The Wild Azalea Trail cuts a 24 mile long path through central Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest. You are likely to see wild azaleas blooming in the creek bottoms along the trail during the early spring.
The U.S. Forest Service has designated the Wild Azalea Trail as a National Recreation Trail because of the variety of trees and scenery along the route. The trail begins at the Valentine Lake Recreation complex, which has several lakefront sites for campers, RVs and tents. Drinking water is available. From Valentine Lake, the trail winds its way through rolling hills of pine forests, flatlands and forested lowlands and creek bottoms.
A LONG HIKE ON THE WILD AZALEA TRAIL
If you are planning to hike the entire trail, the Forest Service estimates it will take 16 hours without a backpack to walk from Valentine Lake to the other end of the trail at the town of Woodworth. However, the trail is easily broken up into shorter segments ranging from 2 to 7 miles in length.
blooming wild azaleas along the trail
If you hike this trail from March through early April, you are likely to see the pinkish-white azaleas in bloom. Steve Shively of the Forest Service took me to a creek bottom along the trail about 5 miles from Woodworth. The small stream is lined with the flowering trees.
Adding to the scene are dozens of butterflies that bounced from one flower to another. Shively explains the difference between these wild azaleas and what we commonly see in Louisiana gardens. “The ones in the garden at home,” Shively says, “they’re Japanese azaleas. They’ve been bred specifically for real showy flowers, lots of flowers.”
Azaleas near creeks
The creek near these blooming wild azaleas has clear running water, likely fed by springs in the rolling hills of the Kisatchie National Forest. But the Forest Service warns hikers not to drink the water. The only drinking water along the trail is at the Valentine Lake trailhead.
hike through a variety of habitats in the kisatchie
The Wild Azalea trail is well-marked and tall evergreens provide year-round shade in some areas. “It goes through a lot of different habitats,” Shively explains, “a lot of upland pine habitats and it goes down into different creek bottoms that are real pretty.” And if the azaleas are blooming you may pick up their sweet fragrance as you near a cluster of the azalea trees.
walk quietly to get more out of your hike
You are surrounded by nature as you explore the Wild Azalea Trail. “The quieter that you walk, the more likely you are to encounter the wildlife,” Shively says. We pause and quietly take in the scenery. We hear a few birds, but their sound is almost masked by the wind. Shively points out, “A high wind in the tops of pine trees makes a really unforgettable sound.” I agree.
HIKE, BIKE and CAMP ALONG THE WILD AZALEA TRAIL
The trail is designed for both walking and biking. Also, backpackers are welcome to camp along the trail. But the Forest Service requires that you set up your camp at least 30 feet away from the trail.
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Valentine Lake Recreation Complex Trailhead near Elmer, LA – Trail ends at town of Woodworth, LA