North Carolina has one of the best state park systems in the country. If you’ve been here a while, you know how I feel about their park passport program (it rocks). Now, here are my thoughts on Merchants Millpond. It offers a little bit of everything, including alligators.
Here’s what I’m covering. Scroll down to find what you need:
- What You’ll See When You Get there
- Camping Options at the state park
- How Not to Die There
- The Part Where I Prove The Name Actually Makes Sense
- Accessibility at the State Park (Wheelchair and Walker Specific)
- How to Find Merchants Millpond
What You’ll See There
Merchant’s Millpond is one of those places that is as good for a day trip as it is for overnighting (unlike Chippoke’s State Park). For those who want to lose a few hours in the woods, the park offers two 2-mile hiking trails and two short kayak/padding trails. There’s also a 5-mile bike loop.
The entrance to Bennetts Trail looks like it leads to Hobbiton.
Many folks, however, pop in for a few hours of fishing (permits required) or picnicking at one of the many free shelters. Restrooms are available and are gloriously clean throughout the park.
If you DO have the time to spend, there’s the Lassiter Trail (a level 6 mile hike), and a 6-mile paddle trail along Bennett’s Creek.
Expect to see creepy swamps, trees drooped with Spanish moss, and winding mistletoe. We spotted too many types of frogs and snapping turtles to count. There are also hooded mergansers, deer, possums, LOUD woodpeckers, brave as crap raccoons, and otters. Oh, and snakes…more about them in the How Not to Die There section below. You MAY see a bobcat, but he doesn’t want anything to do with you. Actually, you’ll probably never see one, but they will see you. On that note, keep your pets close.
As for the fish, we were told that the park is home to two primitive fish species – the bowfin and something super Jurassicky looking called a long-nose gar. Stop by the visitor’s center to see one up close.
Camping at Merchants Millpond
You have a ton of camping options here, but bring your own power supply if you need it. While there are 20 sites for campers and tents, they don’t contain water or electric hookups. Also, no dump stations. Pack in and pack out. You will find a bathhouse with showers and potable water.
There are teeny-tiny spots and a couple of HUGE ones to take in the biggest of Class A RVs. The sites are WELL SHADED. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to grab some solar power.
If you want to rough it – backpack only – take the 6-mile Lassiter Trail. There are five campsites there and the only way to access them is on foot.
If you bring your canoe, you can reach three camping areas (with multiple campsites in each area). No restrooms, no water with, but there are pit toilets. Even if you don’t bring you canoe, still try it – they have overnight rentals for anyone aged 15 and up!
How Not To Die While Camping
This place is like the Australia of North Carolina. There are a billion ways to die before sunset and none are pleasant.
Death by venom – There are PLENTY of totally harmless snakes at Millpond. And then there’s the cottonmouth. This can wreck your weekend…and life…so leave it alone. Me? I don’t play the game of “look at the shape of its head to tell if it’s venomous.”
I don’t care.
I treat all snakes with respect. I live my life…they live theirs…and they always have the right of way.
FWIW – As their name indicates, when they open their mouths, you see white. Like death. I want no part of this.
Per the jogger who calmed me down in the middle of my arm-waving freakout, this is a completely harmless-mud snake.
Death by gator – I had NO FREAKING CLUE alligators came as far north as North Carolina. It scared the crap out of me. There is nothing to separate you from the water or the gators. And of course, once I knew alligators were there, then I started “seeing” them everywhere.
This is the first time in my life that I didn’t have to tell my family not to do stupid things. As soon as we heard alligators were a thing, we all sat up a little taller. On the water, every eye was peeled. Roped together in a communion of fear, our guard was up.
This is the type of idiocy I’m talking about. We swore up and down that we were looking at a gator. Every phone and camera was out. There we were – all hooting and hollering – in fear and wonder over what we later determined to be a rock.
Look, you’re not gonna die – Honestly, your bigger worries ought to be mosquitoes, ticks, and running out of ice cream. Just keep an eye out.
Where Does Merchants Millpond Get Its Name
You’re never going to believe it. Between the 1680s and early 1700s, a bunch of farmers and merchants moved into Gates County. Included in that lot were people involved in grain and lumber. By the early 1800s, sawmills and gristmills dotted the area. Hence, Merchants Millpond. And the Most Literal Name Ever Award Goes to….ahem anyway.
Accessibility at Merchants Millpond
The visitor’s center provides easy parking, wonderfully wide doors and aisles around the exhibits. As for trails, the Cypress Point Trail (about 0.34 of a mile) provides a nice, flat path. There are no assistive devices at kayak/canoe launch areas. Even getting down to the water was rough. I struggled to get my aunt’s wheelchair halfway down the main canoe launch site. Coming up was a nightmare.
Perhaps a motorized wheelchair would have gone much better?
How To Get To Merchants Millpond State Park in North Carolina
Located in Gates County, you can reach the park via state highways 32 and 37 or US 158. It’s between 30 -60 minutes from Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Edenton, and Elizabeth City. They are open year-round, except for Christmas.
Latitude: 36.505700 // Longitude: -76.355100
2294 US 17 North, South Mills, NC 27976
Cliffsnotes: Have fun. Don’t feed the gators. Dem snakes are real. This place is great.
Note: I stayed here before both Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael hit North Carolina. Contact North Carolina State Parks for any updated closures/amended hours.