Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC)

North Carolina

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Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC) Facts

States: North Carolina
Counties: Camden
Length: 2.75 miles
Trail end points: Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center and NC Highway 343
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Greenway/Non-RT
ID: 6783750

Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC) Description

The Dismal Swamp Canal Trail is a paved, heavily wooded pathway along the eastern border of Dismal Swamp State Park. The park offers more than 112,000 acres of forested wetlands and is teeming with wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, subtropical birds and white-tailed deer.

You'll begin at the Welcome Center (2356 US Highway 17 N.) and travel south through the woods, continuing between the historic waterway and the historic highway, before ending at NC Hwy 343. Along the way, picnic tables and benches provide places to rest, and restrooms are available at the Welcome Center. This trail is maintained by Camden County Parks & Recreation. 

The Welcome Center has a 150’ face dock on the Dismal Canal that is very popular with boaters. Another trail leading to the Village of South Mills is accessible via a 5 foot-wide extension path. 

Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC) is now included in both the NC Birding Trail and the East Coast Greenway.

 

Parking and Trail Access

Parking is available at the northern trailhead at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center (2356 US Highway 17 N.), 3 miles south of the VA/NC border.

Another trailhead and parking area is located at the trail's southern end at the intersection of US Highway 17 and NC 343.

Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC) Reviews

This Trail description needs some work

Although the trail description does describe this as 4.5 mile asphalt trail, the comments provide some very misleading information that might be helped by some broader clarification in the main trail description.

When accessing this Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC), you come in contact with a network of recreational park resources that are adjacent to, but have nothing to do with, the Canal Trail to which this entry refers.

1. The Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC), is as described is a paved section of trail from a south-end trailhead parking area at the intersection of Route 17 and NC Highway 343 N going north to the NC Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center. (Note that the trail and Welcome Center are on the east side of the canal, between the canal and Route 17). The actual trail length is about 3.4 miles. I don't know how the 4.5 mile distance in description is calculated. The following description is taken from the Welcome Center website (https://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/hiking/).

"Dismal Swamp Canal Trail

This three mile paved trail begins at the southern end of the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center/Dismal Swamp State Park off US Hwy 17 and meanders through a wooded area between the historic waterway and the historic highway, ending at NC Hwy 343. A 5 foot wide extension provides access for the trail to the Village of South Mills. This trail is beautifully maintained by Camden County Parks & Recreation."

I checked with the visitor desk at this welcome center and with the State Park Welcome Center (see below) and they both assured me that this was the only paved section of trail along the NC part of the Dismal Canal.
Note that this section of trail is maintained by Camden County Parks & Recreation.

Also note that the Welcome Center is home to a 150’ face dock along the Dismal Canal that provides a rest stop to nearly 2,000 boaters yearly. See https://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/boating/

2. There is a swing bridge across the Dismal Canal, accessed from the Camden County Welcome Center parking lot on the EAST side, that leads to the NC Dismal Swamp State Park on the WEST side of the Canal.

See both https://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/state-park/ and https://www.ncparks.gov/dismal-swamp-state-park.

Note that the Welcome Center and the State Park are entirely separate organizationally, and although they cooperate, they are run entirely separately.

The State Park has a system of "trails", although from the perspective of Rail-to-Trail and TrailLink.com users I think the designation of "trails" is a bit generous. The State Park bikeable trails are, for most of the mileage, nothing more than old logging roads, which are quite rough (large gravel, largely ungroomed, sections with tree roots making the trail quite rough, some sections not much more than a grassy overgrown path).

See the map at https://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/DISW_mappad15.pdf

Most of the State Park trails (roads) run straight as an arrow in a grid pattern through the swamp. The main rectangle of the grid, which makes up the largest part of the trail mileage is bounded by Kim Saunders Road, Forest Line Road, Corapeake Road and Martha Washington Trail. It's a somewhat uninspiring ride. Gravel Bikers or MTBers may be more inclined to like this ride, but for the typical Rail-to-Trail rider, this isn't an expected experience.

The confusion in this TrailLink entry on "Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC)" is that there are comments referring to stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (NC). One comment refers to starting your ride up in "Chessie" (address is 1200 Dismal Swamp Canal). This is way up in Virginia! The Virgina part of the trail is, from what I've read, entirely different than the NC section. Another comment refers to the State Park trails, which again, have nothing to do with the Canal Trail. The State Park trails largely run perpendicular to and away from the Canal. (Comment that refers to State Park trails... "The trails are very well maintained. Despite all the previous rain, I had an awesome 23 mile ride and thoroughly enjoyed the day. The park Staff are very knowledgeable and friendly.")

If you are expecting a Canal Towpath (trail following the old towpath right along the canal) type experience which is more typical of other preserved canal trails in the Mid-Atlantic and NE canals, you will be sorely disappointed.

The State Park trails are what they are, and serve a purpose, although different than what the typical Rail-to-Trail user expects. I'm simply suggesting that this trial description needs to be clarified to make clear to what it does, and does not, refer.

Outstanding riding trails.

The trails are very well maintained. Despite all the previous rain, I had an awesome 23 mile ride and throughly enjoyed the day. The park Staff are very knowledgeable and friendly.

Longer then noted

If you start your ride at "Chessie" (address is 1200 Dismal Swamp Canal) and continue to the end it's 8.3 miles each way for a total of 16.6 miles. Make sure to apply bug spray. Family and cyclist friendly!

Beautiful nature facilities!

Enjoyed the movie and talks. Rented a bike while husband walked. Any number of short and long trails. Try the logging trail that goes deep into the swamp. Bring water, sunscreen, deet and trail snax to keep up energy level. Highly recommended.

Accordion

October Recumbent Trike Ride

The DSCT was really pleasant. The day was beautiful and so was the trail. The trail meanders through the trees adjacent to the canal and occasionally comes close to Route 17. There are places along the trail to stop and relax. The only thing wrong is that it would be nice if it was longer for bike/trike riding. A word of caution is that there are some raised asphalt (from tree roots) in some locations (real washboards). If you're riding a bike, and the tires are hard (high air pressure) they can jar you're ride seriously. Some one painted some white lines at the beginning and end of the bad areas as a warning I assume. When the sun is shining on the trail, the white lines are hard to see unless you really look for them. BUT all in all, it is really beautiful and pleasant. There is a very nice state visitors center at the north end.

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