April 2010: Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Suffolk, Virginia

At the age of 21 George Washington could be found down on the Virginia-North Carolina border organizing the Dismal Swamp Land Company. His plan was to drain the Dismal Swamp - so named by the English because there was no need for settlers to force Indian tribes off the land since they had already left - and set up logging operations. Over the next 200 years all of the cypress and Atlantic white cedar forests would be logged at least once. Establishment of the refuge began in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation donated 49,100 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy. This land was then conveyed to the Department of the Interior, and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was officially established.


If you are looking for a place to disappear with your dog on a hike for hours, this is it. During its logging years, over 140 miles of roads were constructed through the Dismal Swamp. The best place to launch your dog’s adventure is the parking lot at the end of Jericho Lane, off Route 642. Your dog will be hiking on firm sand/dirt roads, level and easy everywhere. Shade is at a premium on hot days so pack plenty of water for your outing. You can create a hiking loop from the several ditches that join at Jericho Lane.

The refuge has also developed an interpretive trail at the site of Washington’s former camp, Dismal Town. An extensive boardwalk, nearly a mile long with a couple of spurs, snakes through the heart of the swamp. For a full day’s adventure with your dog a 4.5-mile hike along the Washington Ditch will get your dog to Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in the state of Virginia.

For using internet mapping and direction software, use 3100 Desert Road, Suffolk, VA 23434 for the headquarters. For trail heads, use 1325 White Marsh Road for Jericho Lane entrance, and 3300 White Marsh Road for Washington Ditch entrance. All are in Suffolk, VA 23434.