Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail
It's never questionable whether spring has sprung in Louisiana. This 31-mile trail showcases the season of rebirth in all of its colorful, aromatic splendor. Hike in March or April, when pink azalea blossoms and white dogwood flowers line a gentle path that winds through hardwood bottomlands and pine-covered hills. Another year-round attraction is the towering trees in Castor Creek Scenic Area, one of the last old-growth forests in the state.
Contact: Calcasieu Ranger District, Kisatchie National Forest, (318) 793-9427; www.fs.fed.us/r8/kisatchie.
Kisatchie National Forest
From rocky hilltops to murky swamps, this 600,000-acre forest composed of six unjoined districts represents much of Louisiana's diverse terrain. The best backpacking is found in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness, where connecting the Backbone and Caroline Dorman Trails creates a 24-mile hike through rolling hills and across sandstone outcrops reminiscent of the Ozarks.
Contact: Kisatchie National Forest, (318) 473-7160; www.fs.fed.us/r8/kisatchie.
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge
Located in the heart of the Atchafalaya River Basin, one of the country's largest wetlands, this 15,220-acre refuge provides safe harbor for a multitude of critters. Hikers exploring the refuge and adjoining Sherburne Wildlife Management Area (where overnight camping is allowed) will find moss-draped cypress trees, meandering bayous, and the occasional gator.
Contact: Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Southeast Louisiana Refuges, (504) 646-7555; http://southeastlouisiana.fws.gov.