bullhead catfish on the entire East Coast. While shore fishing is possible, getting out on the 3,000-acre lake is the best way to admire it and find choice fishing holes. Those looking to do battle with predator species can find abundant bowfin and longnose gar guaranteed to put up a fight—and break the occasional line. You can decide if you’ll tell the truth or a tall tale about the size of your catch.

Events

Beyond exploring the trails and waterways, you can also get to know this vast stretch of nature by attending some of the beloved annual events that center around the Great Dismal Swamp in Chesapeake. 

Every spring, you can run through the scenic Dismal Swamp Canal Trail during the Dismal Swamp Stomp Running Festival. The run offers participants the option of participating in the 5K or half marathon, and there’s also a half-mile Cub Run for kids under 12. Runners race on a paved path where the glory of the forested wetlands can be taken in as you run, and the event ends with a post-race party featuring live music, food, and awards.

Find out more about Chesapeake's great outdoors here

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