Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (VA)


24 Reviews

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Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (VA) Facts

States: Virginia
Counties: Chesapeake
Length: 8.5 miles
Trail end points: Old Route 17 and George Washington Hwy. (Chesapeake) and US 17 (near the North Carolina state line)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Greenway/Non-RT
ID: 6594291

Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (VA) Description

Formerly part of US 17, the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail offers users a remote experience as it runs alongside the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. On this wide, flat, linear trail, you can experience the feeling of standing in the middle of a roadway without needing to worry about passing cars, as gates close the path to vehicular traffic. Horseback riding is allowed along the entire trail.

As you travel along the trail, benches provide places to enjoy the scenery and wildlife and to reflect on the history of the trail and its namesake canal. Interpretive signage explains the location’s past as the site of Civil War raids, as well as how the canal was built by the labor of enslaved people and how the surrounding area served as a refuge for runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

A statue of Ches A. Peake (aka Chessie the Bear) welcomes visitors to the northern trailhead of the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, the recommended starting point for your trip. Signs remind users to be “bear aware” due to the number of bear sightings reported in the area. But bears are not the only wildlife you may see on the trail, as more than 210 bird species have been identified in the Dismal Swamp.

As you head south, the surrounding trees give you the feeling of traveling through a tunnel. Enjoy the unique ecology as you pass markers explaining the history of the trail. At the 3.5-mile marker, you will find bathrooms, picnic benches, a dock, and bike racks. At the dock, you can take a closer look at the color of the Dismal Swamp, which has been dyed by peat, a layer of soil created over thousands of years by the decom-position of fallen twigs and leaves.

Continuing south past the 5-mile marker, you will find additional trail access at Glencoe Street. This is also the site of the Superintendent’s House, the last standing vestige of the Dismal Swamp Canal Company and the place where tolls for using the Dismal Swamp Canal were collected. Across the street you will find the future site of a historical village.

After a quarter mile, the trail opens to a field on the left side, and you may start to hear cars traveling along the nearby highway. After the 5.75-mile mark, you will pass a gate, the last parking area for the trail, a boat ramp, and accessible portable toilets. After this point, the trail continues briefly on a road that is open to cars until a gate blocks vehicular traffic just past Ballahack Road.

Past this gate, you will continue straight, with open fields to your left and the Dismal Swamp Canal and trees to your right. The trail ends somewhat abruptly at a turnaround surrounded by trees where a sign lists the rules of the trail. To head back to parking, simply turn around at this point.

Parking and Trail Access

Parking is available at 1246 Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (just south of the intersection of George Washington Hwy and Whedbee Carroll Lane) and at 1200 Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. 

Dismal Swamp Canal Trail (VA) Reviews

dismal swamp trail

Old route 17 and no interceptions. Very good place to ride with no interference of cars. Not a easy ride to get there if you want to bike to it

Very smooth for skating

Great asphalt path for inline skating. Other than twigs and pine tree needles it is very clean with no rocks. This would be a great place for a long skating ride. I went 10 miles, because I couldn’t stop to turn around. It was too fun!

Smooth Surface.

Easy, enjoyable ride.

Nice out and back

Easy 22 miler from the local park to the end and back. The trail is well paved and flat as a pancake with 33 deer if climbing over the 22 miles. Plenty of farms working and good views of the canal and water lily flowers. There were some historical signs providing information on the area and canal. This is a good trail to roll along and get some exercise. It ends abruptly with a little turnaround. Sure wish it was connected to the NC trail fir more miles.



My wife and I rode this trail on March 9-10-11. It was Straight as an arrow and Flat as a pancake! My wife and I always explore new rail-trails as we travel... Normally we do 6 miles out and back. But this time, my wife said she was willing to go to the end of the trail! We parked @ the main parking lot right off of Hwy 17. Each day we did a round-trip of a bit over 17miles! Two beautiful bathrooms about 3.5miles apart. Two awesome JD 6600 Combines and some other old farm vehicles hidden in the woods! This is a beautiful and serene riding location at any time of the day! We stayed @ the HIExpress-Chesapeake; about 8 miles away. The only bear we saw was Ches A. Peake, the wooden mascot @ the trail entrance!

relaxing and perfect for all ages

Very nice atmosphere with plenty of rest areas. Be sure to be the sun down to avoid wildlife

Be careful

I visited this trail early June, 2019 for the first time while on vacation. It is in a remote, rural area. Spacious parking lot and nice restroom at trailhead, was quiet (Thursday), few cyclists around. Locked my rental car, took off on bike and was gone approximately 2-1/2 hrs. Came back to car to find it had been broken into and my credit cards were stolen. The trail itself is fine, just be sure to bring water bottle and bug spray. But please don't go alone and never leave anything you value in your vehicle.

super gentle ride far from cars

Our favorite local paved trail. No cars at all - walkers and cyclists own the road (used to be the main north/south highway!) Deep woods and fields bordering the inland waterway. Always amazing to look over your shoulder to see a sailboat coming along beside you! Straight down and back, 16 miles or so round trip. City has added nice restroom facilities at entrance and midpoint. Much appreciated as there is nothing nearby.

beautiful scenery, fresh air, endless pavement

This is the perfect trail for cyclists. Most of it is shaded except the last 2 miles. If you stop in the middle of the trail to rest, you’ll notice its ridiculously quiet. No noise pollution whatsoever. This trail is so beautiful, wide and peaceful I have never experienced anything like it before. I rode down and back twice and racked up 34 miles on my bike! Also saw some black bears crossing the road. Will definitely be going again.

You Will See At Least One Bear

He's made of wood and stands at the northern trailhead - don't worry, he doesn't bite. But I know people that have seen them, and I ran across a half dozen turkeys once. What a great way to repurpose an old section of roadway. The trail is two lanes wide, and in relatively good shape. There are a few areas where it's open to vehicles, but they are few and far between. My only wish is that it was easier to see when the trail is being closed off for events - unless I'm looking in the wrong place. The City's Parks, Rec and Tourism calendar can be found at: http://www.cityofchesapeake.net/government/City-Departments/Departments/parks-recreation-tourism/calendar.htm. I even did an advanced search using keyword "dismal" - no dice. You have to click on each posted event to find out where it is being held.

not dismal at all

very nice trail - started in chesapeake - nice restrooms - good parking - great ride - a small section that shares the road with cars (people that live on the trail from when it was a road) - saw a big sailboat going down the canal which was neat -- everyone friendly -- a great ride on a nice day

great trail!

Nice, flat, well-paved road. So wide and plenty of shade. Only downside was finding several ticks on my dog afterward. We only walked 3 miles and he was leashed the whole time. Make sure to do a thorough tick check when you leave. Otherwise a top notch place to bike, walk or run!

Short but very sweet

This trail is faiirly perfect, as far as conditions. It used to be a main road, so it is a full two traffic lanes wide, all paved. It has substantial shade for much of the length. It follows the canal which is lovely. The canal was (is) an alternate route on the Intercoastal Waterway, so you sometimes pass some very impressive boats in the canal. There are comfort station with nice bathroomms along the way. There is plenty of nice parking at the trailhead. The trail connects at the parking lot to another trail that goes north next to Business 17 to Deep Creek Park. Just lovely.

Oasis for riders in South Hampton Roads, VA

This trail is the former US 17 Highway - and at about 22 feet wide - it's the widest paved trail I've ever ridden. No cars - but there are four connections to rural roads in the southern part of Chesapeake - allows you to venture off the trail if you're a serious roadie. In a part of the state that is woefully short of safe places to ride - it's a true oasis. Check it out.

Enjoy your run/ride

If in the area and need a nice safe to put in some miles, head here. paved, level, small grade.
mostly bikers, a good place to run

Great "Road" to Trail

My wife and I rode this trail on the way home from Virginia Beach to Georgia. Very different type of trail for us as the trail is an old two way road. It was a gorgeous day and the canal (swamp) along the trail was like a perfect reflection pool. I can see how locals would fall in love with the trail. If I am ever in the area again it will be a must ride for me.

Awesome place to ride your bike

Love this place! We have run, walk, and ridden our bikes here. Our family dog loves to come here as well!!! Thanks to all that made it happen!

run without worry

Lots of runners and bikers enjoy this trail. Excellent place to go run.

awesome trail

easy to ride and very scenic. love that you can ride as much as 16.5 miles!!

Outstanding nature trail

Perfect for hiking and biking. Lots of Munzees (see www.munzee.com) Note bear warnings. Also mosquito and buggy as one would expect during hot summer months. Bring sunscreen and deet.

Easy ride along a lovely waterway!

This is a lovely, easy FLAT ride on a wide paved path along the Inland Waterway. Perfect for beginning bike tourists or little riders. Fun to see boats cruising alongside . Lots of wildlife: early mornings we've seen turkey's, foxes, black bears and swas if brilliant butterflies. New for 2014: nice restrooms and boat launches.

new and improved

I have been riding this trail since it opened. I include it on rides from my home about 6 miles away. There are four crossing streets that allow you to ride on low traffic roads and create loops back to the trail.

There are two new restroom buildings with water fountains at 0 and 3.5 miles.

There is a connection with a new bike trail from the north parking lot that runs 2 miles down George Washington Highway. The trail crosses GWH into a city park (Deep Creek Park) were it becomes a crush/run path. There is a restroom and water fountains in the park. The park path connects
to a large neighborhood called Sawyer's Mill

The bike path runs along the canal and is somewhat shaded and scenic. There is a campground with a store across the GWH about a half mile north of Deep Creek Park.

Excellent Trail

I have been there twice to skateboard on my electric longboard. It is against the posted rules but i have not been bothered. I have seen rangers and trail workers while skating, they were very friendly and just said hi. I go on weekdays and see very few people. I would not skate it on a busy weekend. The trail itself is great, long, flat and wide. They are making bathrooms/welcome area at the head of trail near the parking lot. There is also new bathrooms, water and small dock/pier at about the 5 mile marker but as of 10/01/2013 neither were open. there are benches and pick nick areas along the trail plus a very nice pick nick area just .5 miles in. A great trail aside from road work on the road there in the Bainbridge area.

Nice, Flat, Enjoyable

My friend and I have ridden this trail a few times together. Nothing better than almost perfectly flat and asphalt when looking for an easy ride. Would get five stars if it was a circuit. Not that there's anything wrong with the old ride to the end and back. You can't beat two full car lanes of path, though, and really never that well traveled. I will definitely keep going back.

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