Comprised of nearly 113,000 acres of forested wetlands, canals, ponds, lakes, sphagnum bogs, evergreen shrubs, and marshy borders, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the largest site on the Coastal section of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. The refuge may be explored via 40 miles of nearly level trails and roads, many of which parallel drainage ditches surveyed by George Washington during the mid-1700s. Multiple entrances are available. It’s recommended to obtain a map from the Refuge website or visitor center.
Three-mile wide Lake Drummond, located in the heart of the Swamp, is one of only two natural lakes in Virginia. This tannin-stained, cypress-lined, isolated lake may be visited from the east by small paddled craft, or from the west by road and hiking/ biking trails. A self-guided driving tour, the “Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive,” can be accessed from the Railroad Ditch trailhead. The tour is a 6-mile trail on a one-way gravel road, and features three boardwalks to stop at along the way.
The Great Dismal Swamp is a naturalist’s dream. Over 200 species of birds, including 35 kinds of warblers, attract birders, most of whom visit the Swamp during spring migration in mid-April to mid-May. Even after the frenzy of spring migration subsides, wildlife watching in the Swamp can still be very rewarding. The Swamp remains alive with the summer songs of breeding prothonotary, prairie, Swainson’s, pine, black-and-white, yellow-throated, yellow, hooded, Kentucky, and black-throated green warblers, northern parula, and dozens of other birds.
While searching for the refuge’s many birds, even the most casual observer will encounter some of the Refuge’s 87 species of reptiles and amphibians. Small mammals are abundant, and large species such as black bear, bobcat, and river otter are encountered with unusual frequency. In fact, the Refuge may currently provide the best opportunity to see black bears in the entire state. The Swamp is an excellent locale for studying butterflies of the southeastern United States, including cane-specialists such as lace-winged roadside-skipper and creole pearlyeye.
Note: Mosquitoes are also present in large numbers, so bug spray is highly recommended.
Refuge Headquarters and Pines Trail: 3100 Desert Road, Suffolk, VA 23434
Jericho Lane entrance (popular for birding and has a seasonal bird banding station): 1325 White Marsh Road, Suffolk, VA 23434
Washington Ditch entrance (popular for hiking and biking): 3100 White Marsh Road, Suffolk, VA 23434
Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive/ Railroad Ditch entrance (This is the wildlife drive route to Lake Drummond): 3120 Desert Road, Suffolk, VA 23434
Portsmouth Ditch entrance: 3457 Martin Johnson Road, Chesapeake, VA 23323
Directions to Headquarters
From I-664 South in Suffolk, take Exit 13A- Suffolk (460/58/13 west). Turn left at the first light onto Rt 337/ East Washington St. At the second traffic light, turn left onto Rt 642/ White Marsh Rd. (Jericho Lane and Washington Ditch trailheads are on White Marsh Road.) To continue to the headquarters, proceed on White Marsh Rd to the four-way stop. Turn left onto Desert Rd. Proceed 2 miles to the refuge office.
Directions to other entrance points
Jericho Lane entrance: From SR 32 South in Suffolk, turn left on Washington Street/SR 337. Proceed 0.7 miles and turn right on White Marsh Road/Rt. 642. Travel 0.7 miles to the Jericho Lane entrance.
Washington Ditch entrance: From the Jericho Lane entrance, go south on Rt. 642 for 4.5 miles and turn left at the Boardwalk Trail/Washington Ditch entrance.
Boat access along the refuge’s eastern boundary: Exit Suffolk on US 13/58/460 East/North to I-264 North for 2 miles to I-64. Turn right, travel for 6 miles, then turn right on US 17 South and proceed 11 miles. Look for signs for the feeder ditch to Lake Drummond along US 17 at the Dismal Swamp Canal.
To return to the interstate, from the Refuge headquarters, turn right on Desert Rd. and follow it north to White Marsh Rd. Turn right on White Marsh Rd. and follow it for 7.0 miles north to downtown Suffolk and BUS-13/ E Washington St. Turn right on BUS-13/ E Washington St and proceed for 2.0 miles to US 58/US 460 Business. Turn right/east and follow US 58/US 460 Business to they rejoin the bypass. Follow US 58/460/13 east for 7.0 miles to I-664/I-64. You can follow I-664 north to the Lower Peninsula Loop or continue west on I-64 to the South Chesapeake Loop.
Location & DirectionsView on Google Maps
- Site Contact: 757-986-3705, GreatDismalSwamp@fws.gov
- Access: Free. Trails open daily, sunrise to sunset. Office open Mon.- Fri, 8:00am - 4:00pm; closed holidays. $5.00 Vehicle Access Fee for the Auto Tour route to Lake Drummond, via the Railroad Ditch Entrance (Auto Tour hours vary seasonally - check website).
Seasonal Bird Observations
- Visitor/Nature Center
- Bike Trails
- Environmental Study Area
- Hiking Trails
- Interpretive Nature Program
- Interpretive Trail
- Observation Platform