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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
There's more to the Louisiana's deep South than swamps and Cajun food.
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.