We love Louisiana. The state has a rich, diverse ecosystem that ranges from beach, swamps, and coastal lowlands to surprisingly rocky outcrops and steeper hills than one might expect from a place where many areas are actually below sea level.
It’s great fun to explore this special place, and one of the best ways to do so is on foot. Here are 10 of our favorite Louisiana hikes that will allow you to see some of the most beautiful spots in the state. They are perfect for getting your steps in, spotting wildlife, and taking in Mother Nature at her bayou finest!
1. Caroline Dormon Trail, Kisatchie National Forest
Kisatchie is the only national forest in Louisiana and runs through seven parishes in the north central portion of the state. This isn’t all swampland, although spots do get marshy. Mostly, you’ll find piney forested hills featuring caves, meandering creeks, and gorgeous vistas. The forest isn’t contiguous; rather, it’s divided into five separate districts. Two of our favorite hikes are located in Kisatchie.
The Caroline Dormon Trail can be found in the Kisatchie District, west of Alexandria. It has a trailhead where day hikers can park and use the facilities before heading out. The 10.5-mile, well-marked trail is mostly dirt and is a favorite for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Keep in mind that it is not a loop, but a point-to-point trail that ends near the Kisatchie Bayou Recreation Complex, where there are primitive camping sites available.
The trial is rated as moderate with a 500-foot elevation gain. There are several small stream crossings, so you’ll want to make sure your footwear is hardy and waterproof. This trail meanders through the forest and is the perfect place for a meditative, peaceful adventure.
2. Wild Azalea Trail, Kisatchie National Forest
Kisatchie’s Wild Azalea Trail, named for its breathtaking floral residents, is located in the Calcasieu District. At 24 miles long, it’s the longest hiking trail in the state, so unless you’re feeling really ambitious, it’s best to pick up a section or two instead of taking on the entire thing.
If you’re looking to work in some cardio, this might be the spot for you. While the first several miles are easy, the hills pick up. They are rolling and not enormous, but you will feel them in your legs. Like the Caroline Dormon Trail, the Wild Azalea Trail also features shallow creek crossings. While there’s a 1,100-foot elevation gain, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous, verdant hike that includes a clear creek and the wispy wild azaleas that pop in March and April.
3. Trail C, Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area
The Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area is managed by the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and offers visitors some incredible hiking and birding opportunities. Hit Trail C for a 3.5-mile moderate hiking loop (there are a couple of steep hills) that will take you through hardwood forests, bluffs, and a sandy dry creek bed. Keep an eye out for migratory birds, including Cooper’s hawks. Also be on the lookout for black bears and wild boar prints.
4. Grand Isle State Park
Just 2 hours due south of New Orleans is the coastal area of Grand Isle. Jean Lafitte’s pirates once lived here, and the small coastal community has long attracted anglers and outdoors enthusiasts. It’s also directly on the migration path for many species of birds, which is what makes the nature trail at Grand Isle State Park so special. It’s an easy 2.5-mile loop, and you’ll want to make sure you bring binoculars so as not to miss out on the sightings.
The Grand Isle Birding Trail is also worth checking out. It’s a collection of privately owned lands (or spots operated by The Nature Conservancy) where visitors can marvel at the dazzling array of birds, including spoonbills, pelicans, osprey, and more.
5. Monkey Trail, Eddie D. Jones Park
One of the more unique places for a day hike on this list is the so-called Monkey Trail in Eddie D. Jones Park in Caddo Parish. The 6.5-mile dirt loop is fairly rugged and would be considered moderate. This is a popular spot for mountain bikers as well, so keep an eye out for them. This trail’s payoff comes when, in the hush of the pine forest, you hear the nearby sounds of a jungle! Those would be the residents of the local chimpanzee sanctuary; the trail circles their home, hence its name.
6. Louisiana State Arboretum Tour, Chicot State Park
Chicot State Park in south central Louisiana is a botanic gem that makes for a perfect hike. The Louisiana State Arboretum was founded in 1961 and seeks to preserve indigenous flora. There are several easy trails tucked inside that will take you through wild stands of magnolia, sycamores, maples, and ferns, and you’ll see deer, foxes, and raccoons as well.
Take note: This is a preserve, and as such, picnicking isn’t allowed. Tread lightly, and enjoy!
7. Cane Bayou Trail, Fontainebleau State Park
On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain sits a stunning state park with terrific hiking trails. Fontainebleau State Park is located on the site of an old sugar mill built in 1829 by the founder of the nearby town of Mandeville. The park, set on the beach, is picture perfect. Its gentle wooden and dirt trails are the perfect place to get your steps in, especially if you’ve been staying (and perhaps overindulging) in nearby New Orleans.
The Cane Bayou Trail, a 3.7-mile out-and-back route, takes you through the marsh right to the lake. Keep your eye out for owls -- and alligators!
8. River Loop Trail, Tickfaw State Park
Tickfaw State Park, an easy day trip from both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, combines the best of the swamps and piney forests. There are several smaller trails on boardwalks that are easy and nice (although you’ll need to watch your step after a rain, since the wood can become slippery!), but we recommend the River Loop Trail. At just 2 miles total, the trail combines boardwalks with dirt trails along the river. This is a place where you’re bound to see many swamp creatures, including turtles, gators, and possibly snakes. Keep a healthy distance, and you’ll be just fine!
9. Barataria Preserve
Boardwalks and dirt trails comprise another stretch of wild Louisiana wetlands known and loved by hikers looking to escape from New Orleans’s hustle and bustle. Barataria Preserve, located inside Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, features a network of short, connected trails of boardwalk and gravel. Here, you’ll see bald cypress stands -- including the 600-year-old Monarch of the Swamp -- as well as dwarf palmettos, armadillos, and even a view of the New Orleans skyline. This is a place where nature bumps right up against suburbia, and it’s well worth tacking on to your visit to the Crescent City if you’re an outdoor enthusiast.
10. Wetland Walkway, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge
Near Lake Charles, the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge features a handicap-accessible 1.5-mile boardwalk called the Wetland Walkway. It’s built directly over the freshwater marsh, and it’s the perfect spot to see Louisiana wildlife, including wading birds (herons, egrets, pelican, and spoonbills), waterfowl, and even terrapins. Admittedly, this is more of a stroll than a hike, but it makes this top-10 list for the incredible biodiversity you’ll see.
What To Know Before You Go
Keep in mind that any Louisiana hike during the summer months is going to be hot. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen before hitting the trail, no matter the time of year.
Also, some hikers can be fairly cavalier about bug repellent. Don’t let your guard down in Louisiana! You’ll want to make sure you take the proper precautions to prevent tick bites and associated illnesses. Mosquitoes and horseflies can also be a nuisance. Stay on the trail, since poison ivy and fire ants can be lurking off to the sides.
Also, keep a healthy distance from any wildlife you might encounter during your adventures.
Pop-up showers happen frequently in Louisiana, which can quickly transform dirt trails into mud pits. Make sure your boots are waterproof and provide good traction!
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. Their Terradora II Waterproof Boots would be a great fit for any of the hikes described here. They provide great ankle and arch support, keep the moisture out, and aren’t as heavy as other boots I’ve worn in the past. I did need a break-in period and had to play with the lacing a bit to ensure a custom, comfortable fit. But once that was done, it was off to the races -- and the trail! Shop KEEN’s Terradoras and other hiking shoes here.