BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Being closer to nature, relishing the wonders of the woods or simply getting away from it all are easy goals to achieve when on a good hiking trail.
As hikers and backpackers who frequent Louisiana's abundant trekking paths attest, the state is full of interesting places to hike.
But five hikes have been singled out as the best by members of the Bayou Chapter of the Ozark Society and the Louisiana Hiking Club and explained by two experts who have tramped across the state's paths, encompassed years of on-trail experience, and have an active role in hiking and outdoor organizations.
The top five hikes come highly recommended. They are:
— Backbone Trail. The Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area northwest of Alexandria is the state's only designated wilderness area. At just over seven miles, this one-way hike offers a selection of terrain, scenic views and a well-maintained path.
The Backbone Trail can be completed as a day hike. According to BCOS member John Joyce of Shreveport, those seeking relative seclusion can find it here while soaking in a stunning vista at the highest point on the trail.
"The overlook is breathtaking. You can see out over the tops of trees, valleys and hills, and the terrain is unlike any other in Louisiana."
The topography of the Backbone Trail can be considered rugged for those not accustomed to climbs and descents, a characteristic of the route, Joyce said. He advises hikers to pack plenty of water.
— Caroline Dormon Trail. Not far from the Backbone trailhead is the Caroline Dormon Trail, also in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area. The one-way trail is 10.5 miles long. Its highlights include a small waterfall among pines and magnolias.
A section of the route winds along the eroded, sandstone banks of Kisatchie Bayou, making for a picturesque view.
Those interested in a weekend-long trek can combine the two Kisatchie trails for an 18-mile, one-way hike.
— Wild Azalea Trail. If backpacking is the goal, the Wild Azalea Trail offers the experience. This route is southwest of Alexandria and is the longest trail in the state at about 26 miles one way. It is a favorite of experienced hikers, including LHC board member Nancy Hall of Baton Rouge.
"It has a rolling terrain," Hall said. "So you get a feeling of hiking up and down rather than having it flat. A lot of the trails that we have in the state are basically flat terrain. This one, it's always got you going up and down a hill."
Hikers get the opportunity for several creek crossings that contain sandy bottoms and clear, attractive water. This feature creates a readily supply of water for filtration and is more palatable than the usual murky sources in Louisiana.
Spring is a good time to visit, when the trails namesake, azaleas, are in full bloom. Hall advised to arrange a return shuttle at the end of the trail.
— Lake Chicot Trail. The Lake Chicot Trail near Ville Platte is in Chicot State Park. The 22-mile path encircles the lake and can be day-hiked in sections or as a weekend backpacking trip, though Hall recommended day hiking because of a lack of drinking water.
"The water is an issue there," Hall said. "It has plenty of campsites if you wanted to backpack it, but the problem is you would have to drink the lake water."
The trail system is heavily used, so don't expect seclusion here. But ample views of cypress trees from elevated boardwalks and, in the winter and spring, the chance to glimpse hundreds of migratory birds in the lake make for amazing scenes.
— Sugar Cane Trail. The Sugar Cane Trail is in the Caney Lakes Recreation Complex near Minden. It loops around seven miles through rolling, hilly terrain that's typical of this part of northern Louisiana. It is the most child-friendly hike among the group.
A mixture of pine and oak give shade to the well-worn trail and one can expect several nice views of Caney Lake atop small hills. Joyce advises hikers to be on the lookout for wildlife that can often be spotted while walking.
For more information on Louisiana hiking, visit hikelouisiana.org or bayouozark.com.