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Where to Go, What to Know

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Writer Amber Nimocks recently visited North Carolina's Great Dismal Swamp. Here is her reporter's notebook.

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DRIVE TIME

About 4 hours

COST

Free

GETTING THERE

From Washington, take Interstate 395/95 south to Richmond. Follow I-295 east around Richmond, then take I-64 to Norfolk. South of Norfolk, take U.S. 17 south. The park shares an entrance with the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center on U.S. 17 about three miles south of the Virginia-North Carolina border.

WHERE TO STAY

Canoeists looking for an overnight camping trip should try Merchants Millpond State Park (71 U.S. 158 E., Gatesville, N.C., 252-357-1191, http://www.ncparks.gov), 30 minutes away, which has canoe-in campsites. The closest place to find a bed-and-breakfast, chain hotel or sit-down lunch is Elizabeth City, about 18 miles south of the park by way of U.S. 17.

WHERE TO EAT

Grouper's Waterfront Restaurant (400 S. Water St., Elizabeth City, 252-331-2431) features seafood and sandwiches and a deck overlooking the Pasquotank River. The shrimp and grits are a good pick: rich, creamy and fresh. Dinner entrees $13-$23. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Cypress Creek Grill (113 S. Water St., Elizabeth City, 252-334-9915, http://www.cypresscreekgrill.com) has a menu that includes jalapeño-and-feta-crusted chicken breast and cilantro lime shrimp salad. Dinner entrees $10-$24. Closed Sundays.

WHAT TO DO

About 17 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails provide access to the swamp's wooded acres. You can also enter the swamp via a 300-foot-long boardwalk at the visitors center. Ranger Tony DeSantis advises that the park is best suited for nature lovers interested in spotting wildlife. It has no swimming areas, campgrounds or playgrounds. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during daylight saving time, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year. The visitors center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Get more park details at 252-771-6593, 252-771-6582 or http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/disw/main.php. Admission is free.

WHEN TO GO

Winter is a great time for seeing wildlife. Paddlers should consider the Paddle for the Border event (http://www.cityofchesapeake.net, click on Parks & Fine Arts) set for May 2. Hundreds of canoes and kayaks will travel the canal from Chesapeake, Va., to the park's welcome center.

WHAT TO TAKE ALONG

The park offers no bike or boat rentals, so take your own.


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