Heart of Louisiana: Castle Trees

Heart of Louisiana: Castle Trees
The mesmerizing castle trees found at Chemin-A-Haut state park. (Source: WAFB)

MOREHOUSE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - A north Louisiana state park has one of the biggest, most unique cypress trees you’ll find anywhere in the state. It’s nicknamed the “castle tree.”

It’s a rare site in Louisiana, giant old-growth cypress trees whose ages are counted, not in years, but in centuries.

“We have several, um, large trees here. Several, uh, unique looking trees here. But then also you have cypress knees that almost probably get as tall as me,” said park manager Demetrius Fields.

The trees are located in the state park Fields managers in extreme north Louisiana, at a site that includes trails used by Native Americans. The name is French.

“Chemin-A-Haut. It means the high road,” said Fields. The ancient treasures of this park are found by paddling up Chemin-A-Haut creek.

“You have maybe about an hour to paddle to it, but once you get there, it’s worth it,” said Fields. “It’s magnificent when you see it. So you know why they named it the castle tree. The age is going to be about 800 years to maybe a thousand and, um, size. We’re looking at more than 20 feet in diameter as far as around the base of the tree."

The trees managed to avoid the saws and axes of the lumber business. Fields believes the trees being based in the creek and water levels in the park only giving access to floaters at a certain time of year helped save them.

Castle trees have a large hollow that begins below the waterline. And they’re big enough that you can paddle a boat inside of the cypress, where you see a giant, wooden arched ceiling.

“That’s where plenty of people get great pictures in kayaks, you know,” said Fields.

When you view the tree from the creek bank, you don’t see the big hole. You need to paddle to the other side. And that’s led to a legend of moonshiners taking advantage of the hidden hollow.

“We had moonshiners that would be in the area and they may have still several stills or something in the area. And then, you know, police may be able to find a stills, but a lot of times they weren’t able to recover the alcohol. And the reason being is because the alcohol was being hidden in the tree and the only, the only people who knew about it was people who could float to it and access it by canoe.”

Chemin-A-Haut is the second oldest state park in Louisiana. It was built in the 1930s during the Great Depression by the civilian conservation corps.

Today, the park has modern cabins that stand at the edge of a bayou. But this park’s main attraction is nature, a quiet creek, the gentle sound of the wind as it rustles the leaves, and seeing a tree that has anchored this little wilderness for a thousand years.

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