The large lake at Chicot State Park seems like the perfect place to paddle a canoe or kayak. You will experience the classic Louisiana landscape here, with a shoreline and many coves filled with moss-draped cypress trees.
The trails at most state parks are for hikers. But Chicot State Park at Ville Platte, Louisiana, features miles of well-marked water trails for canoes and kayaks. The lake is 10 miles long and encompasses two-thousand acres. What makes it such a treasure are the many tree-filled coves that take paddlers away from the motorized boats of anglers.
a guide to adventure at chicot state park
The state park provides a map of the canoe trails. There are three different paddle routes that start at different boat launches around the lake. Once you are on the trail, you will find yellow markers nailed to trees that will guide your paddle adventure. Park horticulturist Emma Debenport leads some of the monthly group paddles at Chicot. She says the real fun is going into the coves, “because you can get into the skinny water where the big boats don’t go. And when you come out,” Debenport says, “you pick up the trail again.” The three trails total 12 miles in length.
Lake Chicot was born out of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps turned the swampy lowland into a lake in the 1930’s by damming the lake’s eastern end. “They had the longest earthen dam built by men at the time by hand,” Debenport explains. There is no waterway feeding Lake Chicot, but rather it relies on rain to fill it. And the lake has become a destination for anglers, especially those hoping to hook large bass.
nature up close at lake chicot
Alligators are a common site in Lake Chicot. “Normally they don’t want to be around you,” Debenport says, “but we like to look for them because people get excited about it.” Deer can also be spotted in the woods near the shoreline. And this state park is loaded with birds. I joined a birdwatching kayak tour organized by Pack and Paddle of Lafayette. We paddled quietly beneath the tall cypress and tupelo trees, hearing a variety of chirping sounds. Paddlers point out the location of birds as they spot them in the high branches, or the larger wading birds and waterfowl in the lake. Mike VanEtten is the tour guide, “There’s lots of birds, eagles, ospreys, ducks. Different times of the year you have different birds coming here.”
A kayak or canoe trip doesn’t have to be a marathon. Check out the park’s trail map and find a route that begins near the boat launch you plan to use. Then paddle as far as you like and turn around for the return trip. But unless your goal is intense exercise, it’s best to take your time. When you are deep in the tree-covered coves, stop paddling and sit for awhile. You will hear the sounds of birds and their movement will catch your eye. Nature will surround you. Enjoy!