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Cresting yet another sandstone bluff, I witness the sun’s first rays peek over the outcroppings to the east, setting the emerald hills alight. It seems like something I’d find just north in the Ozarks until suddenly, as if on command, the fog lifts from the valley, allowing the amber sunshine to jet through the cypress trees and glint off the swamp below. Many Bayou State hikers head to Arkansas for outdoor escapes, but our backyard is just as wild, if not more. On this 18-mile point-to-point alone, I’ve toured lush mesas, pine savannahs, and bottomland forests. The best part? I only have to share it with black bears, foxes, and otters. There’s more to Louisiana than Mardi Gras. BY JONATHAN OLIVIER
From the Caroline Dormon TH
(1) Follow the Caroline Dormon Trail (CDT) 5.1 miles southeast and east (pass an overlook with views of the Kisatchie Bayou at mile 2.5) to a bridge on FS 360 over the Bayou L’Ivrogne.
(2) Follow orange blazes north 3.7 miles to a small, year-round waterfall on Steep Branch Bayou.
(3) Continue northeast to the terminus of the CDT at mile 10.2 and link up with the Backbone Trail, continuing north across Longleaf Vista Road, where you can retrieve your cached water (info below right).
(4) Follow the Backbone Trail .7 mile north to a bluff on the left-hand side of the trail at mile 10.9.
(5) Trek 6.8 miles, continuing counterclockwise (cross a 20-foot-long log bridge across 3-foot-deep Bayou Cypre at mile 13.8, and stay left on the Backbone at the fork at mile 15.4), to the Backbone trailhead on FS 339.
Sandstone outcrop (mile 10.9)
Set up camp on a mesa complete with a fire ring and view of the sandstone hills known to locals as the “Little Grand Canyon.” Since the hilltop is only sparsely vegetated, nab great stargazing, too. There’s room for four tents here (first-come, first-serve), but a night in the Kisatchie Hills almost always guarantees solitude. Note: Pack in water.
Bear in mind
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a Louisiana black bear in the foothills. Fewer than 500 of the threatened bruins roam the state, but a handful call the Kisatchie Hills home. Catch them feeding on acorns in prep for winter (they’re most active at twilight).
After your hike, explore non-technical Wolf Rock Cave, a 70-foot-long labyrinth 50 driving miles south of the Kisatchie Bayou Campground (trailhead: 30.971960, -93.193240). One of the only known caves in the state, it purportedly served as a hideout for outlaws during Louisiana’s territory days.
DO IT Shuttle car 31.508525, -93.033900*; 46 miles northwest of Alexandria on FS 339 (no commercial option) Trailhead 31.444536, -93.089169; 10 miles southwest of the shuttle car on Bayou Camp Rd. Water cache Water isn’t reliable on day two of this hike, so leave a cache (named and dated) in the parking lot at the start of the Backbone Trail on Longleaf Vista Rd. Gear up Academy Sports + Outdoors in Alexandria; academy.comSeason Year-round; mid-fall brings mild nights (50s) to balance still-warm days (70s). Note: Forest rangers advise wearing blaze orange October through April. Permit Free; self-issue at trailhead. Custom-centered mapbit.ly/BPmapKisatchie ($15) Contact (318) 472-1840; bit.ly/KisatchieWildTrip datawww.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/2734017
*Plug these lat/long coordinates into Google Maps for turn-by-turn driving directions.
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