Great Dismal Swamp 2/2

After doing a bit of research it looked like a great way to experience the Great Dismal Swamp would be to use our kayaks.

We could launch into the Canal, get to the very attractively-named Feeder Ditch, and paddle 3 miles in either no or a small current up to a dam where a small portage would gain us access to Lake Drummond. Lake Drummond is a 3100 acre lake in the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Tannin-rich Water

Lake Drummond and the Feeder Ditch have water that has a high tannin content which accounts for its very dark appearance (and ability to make a couple of clean kayaks look trashed).

It’s also said that the tannins keep the water fresher so much longer that ships headed across the Atlantic would stock up on it for use in transit. One account said it was directly drinkable but the author didn’t attempt it nor did we.

Our Longest Paddle

So, the big story here for our family is that while we have had kayaks for 9-10 months we have never attempted a trip this long. I knew it would be a stretch goal but with the lack of any significant current, not much traffic expected, and the payoff being the view of Lake Drummond that not many people see I felt it was worth the attempt.

We left notes on both our RV and Truck, packed a lunch and some extra food and water, threw in some headlamps, a first-aid kit and a rope (just in case), and got into the water somewhere between 9:30 and 10 AM. I would have liked to have been about an hour earlier, but sometimes that’s life.

Very Little Traffic

There was no traffic in the Canal and we soon (after a bit of second-guessing) reached the intersection of the Feeder Ditch. Turning into that we started paddling towards the dam.

One motorboat passed us (respectfully slowing down as he did) and one other kayaker passed as well, gliding by gracefully in his long sea kayak which made our inflatable feel a bit like the ugly duckling.

We didn’t see a ton of wildlife - certainly none of the Black Bears that the Refuge is said to house 400 of. We saw mainly turtles and some ducks. Or maybe they were geese?

Annoying Ditch Ducks

I dubbed them the annoying Ditch Ducks. They glommed on to us early in the Feeder Ditch and at first were interesting, not being a species we have in Michigan.

But then? They. Wouldn’t. Leave. Us. Alone.

Seriously - they were either between the two kayaks or close behind us for the better share of our paddle up the Feeder Ditch. Once in a while they’d approach like they were begging but then one or two of them would flap up and honk and look like they were about to get aggressive. I’m not one to harass wildlife but splashed them a couple of times which caused them to drop back for a while.

The Dam Tour

Eventually we reached the dam, took restroom breaks in the provided bathrooms, and considered our options. We were already tired but the lake proper was only a short distance up from the dam.

It was also pushing lunch time. We decided to keep going to the lake, spend a short time enjoying the reward for our effort, and then come back for lunch.

Lake Drummond

The lake was quite pretty. And big. Without a handheld GPS I was wary to get too far away from the Feeder Ditch connection as I could tell it would disappear into the shoreline without too much effort.  We snapped a bunch of photos and floated a bit with the current, enjoying the calm and the view.

But - in the back of my head was that little voice reminding me that we had lunch and a 3.5 mile paddle back out to get done before darkfall. 


We turned around and headed back to the Feeder Ditch, back to the dam where we enjoyed the use of a screenhouse for our lunch.

We invited another kayaking couple in to join us, they accepted and we got to know them a bit. Turns out it was their very first kayaking trip and they were feeling the burn as well.

After eating, doing some stretching and refilling water bottles it was back into the ditch heading out. 

Cypress and Tupelo Gum Trees in Lake Drummond

Cypress and Tupelo Gum Trees in Lake Drummond

Our welcome transition from Ditch to Lake

Our welcome transition from Ditch to Lake

A very pretty sight indeed

A very pretty sight indeed

Lake Drummond

Lake Drummond

A bit of color at the base of this tree

A bit of color at the base of this tree

The kids consider the reward of their efforts

The kids consider the reward of their efforts

The most welcome sign of the day

The most welcome sign of the day

Packed up to head back to camp for cleanup

Packed up to head back to camp for cleanup

Paddling Out

It was all at once a tough paddle as our shoulders and arms were getting tired and over much more quickly than it seemed to take coming in. We took a few breaks, promised each other to not keeping making those “ooouuuggh” noises, and powered through.

The “boat launch ahead” sign was a welcome sight. I think we made it out in roughly the same time it took to go in - about two hours. I was pleased that it wasn’t yet 4:00 when I had expected us back at the truck around 5.

Cleaning Up

As if that wasn’t enough, the work of the trip wasn’t over. The water and foam of the Swamp took its toll on the kayaks so they had to be scrubbed down before being packed away. We did that work and then collapsed into bed with adult beverages in hand.

A Memorable Visit

All in all though? Many times on our visits to National Parks and other attractions we are “most people”.

  • Most people don’t get much more than .5 miles from the parking lot.
  • Most people don’t see much past what’s visible from the car.
  • Most people settle for the paved paths to the designed photographic spots. 

And that’s been us - but not here at the Great Dismal Swamp. We sucked it up and paddled 8 miles (and I might be rounding up there a bit but that’s my prerogative).  We saw views that not many see - even the local kayaker we talked to said between us and our lunch partners it was the most people he’d ever seen on his visits.

And I feel like we have conquered this stop, and can move on without the angst of ‘we really didn’t see the whole thing’ for a change.

How About You?

Have you heard of the Great Dismal Swamp? Ever been there?

5 Comments Great Dismal Swamp 2/2

  1. Picture of Jenni Jenni October 16, 2014

    That sounds like quite a day. We are impressed.

  2. Picture of Miranda Miranda October 21, 2014

    The annoying Ditch Ducks? That’s pretty good. Harrison and I called them the Killer Geese. :p

  3. Picture of Jos Callinet Jos Callinet March 30, 2015

    A fine account of a beautiful day well spent. It IS worth getting off the beaten path now and then, and immerse ourselves in the world around us.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the images and atmosphere conjured up by the name “Great Dismal Swamp.”  We are fortunate that it has been preserved for our enjoyment - we desperately need places like this to get away from the noise and pressure of 21st-century life, where we can power down our cellphones and other “devices” and simply commune with nature.

    You and your family managed exactly that - I totally loved reading your account of your experience. Beautiful photography.

    If I go, I’ll be sure to bring the duck/goose equivalent of insect repellent!

  4. Picture of Boyink Boyink March 30, 2015

    Thanks Jos - I appreciate your reading and comment!

  5. Picture of Will Will February 19, 2017

    Interesting, thanks for sharing. I have a new trip to plan now.

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