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Dismal Swamp Canal Trail

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Dismal Swamp Canal Trail Map (PDF)


  1. Boat, Canoe or Kayak Ramp
  2. Horse Trails
  3. Picnic Areas
  4. Restrooms
  5. Trails

Welcome to the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail!

The Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, a former section of Virginia State Route 17, is a multi-use trail open to bicycling, walking, running/hiking, horseback riding, and boating. The north trailhead is located at 1246 Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, close to the intersection of George Washington Highway South/Business U.S. 17 and Dominion Boulevard South/US 17 in Chesapeake, VA. The trail runs south for 8.6 miles, adjacent to the Dismal Swamp Canal, almost to North Carolina. Future plans call for the bike trail to connect from Deep Creek to the North Carolina line. There are no tours at this time, but we encourage you to enjoy exploring on your own. The Dismal Swamp Canal Trail is designated a Virginia Treasure with the area well known for its historical significance.

The Canal is the site of the popular event "Paddle for the Border," which takes place in the spring. The event attracts paddlers from all over, ages eight to eighty, fitness-buffs to historians, to families looking for a pleasant day's adventure.

Park Amenities

  • 8.6-mile Paved Multiuse Trail that connects to Deep Creek Park
  • Boat, Canoe or Kayak Ramp [The Ballahack Boat Ramp and Parking area will be CLOSED from August 14, 2023 - February 2024 for construction purposes.]
  • 2 Restroom Buildings
  • Picnic Areas
  • Horse Trails

The Great Dismal Swamp (GDS) Refuge is home to myriad species of wildlife. Parts of the Refuge were surveyed by George Washington's company, and the Swamp is nationally recognized as a stop on the "Underground Railroad". The GDS Refuge is also a resting spot for thousands of migratory birds in the fall and spring. The Ballahack Road Boat Ramp provides easy access to launch a boat, canoe or kayak.

Trail Hours

Sunrise to sunset. All parks in the City close at sunset. This is for safety as most parks in the City are not lighted and not permitting people in the parks after sunset reduces illegal activities. On the Trail after sunset, the chance of a wild animal encounter is greater and due to darkness, you may not see the animal until too late. Also, more snakes may be on the pavement getting the last warmth of the day.

What's Allowed?

The Trail is linear and flat and is the perfect place to ride your bike, jog, walk, and roller skate. You can also watch birds, fish (although the fishing isn't very good), ride your horse, or launch a boat at the boat ramp. Bring a picnic and watch the boats go by. Have fun! All Trail users should keep to the right and pass on the left for safety. The area between the pavement and canal is also part of the Trail.

Restrooms / Rest Areas / Benches / Picnic Areas

  • 0 milepost - North Main Gate Area - 2 covered picnic tables, one bench, restrooms
  • 0.50 milepost - just before the MP - 2 benches
  • 0.50 milepost - just past the MP - 1 table with no seats, 1 picnic table
  • 0.75 milepost - just past the MP - 1 bench
  • 1 milepost - just past the MP - 1 picnic table, 2 benches
  • 3 milepost - just before the MP - 1 bench
  • 3.50 milepost - Douglas Road - 1 picnic table, 1 bench, restrooms
  • 5 milepost - just before the MP - 1 bench
  • 5 milepost - just past the MP - Glencoe Road next to the Historical Superintendent's House - 1 bench
  • 5.75 milepost - north end of Boat Ramp parking lot - 1 picnic table
  • 5.75 milepost - just past the MP - Boat Ramp - 1 picnic table
  • 6.75 milepost - just before the MP - Arbuckle Landing (Boat Dock) - 1 picnic table
  • 7 milepost - just past the MP - 1 bench
  • 8 milepost - just past the MP - 1 bench

Native Wildlife

When spending time along the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, outdoor enthusiasts will be able to see many different types of native wildlife.


Yes, the Dismal Swamp area has one of the largest concentrations of Black Bears in the state and they are sighted quite frequently by both Trail users and the Park Rangers. Bears can be seen at any time but most sightings are usually late afternoon or early evening/sunset. Bears can be seen anyplace from parking lots and all up and down the Trail, but mostly around the area of the Trail between Cornland and Glencoe Roads and the last two miles of the Trail next to the farmer's fields. There are numerous places where bears cross. Usually the sow (mother bear) with her cub will use one or two paths and the cub will use the same paths when he gets older.


There are also numerous snakes in the area and they are normally seen sunning themselves or crossing the Trail. Snakes that are most frequently seen are Black Snakes, Black Rat Snakes, Rough Green Snakes and Garter Snakes. Other snakes that are commonly seen are Eastern King, Mud, Eastern Milk and Red Bellied Watersnake. These snakes are non-venomous. There are three venomous snakes that might be seen on the Trail. The most common is the Copperhead, and it will normally stay still until you leave, unless provoked. The Copperhead's venom is the least potent of the three. Only two Canebrake Rattlesnakes have been seen on the trail since 2006. One Cottonmouth was spotted on the Trail trying to get to high ground from area flooding during a heavy rain period.

Other Animals

Other animals, such as foxes, rabbits, woodchucks (groundhogs), bobcats, nutria, beavers and coyotes, can often be seen in the area.

Next time you are planning an outing, print out a copy of these handy wildlife checklists, to see how many different types of animals you spot.


Call 911 and give the location and nature of the emergency on the Trail. If non-emergency, call the Park Ranger Office at Northwest River Park at 757-421-7151.