Cypress trees in swamp

Discovering NC’s Pocosins

Two weeks ago I didn’t know what a pocosin was.

We’ve lived all over North Carolina, including the east coast and outer banks, since 1988. For three years we lived a few minutes away from (and regularly visited) the Great Dismal Swamp, and we’ve hiked through plenty of wetlands. But a pocosin, I’ve learned, is not only special, most pocosins are in North Carolina.

How did I not know this?

Pocosins are slightly brackish inland peatbogs and wetlands; they are a little higher than the land around them, and yet are inundated in vast stretches of relatively shallow water. In fact, the term pocosin is an Algonquian word meaning “swamp on a hill”. Pocosins cover hundreds of square miles of NC’s coastal plain.

How we first noticed the NC pocosins

A couple of weeks ago we headed out to Kitty Hawk—on NC’s outer banks—for a camping trip. We drove first to Raleigh to see family, then set out the following morning for the coast.

The Alligator River runs through the pocosins of NC, and once you cross the river on Route 64, there’s a fairly lengthy drive through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge where there’s absolutely nothing but the road, miles and miles of swampland, and gators, (endangered) red wolves, and black bears (oh, my).

Gator in black water

It has a harsh beauty about it, and despite living so long in North Carolina, I’d never noticed these expansive protected refuge lands before.

But we did know one thing.

It’s smart to gas up if your tank is nearing empty, and you need to make it through the pocosins, then over the Croatan and Roanoke sounds to the Outer Banks.

So we stopped at a little convenience store on the Alligator River to get gas, then strolled out to look over the water. It was my first small taste of the pocosins of North Carolina.

It was nearing noon and blazing hot; the wind coming in off the Albemarle Sound to our the north and the river in front of us was cool and carried a hint of salt. We were already a little heat-dazed. But this was even hotter—nearing a hundred degrees—and much more humid than we are used to.

But these wetlands have a unique feel, and are worth savoring for their wild beauty and special wildlife habitats.

As we drove over the Alligator River we saw dolphins arcing out of the water, breaking the sun into a thousand diamonds.


And although we kept a sharp watch driving through the miles of refuge land, we didn’t spot any wolves or gators.

Pitcher plants in wild area

Stopping to explore the pocosins a little more

At the end of our beach trip we stopped again to visit the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to hike out on the Scuppernong River Boardwalk trail, which let us experience the pocosin wetlands more intimately.

This particular refuge is over 100,000 acres, supports one of the densest populations of black bears anywhere, and is one of the country’s largest wetland restoration projects.

There were hundreds of bald cypress trees, and a variety of plants that were new to me.

We looked in particular for the carnivorous plants we know live there (Venus flytraps, sundews, and pitcher plants, all of which we saw at the aquarium on Roanoke island during our beach stay) but didn’t see any.

Still! Pocosins!

It was Hot. As. Blazes. We circled out on the heavily shaded boardwalks, through the peat-filled bogs and swamps, to experience the scents, sounds, and feel of such a unique place.

I would love to be there in the winter to see the tundra swans and snow geese…

It’s on my Must Visit Again list!


Photos used by permission from Unsplash, via James Morden (cypress trees), Sterling Lanier (alligator), and Samuel Branch (pitcher plants).

3 comments on “Discovering NC’s Pocosins

  1. Sherry Siddall


  2. I have driven through there, without realizing what it was. It sounds so interesting. I do love wetlands, therebis something mysterious about them, secrets hidden in the murky depths. My mother was from the Finland region of England so perhaps that is why wetlands draw me.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      I loved hearing about your connection to wetlands, through your mother. I looked up wetlands of Finland on Wikipedia and discovered the delightful place name Äteritsiputeritsipuolilautatsijänkä, which is a boggy region, and also the longest place name in Finland. How interesting!

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