Places to Paddle tm
Canoeing - Kayaking - Rafting - Surfing

Merchants Millpond State Park, NC, USA
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Copyright 2001, 2002 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Galen Hekhuis with photos by Rick Sylvia
  • Date Submitted: 5/2001
  • Location: Northeastern North Carolina
  • Class: Really super easy and flat. When wind whips up other water you can count on the Millpond being fairly calm
  • Distance Paddled: about 10 miles, more or less is possible
  • Water: fresh
  • Wildlife: All kinds of critters, including alligators, otters, muskrats,beaver, geese, ducks, dragonflies, and lots and lots of turtles


  • Directions: Take US 158 West from the Atlantic Ocean and hang a left at the park. The actual put-in is around the corner. They'll tell you exactly where it is at the park office

Merchants Millpond State Park
Route 1 Box 141A
Gatesville, NC
(919) 357-1191

  • Fee: none that I recall
  • Description: Paved boat ramp and dock.
  • Parking: adjacent paved
  • Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, camping, two separate areas for individuals and an area for groups accessible only by water.
  • Handicap Access: yes

What We Saw

It's flat. No whitewater here. This is a POND for Pete's sake. Actually, it's a pretty big pond. You don't notice the size, because it is filled with cypress trees. Sometimes they are in clumps, and sometimes they are stick out alone. The "pond" is a shallow U shape, about 2 miles up the legs and 3 miles at the base. They don't allow any gasoline motors at all on the pond, which is a state park. You enter at the NW end of the U, at a boat ramp where they also rent canoes (Old Town Discovery 158 I think). You can paddle out along a set of buoys to the "family campground" and camp there, or you can go to a "drive in" type of campground a couple of miles from the boat ramp. Farther on there is a set of white (the map says they are yellow -- maybe they were at one time) buoys that mark the direction to the "group campground," where they make boy scouts and church groups and the like stay.

Now you're about halfway down the first leg of the U. No more buoys or stuff. In fact, there are so many "landmarks" that you can get confused. None of that remembering that tree in the water stuff. There are literally hundreds of them. Even a pretty cheap compass can keep you from going in circles. Anyway, as you get on down towards the bottom of the U the "landscape" changes a bit, to where there are more wide open spaces it seems. Then as you climb up the other leg of the U, you head into more a swamp, following a path (creek) through it.

Merchants Millpond is in NE North Carolina, and is formed by the damming of Bennet's Creek, right where the boat ramp is. I have no idea what the history of the place is, but geologically it is supposed to be an extension of The Great Dismal Swamp, to the NE. There is a run down Bennet's Creek to Chowan River that starts at Merchants Millpond (below the spillway) that is supposed to take some 5 hrs to the take out, if you want some fairly easy river stuff. Upstream is the Millpond, which like I say, is quite large. The water is often shallow, like 2-3 ft (less closer to "land") and slowly backs up until you are in Lassiter Swamp, which is what Merchants Millpond turns into and Bennet's Creek flows through.

There are beaver there, and geese, and ducks, and dragonflies, and lots and lots of turtles. The ranger I talked to said that there were even two alligators in there, and one had been seen this year. Of course I didn't get to see it. I did get to see a nesting goose though, and lilly pads, and all kinds of different plants I haven't the foggiest what their names are. Oh yeah, and turtles. Did I mention that there were a lot of turtles? Didn't see any snakes, however, although I know they're there. I was there last fall and didn't see any either. Mosquitoes aren't a problem either, and I'd have thought they would be, it being a swamp and all. Seems they only hang around much at dusk, or maybe I've just been real lucky. There are a lot of turtles though.

The shoreline isn't well defined in places. Where it is, there are oodles of places to take out. Many places have handy cypress "knees" to grab onto. Remember, I'm a gimp -- if I can get out, ANYONE can get out. Besides, it is a state park -- no grumpy landowners to deal with. One of the nifty things about Merchants Millpond is that if you want to paddle in the shade, you can. Then you can scoot out of a clump of cypress and paddle in sunshine and fairly open water if you want. Even when it is quite windy elsewhere it is possible to find glassy conditions in sections of the pond.

The place can seem fairly crowded at times, especially around the boat ramp. I saw a couple of boy scout groups etc. one Saturday while I was there. At times the boat ramp was filled with canoes. At times it was pretty near deserted, but the parking lot was full, and the rental canoes were just about all rented out. The millpond swallows up folks pretty quick, however, and what may seem like a crowd at the boat ramp gets absorbed pretty quick. You don't hear much, either. (Other folks, that is. There is plenty to hear, among them the sounds of turtles splashing as they dive in the water.) As you paddle away from the boat ramp, you see fewer and fewer people. The further around the U towards Lassiter Swamp you go, the lonelier it gets. Except you can always count on the company of the turtles.

All in all, it is a pretty neat place. It isn't that far from Elizabeth City if everything falls apart and you have to get a motel (about an hour). You can be timid and follow only the buoys, or you can be brave and strike off on your own. Or you can be like me, and follow the buoys until you build up enough courage to go farther and farther away each time. You can spend hours paddling around, never seeing the same spot twice, or you can sprint a bit if the spirit so moves you. Just drifting around is kind of fun, and seeing how close you can get to the turtles before they dive is always good for laughs if nothing else.