Dismal Swamp was not what I expected. While vacationing on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, we decided to drive up to the border between North Carolina and Virginia. The history of Dismal Swamp State Park interested me. Everything from George Washington’s history with the land to how the swamp got its name.

The hiking trails are flat, as expected for the area. I couldn’t find references to trail length until we arrived at the park and was surprised to find the path I wanted to take would be over fifteen miles. My first mistake. We didn’t have that kind of time, so I quickly adjusted my thinking for this hike. We began with a two-mile walk on a dirt road. There is a canal between the road you walk and the main highway, but heavy traffic removes any feeling of solitude and nature, the reasons I hike. I had not anticipated U.S. 17 to be so highly trafficked. My second mistake.  Two locations on this part of the trail allowed for a quick peek at the canal. There was a replica of a moonshine still and a canal boat which proved interesting. We encountered deer three different times, one frog and a few butterflies. Very few birds were seen or heard, probably because of the loud traffic.

Once our road turned away from the main highway, we could still hear the traffic. At mile three, we turned around without accomplishing much. The hike is an out and back. Had we hiked further, we would have looped a section of the trail and I suspect I might have found what I was looking for, but our schedule did not allow for more than the six miles of hiking we completed at this park. If there is swampland, it is over three miles from the park entrance. For me, the trail was a walk on a dirt road on a hotter than normal day in October. There was nothing extraordinary on this trail to make me recommend it.

When we returned to the welcome center, we took the boardwalk and again there was very little of what I would expect in a swamp, though it was an improvement over the trail. For someone with no previous experience with swamps, marshes and the like, this might be a good destination, but I was disappointed. The trails, based on what I saw, would be good for bikes and we did pass a group biking the trail. I suspect they made it to the swamp I was looking for. At least, I hope they did.

For a marsh or swamp experience in North Carolina, I would recommend Goose Creek State Park or Alligator Refuge.

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