Swamp Thing: Congaree National Park, Great Dismal Swamp NWR, Natchez Trace

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: Lake Drummond

Hoping to see some swampland, we headed to Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. This park is mostly a hunter’s paradise. There are hiking trails but they are straight and boring with little change in scenery.

great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge; lake; virginia We pose on the pier of Lake Drummond. We were the only ones there on the chilly November morning.

We pose on the pier of Lake Drummond. We were the only ones there on the chilly November morning.

great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge; virginia This road in the refuge was long and straight. We walked for close to an hour in the same direction but the view remained the same.

This road in the refuge was long and straight. We walked for close to an hour in the same direction but the view remained the same.

A hidden gem is Lake Drummond accessible to most vehicles by a dirt road. The lake offers stunning views and wildlife sightings (mainly birds). There is also a trail that leads to interpretive signs explaining the history of runaway slaves in the swamp. Slaves, dubbed maroons, would escape to this unforgiving landscape and settle in hope that slave catchers would not want to or be able to follow. With little to do in our first swamp, we headed to Congaree National Park.

Congaree National Park: all open trail, easy

Camping at Congaree NP is primitive with the exception of a clean pit toilet. The sites are all a short walk (some shorter than others) from the parking lot. A small inconvenience for this fee-free park.

congaree national park; river; south carolina We were only able to walk a section of trail in late November. As you can see, much of the trail is flooded.

We were only able to walk a section of trail in late November. As you can see, much of the trail is flooded.

congaree national park; south carolina We were so amazed by all the knees that stuck up from the ground.

We were so amazed by all the knees that stuck up from the ground.

Eighty percent of the park floods each year rendering many of the trails impassable without specialized gear. Although we arrived at the beginning of the flood season, only about 7 miles of the 25 mile trail network were open. Seeing the floodplain of the Congaree River in this condition was stunning. River Otters and beavers live is this park. Unfortunately, we did not see any.

congaree national park; south carolina The elements in this river help to created an interesting rainbow when the sun strikes it just right.

The elements in this river help to created an interesting rainbow when the sun strikes it just right.

The raised boardwalk trails starting at the visitor’s center offer a great opportunity for those wishing to stay dry. Unable to walk all the trails each day, the rangers may be unaware of the water levels. Please inform them on your way out if you come across any flooding.

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Natchez Trace Parkway: A driving tour with easy hikes, South of Jackson, MS

After a few sopping wet days, we were happy to explore the Natchez Trace Parkway (a NPS maintained corridor). There are lots of trees along this All American Road, so time your visit to coincide with peak fall colors.

The road follows the route first used by the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Chactaw nations. President Jefferson named it an official postal route, and many Americans utilized it as they ventured West.

mississippi; natchez trace parkway This old townsite has a few remnants of the past including this building and a couple old safes.

This old townsite has a few remnants of the past including this building and a couple old safes.

The 444 miles auto route runs from Nashville to Natchez. We hopped on in Jackson, stopping in Clinton to grab a NPS brochure. There are a ton of stops that offer picnic tables, interpretive signs, and trails. The brochure has short descriptions of all stops enabling you to pick and chose what interests you. Here are a few of our favorites:

mississippi; natchez trace parkway Erosion caused by thousands of men and houses walking the same route. This is part of the original route.

Erosion caused by thousands of men and houses walking the same route. This is part of the original route.

“Sunken trace” is a good example of the erosion caused by heavy usage.

Sharon; mississippi; natchez trace parkway Sharon contemplates the mound once used by the Natchez as a ceremonial mound.

Sharon contemplates the mound once used by the Natchez as a ceremonial mound.

“Emerald Mound” is a 5 minute walk to the top of a Native American ceremonial spot.

Natchez National Historic Park: Melrose Plantation, William Johnson House – short walks

At the terminus, Natchez National Historic Park awaits. You can walk the grounds of the breathtaking Melrose Plantation. Tours of the house are offered daily so keep an eye on the schedule. In town, the William Johnson House is where the “former slave turned master” made his fortune.

"natchez national historic park" The Melrose Plantation was under-going restoration when we were there. Tours are given daily.

The Melrose Plantation was under-going restoration when we were there. Tours are given daily.

How did we find Natchez Trace Parkway? Using our DOT Scenic Byway Map. You too can have one, free of charge. Just request one online at the DOT website and you’ll be ready to incorporate the nation’s iconic roads into your travels.

For more national park adventures, visit our National Park Service Guide.