Trail News

Unspoiled Dragon Run a Perfect Place to Paddle with Friends

June 3, 2022

Untouched Dragon Run is a paddlers paradise. The 40-mile span that is considered Virginia’s most pristine blackwater stream spans the counties of Essex, King and Queen, Middlesex and Gloucester. Distinguished by its remoteness, Dragon Run is an ecological playground for fish and fauna and home to wildlife who thrive in an area considered the second most ecologically significant in the entire Chesapeake Bay (Zekiah Swamp in Maryland ranks first).

Access to Dragon Run is severely limited, but Friends of Dragon Run, a nonprofit of Middle Peninsula citizens who formed to preserve a 203-acre tract of the swamp land and 650 acres along the shoreline, arrange paddle tours in spring, summer and fall.

Summer paddle signups begin June 15 for these guided tours that begin June 20; spots fill up quickly. The morning excursions in groups no larger than eight begin at Big Island in Shacklefords and return there in roughly three hours.

Friends of Dragon Run President Jeff Wright shared 12 things you might see on a summer paddle. Remember to book your spot early!


Beaver dams, lots of them, in fact, and beaver lodges are plentiful. If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a beaver. Beavers build these homes made of logs and mud with a pond behind to protect themselves against predators.


Bald Cypress trees, many that predate the founding of the nation, are found throughout Dragon Run. These majestic trees are known for their conical woody projections known as knees, a special kind of root that allows them to transport air to the roots buried in water.


Flowering plants along your trek include spatterdock, which is similar to water lilies; swamp rose; blue-flag iris; and Pickerelweed, a visually attractive weed that attracts butterflies, bees and dragonflies, to name a few.


Turtles sunning themselves on logs are looking to regulate their body temperature; look for their outstretched legs.


Birders will get their fill here where it’s not unusual for Bald Eagles soar, perch on branches, and swoop along the water.


Virginia’s state insect is the butterfly, and you’ll spy several, flying, puddling, and occasionally landing on a kayak or paddler


Beautiful iridescent green or turquoise Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies flutter above the water and enjoy momentary respites on kayaks.


Migrating Warblers in their many forms and sizes flock to the Dragon. Even if you’re not a birder, you’ll appreciate their magnificent colors and distinctive songs, among the only sounds you’ll hear along the unspoiled Dragon.


Featherfoil is a fascinating, mysterious, and somewhat rare aquatic herbaceous plant found in shallow waters along the edge of the Dragon Run, often near a beaver dam.


Savor the defining Bald Cypress-Black Tupelo Swamp with a view nearly identical to the one that John Smith and others from the 1600s enjoyed.


Marvel at Resurrection Fern, one of the most astounding biological specimens on our planet that went into space on NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery in 1997, where the fern returned to life in zero gravity. In dry weather, the fronds curl up to resemble a dead plant until rain returns them to life.


Friends of Dragon Run promises smiles from the paddle crew and the paddle guests during your retreat into nature with others whose mission is to preserve and appreciate it.