Lake Drummond, Chesapeake / Suffolk, VA ~ Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

General Trip Information –
According to Wikipedia ( ) Lake Drummond is one of only two natural freshwater lakes in Virginia. The other, Mountain Lake in Giles County (Northwest of Blacksburg), is also of unknown origin. Lake Drummond is a large lake (3,142 acres) with a maximum depth of 6ft.

Best Time to Paddle & Tips
Launch is open year round so paddlers with the appropriate gear can enjoy paddling here all season. Late September and early October can be amazing when the leaves are changing. November through March can be nice for camping for anyone with the proper cold weather gear. Keep in mind this area is surrounded by a swamp, so during the warmer months prepare for battle mosquitoes and keep an eye out for snakes.

As always, paddler skills are the greatest limiting factor. Paddlers in this area should pay attention to local weather and be comfortable with self and assisted rescues. The shoreline is always close in the canal which is less than 15 yards wide, but it’s heavily overgrown and very steep so simply “going to shore” is not as easy as it may sound for a rescue.

When first entering the lake be sure to look back and remember the sign at the entrance to the canal – the shoreline may appear to conceal the entrance once you’ve paddled a short distance from it! Once in the lake, paddling south in a clockwise direction around the lake will bring paddlers to the burn area on the south side where fire damage is very apparent from the August 2011 wildfire. For more info about the fire visit The shoreline around the rest of the lake is lined with cypress and Atlantic white-cedar, often creeping out into the lake and very scenic.

Recommended Boat Types
Almost any craft will work but canoes and kayaks designed for day tripping or touring and general purpose or touring canoes will lead to a much more enjoyable trip. Canoes can be ideal for campers since they can typically carry more gear and larger bags for “luxury” camping. There are no portages and gear only needs to be carried a short distance to the camping area at the spillway.

Directions to Put In –
One way to reach the lake is to launch at the state ramp on the Dismal Swamp Canal which runs along route 17 (less than one mile north of Arbuckle Landing) in Southwest Chesapeake. Once in the Dismal Swamp Canal, paddle south to the feeder ditch which runs west from Arbuckle Landing. Follow the feeder ditch west approximately 3 miles to the camping area and Army Corps of Engineers spillway by the lake.

Launch Fees – None

Facilities at Launch –
This is a well maintained launch with a large parking area, picnic area, wide concrete boat launch, and dock. If parking overnight, be sure to lock valuables. Porta potties are available at the parking area.

Type of Camping Available –
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website for the Great Dismal Swamp (
“The Lake Drummond Reservation (Army Corp of Engineers site), at the Feeder Ditch spillway, is open for 24-hour use. The facility consist of an open grassy area for camping, fire rings, two screen picnic shelters, outdoor grills and tables, and restrooms with running water (usually April to November). You will need to bring all your needs including drinking water and fire wood. Access to the camping area is by water only; sites are “first-come.” Use of Lake Drummond is during daylight hours only. Swimming is not allowed; fishing by Virginia fishing license.”

Commonly Targeted Fish-
From the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website (
“Historic and scenic Lake Drummond is bowl-shaped with acid-stained water, due to the organic acids leaching into the water from surrounding swamp and peat soils. The lake pH normally ranges from four to five. This low pH severely limits the species of fish found there; the low nutrient levels limit the fish biomass. The lake has crappie, yellow perch, chain pickerel, flier, and bullhead catfish. Its best sport fishing is for crappie during the spring. Bowfin and longnose gar are the most abundant predator species in the lake. These grow to a large size and will offer a ‘heart-thumping’ fight if hooked. Lake Drummond is fairly large (3,142 acres) and, as such, can get very treacherous in strong winds. However, the lake is shallow (maximum depth six feet) Boating access to Lake Drummond is either by a feeder ditch off the Dismal Swamp Canal (east side of lake) or a road through the refuge from the west.”

Responsible agency overseeing the location –
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Army Corps of Engineers

Links for additional info –
Short Video from a January 2013 trip to the lake with Vic and Tracy Sorensen

National fish and wildlife Service Brochures