Great Dismal Swamp in Suffolk, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Great Dismal Swamp

Suffolk, Virginia

An out-of-the-way wildlife haven with a rich and storied past of harboring thousands of fugitive slaves, or "Maroons" during the mid 1800s. 


The history of this remote and uncrowded place is fascinating. The land known as the Great Dismal Swamp covers 750 square miles square miles over parts of Virginia and North Carolina. It’s the last remaining piece of a larger landscape that once spread over one million acres. It’s home to large swaths of important plant and animal habitats. It’s a National Wildlife Refuge, a North Carolina State Park, and it was part of the route for the Underground Railroad. Before the American Civil War, thousands of people who had escaped slavery made the Great Dismal Swamp their hidden fortress of freedom.

Known as “maroons,” these freedom seekers made the swamp their home, if they weren’t passing through to the northern states. Many of the maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp were enslaved people of African descent, but also among them were many Native Americans seeking escape from colonial expansion into their land. Some lived there for over 30 years, free from oppression.


Know Before You Go

There are multiple access points into the swamp proper. The main HQ is in Suffolk, VA on the western edge- on Desert Rd. Take the Railroad Ditch Trail from the western edge, it's the auto tour route to Lake Drummond and it's boat launch. There are also trailheads for hiking just north of the headquarters. Further north yet, there is more trail access at the Jericho Rd. entrance. On the northeastern corner there is more trail access (see the website for the map).

On the eastern edge, just south of the state border is the HQ for the N.C. Dismal Swamp State Park. It's here that they have a very decent and very short wooden boardwalk that is a really great primer to the swamp in general. Enjoy the swamp, and consider a bike for the long trails.

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