Longleaf Vista Trail in Kisatchie National Forest

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LONGLEAF VISTA TRAIL
The Little Grand Canyon of Louisiana

A Love Your Parks Tour #OneHourWalk story by Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith, assigned by Dr. Jacqueline Eubany, author of “Women and Heart Disease: The Real Story.”

Ever since our initial visit to Natchitoches back in 2013, we’ve wanted to get out feet out on the trail in Kisatchie National Forest. We finally did on our return visit this summer, as part of our adventures in Louisiana’s No Man’s Land.

Kisatchie National Forest lies in the north-central region of Louisiana, and is the only national forest in the state. Encompassing 604,000 acres of diverse habitats, this beautiful public land is a popular outdoor destination boasting over 40 recreation sites and over 100 miles of trails. Recreational activities include hiking and backpacking, cycling and mountain biking, bird and wildlife watching, kayaking and canoeing, fishing and boating, horseback riding, picnicking and camping, scenic drives, and more.

The landscape is made up of ancient caves and rock formations, longleaf pine forest and flatwoods, bogs and prairies, lakes and rivers. The forest is home to approximately 155 species of resident and migrant birds, 48 mammal species, 56 reptile species and 30 amphibian species, and plant species that range from orchids to carnivorous plants, azaleas and wildflowers. 

Longleaf Vista Interpretive Trail is one of the more popular forest destinations. Located in the Kisatchie Ranger District and accessed off the Longleaf Trail Scenic Byway, it’s a relatively easy 1.5 mile interpretive trail that gives a good introduction to the area’s geology, natural wilderness and various habitats. Now usually this distance should only take 30 minutes or so to walk, however, on this particular morning we were slogging through some muddy patches and towards the end, managed to get caught up in a fast-moving summer storm. It made for a fun walk with quite a few giggles and grins as we navigated our way through the forest and wildflowers, across a little waterway, and up to the top of the craggy buttes and mesas. 

The start of the trail led us through the dappled forest of tall Longleaf Pines. Wildflowers poked their heads up towards the streaming rays of sunshine. Bluestem grasses hugged tight to the cliffs and sides of the trail, along with what looked like bunches of green needles. These turned out to be Longleaf Pine seedlings. Unlike other southern pines, Longleaf develops slowly above the ground for the first several years, spending its energy to develop a large root system. After this “grass stage” Longleaf grows very rapidly.

As we trudged through the thick humidity, and passed swinging vines, lush ferns, and bending tree branches, the Longleaf forest slowly changed landscape, and morphed into a tropical jungle-like setting. Creeks with rocky bottoms are common in this area, and we crossed a babbling one called “Waterfalls.” This small waterfall was formed by water washing away the soil in the underlying bed of sandstone. The water has a milky color to it, which is caused by tiny suspended particles from the surrounding clay soil.

The interpretive trail signs taught us some fascinating facts about the geology and plants in the forest. We learned that the leaves and the bark of the Sweetleaf plant can be used to make a yellow dye; the Indians used to use the roots of the Yucca to make soap; that Magnolias are among the most ancient broadleaf trees in existence; and that in September the leaves of the sumacs turn scarlet, and are mostly likely the first species in the forest to herald bright autumn color. 

The “jungle” slowly opened up and we were back in Longleaf country, with the rocks and wildflowers, and a heavy sky. Rain was imminent but we climbed to the top of the first butte anyway, and we were rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the adjacent Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area. This called for a “PortoVino with a View” moment. Yep, a little sip of wine (only 4 oz. as per Dr. Jackie’s recommendations for women) to take in the view that earned the title, “Little Grand Canyon of Louisiana.” Most of the rocks we saw jutting out on the trail are mostly composed of sandstone. These sedentary rocks are part of the Catahoula formation formed thousands of years ago. Some rocks are darker than others because of the degrees of weathering.

We climbed the second butte, then headed up to the gazebo and vista overlook and made it just in time for the sky to open up with a dramatic and impressive downpour. The forest was rejuvenated and alive!

Longleaf Vista Trail was an incredible experience. There are benches along the trail, and up by the gazebo you will find picnic sites and clean restrooms. You may want to catch the Azalea bloom season, which depending on the species, can run from early spring to late summer.

For more about Kisatchie National Forest visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/kisatchie/

“Physical activity can lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol, decrease your blood sugar and therefore your risk for diabetes, and overall reduces your chances of dying from heart disease related illness. The minimal goal for good heart health is 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity.” Dr. Jacqueline Eubany, author of “Women & Heart Disease: The Real Story.” www.WomenandHeartDiseaseBook.com

Natchitoches, LA

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