A Weekend Trail Festival for the Great Dismal and Elizabeth City

You likely can tick off all the great adventures you’ve had at the coast, in the Piedmont, in the mountains. But what about in the far northeast corner of the state, where perhaps the state’s most unique adventure challenge awaits — the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Great Dismal is one of the few spots in the country so wild it has refused development. It flummoxed George Washington’s earliest surveying efforts, it was so wild and impenetrable that it provided safe haven for enslaved African-Americans escaping the south and Native Americans driven from their homeland by invading Europeans. In fact, evidence suggests that humans have been seeking shelter in the Great Dismal for 13,000 years. Thought to once cover a million acres, about half that is now protected.

And it’s the focus of the fifth Year of the Trail Weekend Trail Days Festivals being sponsored by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and its Hometown Strong initiative. The festival begins with a ranger-led hike at Great Dismal State Park at 2:30 the afternoon of Friday, June 2 and concludes with a paddle on the blackwater Sawyer’s Creek the morning of Sunday, June 4. In between you’ll find bike rides into the Great Dismal, paddling in a cypress swamp and a hike during the magical gloaming.

Here’s a look at what all is planned, along with links for additional information and to sign up.


2:30 p.m.Dismal Swamp State Park Boardwalk Hike, 0.5 miles. Join Park Superintendent Adam Carver for a leisurely stroll along the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk as it elevates you above the swamp. Hear the sounds of frogs and birds, and learn about this diverse swamp habitat. Learn more and sign up here.

6 p.m.Evening Hike at Merchants Millpond State Park. Enjoy the late-day light on this 2.5-mile hike on the Bennetts Creek Trail. From the Visitor Center we’ll hike an upland area of hardwoods and pines before dipping to a wetland along Bennetts Creek where extensive boardwalk keeps you elevated above the swampland. Learn more and sign up here.


9 a.m. – 2 p.m.Downtown festival with craft and food vendors in downtown Elizabeth City’s Waterfront Park.

10 a.m.Bike the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. From Dismal Swamp Visitor Center pedal the paved 3-mile Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. A good ride for beginners and for families — six miles total on flat pavement that’s separated from traffic. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours for the ride. You must have your own bike and you must wear a helmet. Learn more about the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail here. Learn more about the ride and sign up here.

10 a.m.Paddle at Merchants Millpond State Park. On this ranger-led canoe trip you’ll paddle the 760-acre millpond amid old-growth cypress dripping Spanish moss into the “enchanted forest” of Lassiter Swamp. $10 fee covers canoe rental, paddle, PFD, guide and instruction. Beginner friendly. Learn more and sign up here.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.Beginner Paddle on the Elizabeth City Waterfront. We’ll have beginner-friendly kayaks available from the Elizabeth City Parks & Recreation Department for you to explore the Elizabeth City waterfront and to paddle up Charles Creek. A good way to dip your toe into paddling and a different way to experience the waterfront.

1-4 p.m. Bike Deep Into the Great Dismal Swamp. On this 3-hour ride we will bike deep into the Great Dismal Swamp, the largest remaining swamp in the Eastern United States. Utilizing the park’s 22-mile network of natural surface bike trail, we will ride through pocosin habitat and beneath cypress and cedar trees, and past signs of the region’s human past, including examples of stills and lighter boats. You must have your own bike, wear a helmet, and be able to ride 15 (flat) miles. Learn more and sign up here.

2-5 p.m.Downtown guided walks. Explore historic Elizabeth City on one of several downtown walking tours.


9 a.m.Sawyer’s Creek Paddle. This 1 1/2 -2 hour paddle begins at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Boat Ramp off NC 343. We’ll launch via the platform or boat ramp and begin going upstream under the NC bridge and enjoy the peaceful waters surrounded by the diverse flora and fauna native to this area. This is a calm, wind-driven creek lined with many bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. A good introduction to coastal paddling. Allow up to two hours for this trip. $50 includes guide, kayak, paddle and PFD. Have your own boat? $10 for the guide. Minimum age: 10. Learn more and sign up here.

For an overview of the weekend’s events, go here.



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