Longleaf Trail Byway
Nestled within the Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana, the Longleaf Trail Byway covers some of the most varied terrain in the state. Elevations range from 80 feet to 400 feet above sea level, and the topography is rugged by Louisiana standards. You’ll want to stop at the frequent turnouts to get a good view of the mesas, buttes, sandstone outcrops, and of course, longleaf pines. The byway runs entirely along Forest Road 59 between its intersections with Highway 117 on the west and Highway 119 on the east. You won’t find gas stations, restaurants or shops along the byway, but there are restrooms at the Kisatchie Ranger Station on the west end, at the Derry Visitors Center just four miles east of the trail, and at scenic outlooks, campgrounds and picnic areas. Hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns, restaurants and shops are available in the towns of Natchitoches and Alexandria, each about 30 to 45 minutes away from the forest. Here is a sample of what you’ll find:
The federal government began acquiring the land that eventually became Kisatchie National Forest in 1911, when much of the area had been clear-cut by the timber industry. Now, the 600,000-acre national forest – portions of which lie in several different areas of the state – enjoys protective management. National Longleaf Pines, known as “super” trees, grow in this forest. Genetically designed to enable foresters to harvest more lumber on less land, only one in 350,000 trees earns this designation. Meanwhile, very old pines also can be found here. One known as the Statesman Tree has been determined to be more than 200 years old. As you cross the bridge over the cool waters of Kisatchie Bayou, notice the loblolly pines, white beech and evergreen Southern magnolias along the banks.
This scenic overlook is surrounded on three sides by the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area, known locally as “Little Grand Canyon.” A 1.5-mile interpretive loop is one of the most beautiful and varied hiking trails in the state, winding through meadows and stands of bottomland hardwoods to high mesas and creeks. Some lucky visitors have spotted small fossils or petrified wood here. If you’ve packed a lunch, the picnic area is a peaceful place to enjoy it.
Wildlife within the pines
The forest provides a habitat for deer, armadillo, wild turkeys, raccoons and many other critters. Birds and waterfowl of many kinds thrive here and provide endless opportunities for birding. Keep an eye out for red-cockaded woodpeckers; some pine trees that have acquired red-heart decay are a preferred nesting ground for this endangered bird.
Caroline Dormon Hiking and Horse Trail
A tribute to the woman who helped secure the legislation to establish the Kisatchie National Forest, this 12-mile trail leads to Kisatchie Bayou Camp. Take a short walk on a section of the trail, or bring your bike for a longer workout.