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Edenton & Northeastern Swamps

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Fresh off the heels of my backpacking trip to the mountains, my wife and I headed east for a short-but-sweet overnight trip to Edenton, Merchants Millpond, and the Great Dismal Swamp.

We started with (relatively) big plans for the five-day weekend following Veterans Day. Mother Nature did not share our plans, and decided to send heavy rains starting Wednesday night. So, we called an audible and shortened the trip, taking off Tuesday after work and returning Wednesday evening.

Our first stop was Edenton, which we’ve been meaning to visit for a while. We grabbed dinner downtown, then settled into our B&B (the Cotton Gin Inn) on the outskirts of town for a relaxing evening. In the morning, we strolled around neighborhoods, the waterfront, and the historic downtown, soaking in the small town vibes. Though small, Edenton is cohesive, well-maintained, and has a lot of charm. After a big breakfast at the Inn, we headed out for our second leg of the adventure.

We had originally intended to camp at Merchants Millpond SP, but converted our visit into a short day trip paddling around the pond. It really should be called Merchants Mill-lake; it’s a few miles long and far larger than any millpond I’ve visited before. Cruising the dark, shallow waters took us back to another time—maybe the Jurassic. The flora here outshined the fauna. We slowly navigated through and around endless stands of baldcypress—most with leaves fallen or golden-orange, and covered in Spanish moss—with each turn revealing a slightly different swampy vista. Shrubs (e.g., Virginia sweetspire, wax myrtle) and even some small pines clung to the bases of cypress trunks and knees jutting from the water. The lake was blanketed with aquatic plants—some native (e.g. spatterdock, floating pennywort, water fern, duckweed, and watermeal), others not-so-much (e.g. water milfoil). As far as animals go, we missed the most interesting ones (alligator and cottonmouth), but saw a few dragonflies and dozens of turtles basking under warm, sunny skies. At least for the first half of the trip. Once we reached the end of the lake and began our journey back, the sky darkened, and we went on our way.

Our final stop took us across the Virginia state line (barely), where we drove a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp NWR to Lake Drummond and back. The swamp forest and lakeside marsh were scenic, but the overcast skies, wind, and general lack of wildlife made it seem a bit more dismal than great. Overall, I prefer the NWRs in North Carolina, which seem to have more readily accessible wildlife habitat (e.g., managed impoundments). But I probably shouldn’t judge this one based on such a limited survey.

All in all, a good short trip to some new-to-us places in the Northeastern part of the state. I’m sure we’ll be back.


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