Hunting and fishing is permitted seasonally on the lake.
Lake Mattamuskeet
(Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge)

Thousands of snow geese feed in the farm fields around the lake.
The 40,000 acre Lake Mattamuskeet, 18 miles long and 6 miles wide(1), is surrounded by over 6,000 acres of freshwater marsh and forested wetlands(1). This natural lake, the largest in North Carolina, is a mecca for bird-watching enthusiasts. It has been a national wildlife refuge since 1934.

Tundra swans by the tens of thousands winter at Lake Mattamuskeet.
In the 16th century, when the first English explorers along North Carolina's coast visited the lake, it covered three times its present area. Ever since that time there has been interest in draining the lake to make fertile farmland. Early attempts to do so in the 1700's were nixed or thwarted. But in 1837 a canal was finally dug from the lake to Wysocking Bay on Pamlico Sound. This drained all the water from the lake that was above sea level, shrinking the lake from 120,000 acres to just 55,000 acres(3). Since the remainder of the water was below sea level, it would have to be pumped out. During the 25 years between 1909 and 1934 the lake was pumped completely empty three different times as part of the effort to convert it and surrounding land for farming(3).

The pumping station still provides an eye-catching visitor attraction.
Many egrets, herons and other wading birds are found in the marsh areas surrounding the lake.
This was a gargantuan and costly effort, requiring the dredging of more than 100 miles of canals and the construction of a huge pumping plant to lift the water from the lake level into the main canal which carried it to the sound. In the end the massive efforts ended in failures and bankruptcies. The pumping plant was eventually turned into a hotel and restaurant, and served as a popular hunting lodge for many years. Presently the building is closed due to corrosion of the steel supporting structure, making it unsafe for visitors. It is in the precess of being repaired and restored, but the project is taking far too long to complete. A much more detailed history is available at

Today Lake Mattamuskeet is well-known for the vast flocks of wintering tundra swans estimated at up to 35,000(1). Canada geese and snow geese numbering 6,000-11,000(1) or more also gather here between November and January. Its location along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a prime site for viewing migratory birds of many species. It is home seasonally to more than 240(1) species of birds, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, and a great variety of ducks and shorebirds(2).
Tundra swans are a big attraction for bird watchers.

Neighboring Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge compliments Lake Mattamuskeet. It provides additional protected marshland and sound waters where visitors can view the plethora of ducks, geese, swans, wading birds and raptors that are found here.

(1) Figures from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(2) Information from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(3) Figures and historical information from

More Scenic Places:

Pamlico Sound -
Historic Corolla -
Lake Mattamuskeet -

Related Links -

Bird Checklist for Mattamuskeet & Swan Quarter

More historical information on Lake Mattamuskeet

Birds and Wildlife of the Outer Banks
Copyright © 2003 Fred Hurteau           * Copyright information and image use policy *

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