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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Louisiana's Kisatchie Hills Wilderness

There's more to the Louisiana's deep South than swamps and Cajun food.

by: Larry Larason

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Little-Known Fact: The Caroline Dorman Trail in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area is named for the first woman employed in forestry in the United States (1930).

Mesas, wilderness, hillside bogs, and white sandy creek beds ~ not what you typically think of when somebody mentions camping in Louisiana.

But these are my surroundings as I pitch my tent for the night at Longleaf Vista on a bluff overlooking a crystal-clear stream. The next morning I watch the sun rise over the 8,700 acres of the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area from my sandstone perch. Were these hills in Utah, they would be called mesas (well, mini-mesas at least).

My hike starts on the Caroline Dormon Trail. Ahead of me lies about 15 miles of varied forest habitat before I reach the end of the trail at Kisatchie Bayou Campground.

The Caroline Dormon Trail is easy traveling with very few hills, and I make good time on the northern portions. The lower trail, however, is fairly new and not well-trodden. Some sections of the path have been blazed but not cleared. I often feel like I'm bushwhacking even while following the markers.

On the south end of the trail I pass by a slough holding inky dark water. I then climb a small rise to look down a steep bank at the white sand of Kisatchie Bayou. I consider that from here it would be possible to abandon the trail and walk the bayou. It might save a half mile or so, but I am tired and prefer solid footing to trudging through sand and water.

Many people consider the Kisatchie District of the Kisatchie National Forest to be the prettiest part of Louisiana. The Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area displays the most rugged terrain in the state, with hills ranging from 120 to 400 feet in elevation. This is the largest of three designated wilderness areas in Louisiana and the only one managed by the Forest Service. Kisatchie Bayou, a State Natural and Scenic Stream, flows through the district.

Your best chance for solitude is to pack into the wilderness area on the Backbone Trail. The sandstone ridged terrain is more rugged and interesting than that on the Dormon Trail. The Backbone Trail is not listed in the recreation directory, but the trailheads are signed. The eastern entry point is just across the road from the Dormon trailhead.

It is late afternoon, and I have traveled the Dormon Trail far enough to spot the rocky streambed for which Kisatchie Bayou Campground is known. I hear something and pause. Watching carefully, I spot an armadillo rooting through the leaves. I stand still and it approaches to within three feet. As I shift my weight from one foot to the other, the armadillo senses movement and gets up awkwardly on its hind feet to wiggle its ears and sniff at me. I guess it decides that I'm a funny-looking tree stump, because it resumes its snuffling through the underbrush.

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Reader Rating: -


Jan 04, 2012

My husband and I hiked Backbone trail on Christmas Eve. The plan was to hike half way in and camp out, but the rain came and we decided to hike the whole trail then take to road back to our car. This was our first time to that area, we were amazed with the clear streams. I had expected to see more limestone cliffs, but we enjoyed the hike just the same. We still plan to go back and camp out, so we can explore the area more. We could see evidence of the Fire, but everything seemed to be growning back quickly.

Dec 26, 2010

Ooops, did'nt read the second page. Sorry!!

Dec 26, 2010

I think I missed the part where Mr. Larason said that the Caroline Dorman trail IS in the wilderness area, or anything about camping in the Vista!?!

Dec 06, 2010

As the mangager for the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness, you should've ran this by me first. But, since you didn't, I'll just address all the inconsistancies here instead...
-1st. the Caroline Dormon Trail is NOT in the Wilderness. It is outside the wilderness and links up with the Backbone Trail (this is a wilderness trail)
-2nd. there is NO CAMPING allowed at the Longleaf Vista. This is a DAY USE ONLY Area that is surrounded by the Wilderness on Three sides. Had I been aware of camping at the Vista, I would've called Law Enforcement.
-3rd. The Caroline Dormon Trail is 10.5 miles from the edge of the Wilderness to the Kisatchie Bayou Campground, (None of it is in the Wilderness).

The Fire which burned 4500 ac is out and did a world of good. We practiced MIST (minimal impact suppression tactics) as we fought the fire and thanks to no less than three prescribed fires in the area prior to the wild-fire, we were able to steer the fire to areas of low danger and avoid causing serious resource damage, while at the same time utilize the fire to help clean up and reduce the fuel loads inside the Wilderness Boundaries.

Nov 14, 2010

I'm heading back down there in two days. Gonna loop around with my dog a couple nites. Just got back from camping on creek this past Monday. Want to see if wilderness is open yet since the fire is out and we have had rain. That fire should have done a world of good; natural order of things is for Longleaf to burn. The yaupon and regeneration was so thick back in Sept. that I did not see any views and could not even get a breeze. Last time it burned, afterwards, I went and topped every hill top in the wilderness and plotted them on my quad. That's right, I have no use for a GPS----map and compass baby!!!! NO BATTERIES!!!!

Oct 21, 2010

There's currently a forest fire in the wilderness area. It has burned over 3500 acres...nearly half of it. :(


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