A desolate cesspool filled with mosquitoes is not what you find at this millpond. While the park’s name doesn’t have an attractive ring like the nearby Great Dismal Swamp, Merchants Millpond State Park, North Carolina, offers fantastic exploration on its millpond and creek.
Spot alligators, barred owls, turtles, and beavers while you kayak or canoe. At night, camp on flat ground, a fire in the fire rings and dinner on the picnic table. Beyond the kayaking, the park offers you quality amenities: a boat wash station at the ramp, easy access, short shuttle, hiking trails near the millpond paddle campsites, and an interesting visitors center.
Merchants has two different paddle trails you can mix together to fit your schedule. Option A) combine both trails into one full day. Option B) paddle just one section for a 1 night camp out. Option C) paddle both sections over 2 nights, 3 days for a super relaxing adventure.
Who Should Paddle This Trail
This trail is for you if you want:
- to see an alligator up close without fear of it being overly aggressive
- an interesting, mysterious, and beautiful swamp to explore
- easy, quiet, and beautiful paddle-in campsites for 1 to 2 night camping adventure
- a perfect spot to camp and make some memories with friends
During the prime season (spring and fall) the campsites will fill. Be sure to get advance reservations through the park’s website.
Summer nights can be buggy but generally fine during the day.
If you are camping with your own boat, you’ll need to check in at the park visitor’s center then drive a quarter mile to the boat ramp.
If you need to rent a boat, head to the visitors center, the launch point for rental boats.
If you are only paddling and have your own boat, you don’t need to check in. Just head to the main boat ramp.
To just paddle Bennetts Creek, off load everything next to the bridge over the creek (see photos and look for the access point sign) then park at the boat ramp, a 2 minute walk away. You cannot paddle from the millpond to Bennetts Creek.
The millpond and Bennetts Creek are well signed.
Paddle the Millpond (mileage varies)
From the boat ramp, the yellow marked buoys lead to the individual campsites (1.2 miles, one way). The orange marked buoys lead to the group sites (.74 miles, one way).
The best way to explore the millpond is in a clockwise direction (keep the shoreline on your left) to keep oriented; while the millpond is small, it is easy to feel lost due to the numerous islands.
The buoys are marked, with higher numbers further from the boat ramp.
Paddle slowly, stay quiet and keep the camera (or binoculars) ready. With many hiding places, you’ll easily stumble upon the wildlife.
Paddle Bennetts Creek (5.7 miles, one way)
If you are only camping on Bennetts Creek, explore the millpond if time allows. Once you are ready to paddle the creek, head towards the dam spillway. About 20 yards to the left of the dam is a small primitive trail to portage your boat over the dam. The portage is very easy.
Directly opposite from the dam, on the other side of the road, is the dock to access Bennetts Creek.
Once your boat is on the dock, either carry your supplies to your boat from the boat ramp parking lot or temporary park on the shoulder next to the access point.
Bennetts is very narrow with a pleasant flow (~2mph) winding through a hardwood forest.
In .6 miles you’ll reach a walkway with a wooden bench, a part of the Bennetts Creek trail.
Two miles later (2.6 miles from the start) you’ll paddle by the only human development till Gatesville. This is a private access point of Turkey Neck (on your right).
From Turkey Neck, it is 1.38 miles (or 4.6 miles from the start) to the land based paddle campsites.
The 3 pod platform is .37 miles beyond the land sites, 105 yards up a small side creek at the only “T” intersection (that is, you’ll need to take a 90 degree left (southwest) turn to head downstream. Follow the signs.
To reach the take out, paddle downstream 1.13 miles more and take out just beyond NC 37 bridge. Use the floating dock on the right.
The take out is a small public park built for paddlers. There is just enough parking and a picnic pavilion to wait under while the 6 mile (one way) shuttle is run.
Shuttle directions are accurate if using Google. From the millpond, head south (left out of the boat ramp parking lot) 3 miles on Millpond Rd (NC 1400) to the four-way intersection at NC 37. Take a right (west) onto NC 37 and drive 3 miles to the first and only bridge over Bennetts Creek. Take the first left just after the bridge into the micro-park. Retrace your route to get back.
What You’ll See
The rangers describe the millpond as being from a fairy tale, and they are completely right. Between the few alligators, black water, gnarled trees covered in Spanish moss, croaking frogs, the hoot of owls, you just might meet Shrek, or perhaps a witch.
Spring is my favorite with many flowering and budding plants, chirping birds, and the perennially green resurrection fern.
Fall offers subdued oranges, yellows, and reds, reflecting off the mirror black water.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
Early spring (late March) through May are ideal. Warm days, comfortable evenings, not many bugs, and plenty of water in the millpond. Midsummer tends to be hot but bearable (for the temperatures and bugs if you prepare). Fall (September through November) is pleasant with added color of changing leaves and no bugs; however, the water level can be low during fall and winter. Low water causes the duckweed to have less area to spread out, making for large green mats, making paddling difficult (see the fall photos in the album).
While most paddle trails in eastern North Carolina are suitable for paddle boarding, it is not recommended here. The duckweed and underwater stumps catch the board’s fin.
The millpond campsites connect to the park’s 11 miles of trails if you want to explore on foot.
The park is home to numerous reptiles and the rangers regularly offer hikes and paddles to seek them out. Well worth attending.
The mill pond has several alligators, the biggest at 8 ½ feet. To find it, go during the warmer months and keep an eye on the logs.
The 6 mile shuttle is short and easily biked along empty country roads if you don’t want to take two vehicles. Given the popularity of the park, sharing a ride is possible.
- Merchants Millpond State Park
- 176 Millpond Road
- Gatesville, NC 27938
- Phone: 252-357-1191
- Visitors Center: 36.437105, -76.701580
- Park Boat Ramp: 36.4314, -76.69778
- Gatesville Paddle Access: 36.39915, -76.75058
Free to paddle.
Camping has a nightly cost. Limit 6 people per individual site. Group paddle sites require a minimum of 7, and max of 50 people per site.
The park rents for a nominal fee canoe and kayaks.
Where to Stay
Gatesville and Gates County don’t offer a lot of choice near the park, but you have a few options.
- The Teacherage is well reviewed B&B on Trip Advisor and is a 10 minute drive from the park.
- Several national hotels are located 16 miles or more away.
- The park offers a traditional drive-in campground as well.