Merchants Millpond: Lassiter Trail

Merchants Millpond is rightly known as one of the best spots in the state to paddle a cypress swamp, and deservedly so. The 760-acre millpond is perhaps the most enchanting flatwater paddle in the state, a paddle both wild (it’s easy to get temporarily lost amid the wading cypress and tupelo) and accessible (the boathouse rents canoes and kayaks).

Most folks probably don’t even know this paddler’s paradise has hiking trail, but it does. Nine miles, in fact. And 5.5 miles of those — the Lassiter Trail loop — is one of the best swamp hikes around. You’ll hike beneath a tight hardwood canopy (impressive beech trees dominate) and through dense understory dominated by assorted bays. You’ll hear the sounds that make a swamp hike so intriguing: the cacophony of carpenter frogs, leopard frogs, bull frogs, cricket frogs and tree frogs, the who-cooks-for-you call of the barred owl, the discussions of whatever seasonal avian life is temporarily calling the swamp home.

There’s a simultaneous intimacy and expansiveness that makes this hike all the more ethereal. Somewhere nearby there’s a ruckus in the underbrush that’s probably a squirrel but that, because you’re in a swamp, hints of something larger. Also nearby but out of sight, something takes flight. A duck, probably, but swamp amplification makes you think of something larger — much larger.

There’s plenty on this 5.5-mile trail to trigger the imagination. Perhaps the ultimate sign of a good hike.

More info: Merchants Millpond State Park, detailed trip description at nchikes.com

Maps: Downloadable here, also available at the park.

Getting there from downtown Greenville

Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 1 hour 40 minutes from downtown
Time to complete: 2-4 hours
Address: 176 Millpond Road
City: Gatesville
State: N.C.
Zip: 27938
Latitude: 36.4371
Longitude: 76.7015