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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive

Louisiana's Kisatchie Hills Wilderness

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

by: Larry Larason

PAGE 1 2

Contact Information: Kisatchie National Forest Kisatchie Ranger District Box 2128 Natchitoches, LA 71457 318/352-2568

Location: Kisatchie National Forest is in western Louisiana, about 150 miles northwest of Baton Rouge and 40 miles northwest of Alexandria.

Getting There: Take I-49 to the Derry exit. Travel five miles south on State Hwy. 119 to the intersection with the Longleaf Trail Scenic Byway.

Seasonal Information: Go in late March or early April for dogwoods, wild azaleas, and other flowers, or fall to avoid hot, humid summer weather. In the spring and fall, temperatures are mild ~ in the 70s and 80s.

It can rain anytime in Louisiana, so be prepared. Unless you have current weather information, don't camp in the bottoms because a thunderstorm can raise water levels precipitously.

Wildlife: You might see beavers, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, otters, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, skunks, squirrels, owls, deer, wild turkeys, and armadillos.

Insects: Ticks are common, but mosquitoes are not as prevalent as in some parts of the state.

Plant Life: The Caroline Dormon Trail passes through pine woods, wax myrtle, and French mulberries. After a while, the trail dips into a lower area where hardwood trees dominate ~ beeches, oaks, hickories, gums, and magnolias mix with loblolly pines. Looking down from the multicolored fall foliage of the gum trees, you can see white mushrooms the size of pancakes.

Wildflowers such as coreopsis, sunflowers, and wild azalea thrive along trails. And the Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve boasts Louisiana iris, shadow-witch orchid, orange fringed orchid, white fringed orchid, bog orchid, and white buckeye.

Facilities:

  • Campgrounds are free and primitive.
  • Kisatchie Bayou Campground is the most scenic and developed, but it tends to fill up on weekends. It offers drinking water, picnic tables, tent pads, and vault toilets.
  • If you want solitude, you can make camp along the Dormon Trail or in the little used, more rustic Red Bluff Campground, where the owls will lull you to sleep. Red Bluff is also situated on the banks of Kisatchie Bayou at a bend where the water is usually still and deep. Chances to see deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife are much better here because there's less human intrusion. This campground is a bit damp in the spring, more attractive in the fall, but worth a visit anytime to simply stroll the path beside the bayou. Red Bluff offers a vault toilet.

Parking: Contact park office for information.

Permits: Permits are required for large groups only.

Policies: No motorized equipment or bicycles permitted.

Hazards:

  • Snakes, including cottonmouths, are in the area.
  • Poison ivy is abundant.
  • The 1986 Southern Pine Beetle epidemic killed pine trees on approximately 4,000 acres of the wilderness. Visitors should be extremely careful in these areas since there is the possibility of falling limbs and trees.
  • Be careful with campfires since many areas contain high volumes of fuel.

Leave No Trace: Contact park office for information.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Forest Service handouts are sufficient. If you plan to hike in the wilderness area, specifically request the wilderness trail map. A more detailed map is available for $3.

Other Trip Options:

  • Within Natchitoches, there are some good lakes for fishing and waterskiing.
  • Visit Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery Aquarium (318/352-5324).
  • Take a tour of the sites where the movie "Steel Magnolias" was filmed.


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READERS COMMENTS

Kim
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.

Troy
Dec 26, 2010

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

Troy
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!?!

Matt
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.

charlie
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!!!!

Roman
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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