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“And miles to go before you sleep”

Ranked #1 of 17 things to do in Suffolk
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Attraction details
Owner description: A swampy region where visitors can go birding and view wildlife up close.
Suffolk, Virginia
Level 3 Contributor
13 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
“And miles to go before you sleep”
Reviewed November 25, 2013

Thanks to the arrow-straight and nearly level walking paths originally surveyed by George Washington this is a historic stroll with nature and history. However late July is probably not the best choice of season to visit since mosquitoes are rampant. Plan on feeling isolated and at one with nature. The Visitor Center provides helpful information and updates on current sightings; bears were prevalent during our visit, but fortunately we missed that local drama. Bring bug spray and tick repellant and be sure you have appropriate footwear!

Visited July 2013
5 Thank wooduck1505
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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75 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Greenbelt, Maryland
Level 5 Contributor
42 reviews
13 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 57 helpful votes
“Just because it exists...”
Reviewed November 12, 2013

...it gets a five. What you are seeing is only about 10% of what once was. You won't find many refuges this big; on which you can do so much; and on which you will do it with fewer people.

Reading reviews, I may need to correct some misconceptions.

First of all, as with any Wildlife Refuge, wildlife comes first (and yes, in season, hunting the wildlife comes first). Way it is. What you want to see, you may not be able to see if you go on the wrong days (say, weekends) in hunting season. Arrange a long weekend, and put a Tuesday or Thursday (or holiday Monday) on that weekend so you can go to one of the spots that might have been closed otherwise. The Railroad Ditch auto tour is one of the hunting spots; it's the only way to drive to Lake Drummond (a must see). It was open Veterans Day, the second time I tried it (closed Saturday for hunting). Washington Ditch - the only dedicated way to walk/bike to the lake - and Portsmouth Ditch entrances are never closed for hunting. If in doubt, call or Internet ahead before you go.

Second, yes, except for a couple short boardwalks, the trails are generally the original access routes to the swamp, along the ditches dug for resource removal and drainage, and they are straight (you'd have cut them that way if it had been up to you too) and, to the uninitiated, boring. A few suggestions:

(1) focus on what is close to you. For example, today the trees had few leaves, but the saplings and shrubs had New-England-spectacular color. I found three bear scats on Hudnell Ditch Trail in less than a mile; in Shenandoah National Park, one of the most densely populated bear habitats on the planet, I don't see a single one most trips.

(2) learn something about swamps - plants and birds in particular - before you go. It will help you appreciate better what you are seeing. For birds, look up more. You will likely have more than one surprise per walk. That huge "crane" is a great blue heron; those oddly whistling guys taking off from a ditch every so often and flying off ahead of you as you pass are wood ducks. The male may be the most beautiful North American bird.

(3) if you are that easily bored, a bike may be the solution; you'll cover ground faster. Mountain bikes or hybrids recommended.

(4) sometimes 21st-century technology is worthwhile. Fire up Google Maps with your smart phone's GPS on; go to satellite view; and see where, precisely, you are standing. Those trails may be as wide as small divided highways. But you are in the midst of country as wild as any you are ever likely to be in. (Bears. Did I mention bears?) PLEASE RESIST THE URGE TO TEXT SOMEBODY.

(5) Try to make sure you see Lake Drummond; it is one of the coolest sights in Virginia (and one of only two natural lakes in the state). I saw it from the pier at the end of the auto tour, with no boats on it; no one else, in fact, within sight or sound; and with a long white line of swans and gulls on the opposite shore (the pier has one of those huge metal binoculars, thank God; mine stunk.)

6) The brochure/map was done this year and is essential. Make sure you pick one up; it's all you need, really. They are located at kiosks...well, at every site I visited this trip.

I saw something about fees for hiking and biking. Really? No. Free.

If you go prepared to slow down; to forfeit the spectacular (Lake Drummond excepted; and that is only quietly so) in favor of the merely exceptional; and to listen to the quiet around you, you may not be able to find a better place to spend time doing those things.

Visited November 2013
12 Thank DonnTheHiker
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Bend, Oregon
Level 5 Contributor
52 reviews
11 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
“not dismal at all”
Reviewed October 19, 2013

Easy trails in a quiet setting along the canal. Very peaceful and relaxing. You can also bike on the trail but walking allowed us to see and hear the birds.

Visited May 2013
2 Thank patty g
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Corapeake, North Carolina
Level 3 Contributor
13 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
“Great Dismal Swamp NWR Owl Prowl”
Reviewed September 30, 2013

The Great Dismal Swamp is the most amazing place in Tidewater, always a lot to see and always serene. I recently visited the Refuge at night for an Owl Prowl with the biologist and the visitor services specialist. A group of about 15 people met at Jericho Ditch and we learned a lot about owls and other night animals in an informal setting, led by the biologist and the visitor services specialist. It was immediately obvious that these two people have a deep appreciation and love for the Great Dismal Swamp and they truly enjoy sharing these experiences with visitors. We heard lots of different owls and insects and a few splashes in the water; we saw lots of bats and even a brilliant meteor overhead, On the way to the Refuge, I saw several deer and a bald eagle and some turkeys. I did myself a real favor by going on the Owl Prowl.

Visited September 2013
4 Thank swamplady
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Chesapeake, Virginia
Level 4 Contributor
41 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 12 helpful votes
“Back to Nature”
Reviewed September 17, 2013 via mobile

If you want to explore nature, this is the place. We walked the "boardwalk trail" and enjoyed nature and photographed frogs, lizards, deer, snakes and more. Trail ends at the Dismal Swamp Canal. Beautiful and active bike trail.
Drove the long and narrow road down to Lake Drummond. Nice pier for fishing or crabbing and boat dock. Scenery was breathtaking.

Visited July 2013
3 Thank tatteredhokie
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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