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Days
<1
Motors Allowed?
No
Difficulty
Easy / Class A
Distance
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Looking for alligators in an ancient bald cypress swamp is a great way to spend a day, and Merchants Mill Pond is an excellent place to do this. Situated near the North Carolina and Virginia border, Merchants Mill Pond is located in the North Carolina state park of the same name. It is the northernmost known habitat for wild American alligators. As well as alligators, the swamp’s bald cypress trees with their bulbous bases and twisted limbs draped with strands of Spanish moss make an otherworldly sight for adventure. A canoe or kayak is the best way to explore the swamp and makes for an easy beginner trip on the smooth flat waters of the pond.

The park has canoe rentals and a canoe put-in near the visitor center for those who don’t have access to a canoe or kayak and need to rent. On the other side of the small pond is the park’s public put-in with a great little boat dock and hose for cleaning your boat after the trip. The park has a set of buoys of different colors to help prevent getting lost in the “maze” of the swamp and to guide you to the 10 family and three group canoe-in campsites. The Blue set leads you to and from the visitor center landing. The orange set leads you toward the family canoe-in campsite, and the yellow leads you to the group canoe-in campsite.

For those who can keep a sense of direction or use GPS tracks, leaving the marked buoy routes gets you away from crowds and allows you to explore some of the more remote sections of the swamp. Also, continuing past the last of the yellow buoys takes you into the Lassiter Swamp. In general, fewer people go beyond the buoys. If the water lilies are in bloom and not so thick that they inhibit passage, the self-charted route in this "alternative reality" can be stunning.

Before taking off, check in at the visitor center. The rangers have more details of how to maximize your chances for alligator sightings and keep notes on their bulletin board of the latest sightings of the most popular critters in the swamp. Since this easy day trip is close to the major metropolitan area of Hampton Roads, Virginia, it can make for busy weekends. The state park map marks all the water and hiking trails in the park. Old topo maps are of limited utility for route planning. Google Satellite images are probably the best, but common sense, a sense of direction, a desire to make your own route and a GPS tracker is all that is needed to go beyond the buoy routes.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Beautiful swamps with lots of critters, including alligators.

Cons

In hot weather, can be buggy. On weekends, it can be crowded.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

36.431414, -76.697777

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

36.431414, -76.697777

Water Temperature

75.00 °F (23.89 °C)

Features

Family friendly
Vault toilet
Boat ramp(s)
Backcountry camping
Fishing

Trail type

Loop

Access

Vehicle

Typically multi-day

No

Shuttle required

No

Site characteristics: Water

Lake

Portage required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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