Heart of Louisiana: Kisatchie National Forest’s wild azalea trail

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (WVUE) - If you want to really practice social distancing and enjoy some of the best scenery in Louisiana, now may be a good time to head to Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest. And for the next few weeks, you can see wild azaleas in full bloom.

The trail winds its way through the backwoods of the state’s only national forest, the Kisatchie.

“It goes through a lot of different habitats, a lot of the upland pine habitats and goes into different little creek bottoms that are real pretty scenic,” says Steve Shively.

From March until early April, you can see how the trail gets its name.

“You’re liable to find more of them along the creeks. They really seem to like creek banks.”

And that’s where the flowers are spotted, along a shallow, meandering creek with clear, cool, spring-fed water.

“This is a wild azalea that hasn’t bloomed yet, but the flower buds are just about ready to bust out and bloom. So, these flowers will be pollinated when they open up, probably by butterflies, and produce fruits for seeds for next year.”

When you see the wild azaleas along the trail, they don’t look the same as the azaleas that you see in the garden at home. So, what’s the difference?

“Well, the ones in the garden at home, they’re Japanese azaleas. They’ve been bred specifically for real showy flowers, lots of flowers.”

Hiking along the trail has a way of masking the other concerns of the day. It’s a chance to relax and renew.

“The quieter that you walk, the more likely you are to encounter the wildlife. You know, like right now, hearing the wind in the trees above us. A high wind and the tops of tall pine trees makes a really unforgettable sound.”

The trail is well-marked and tall evergreens provide year-round shade. We found wild azaleas about a five miles from the trail head near the small town of Woodworth.

“So there are a lot of real scenic creek bottom areas as well as, you know, you’re going up on the ridges in between, so you get a real variety of scenes. While you’re hiking you might just smell a cluster of the fragrant wild azalea flowers. It’ll give you a reason to rest for a few minutes and enjoy some of the natural beauty of this national forest.”

There are no fees for hiking the Kisatchie National Forest’s wild azalea trail. And, if you’re backpacking, it’s free to camp along the route.

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