Kisatchie Loop (Alternate Route 1)
Kisatchie National Forest is just a short drive north from Alexandria, LA on I-49. Here you'll find rolling hills with dense stands of longleaf pine and arguably the best backpacking experience in Louisiana. There are quite a few trails in this area and with a couple of short road hikes, I was able to combine some of them to form this loop. As you drive along the scenic Longleaf Byway, just past the Longleaf Recreation Area, turn right on FR 339. Almost immediately to your right is a gravel parking lot for the Backbone trailhead and the beginning of this 28-mile adventure.
Walk back to the Longleaf Byway and turn right. In 200 yards you will come to the Sandstone trail crossing and take the trail to the left. This is a multi-use trail open to motorized vehicles May 1 thru Dec 31, but open to hikers and horse riding year round. You may want to consider doing this loop when motorized vehicles are prohibited. Also, this is an active hunting area so wear orange! The Sandstone trail is well marked with green blazes and this 8-mile section is fairly level and easy. Don't expect cell phone reception for most of the first 20 miles of this loop so plan accordingly. Always leave a trip itinerary with someone you know or the local Ranger station.
Beautiful stands of longleaf pine dominate sections of the trail.
When I did this loop there was plenty of water on the trail but I wouldn't count on these being available in dry months. The first reliable water is probably at a small pond at mile 3.5. The trail is in pretty great shape considering it's a multi-use trail, with only a few areas that are rutted up from ATV's. If you do hear vehicles coming just step off the trail and allow the riders to pass.
Length: 28 Miles
Bayou L'Ivronge crosses the trail at around 5 miles. This is a beautiful place to take a long break.
Right after crossing the bayou is a good place to camp .
Shortly after the bayou crossing, you come to your first real road, FR 321. There is a campsite to the left with plenty of space for multiple tents. If you need to get off the trail you can take a right on this road and follow it to the Longleaf Byway. Continue on the trail for another half mile until you reach FR 366 and take a left. This starts a mile long road walk to the Bayou Kistachie Campground and the Caroline Dormon trail. There is a use fee. This is where I camped and I highly recommend it! The road ends at the main parking lot for the campground and once you enter the recreation area head to the campsites on your left. These will have more privacy and are closer to the next section of trail. There is a privy but no water, so you'll need to filter out of the bayou.
Each site has a picnic table, bag pole, grill and fire ring. I manage to set up my tent overlooking the bayou and it was beautiful!
Follow the trail through the campground and you will come to the beginning of the Caroline Dormon trail. This trail is 10.5 miles long and pretty much parallels the Sandstone trail. The trail follows along the bluffs above Bayou Kisatchie for a short while and you then into the rolling hills that this area is known for. If you want more details on this trail, check out my Caroline Dormon Trail Guide.
Enjoying the sunrise and the interesting landscape of the Caroline Dormon trail. There are several gullies and rolling hills the first half of the trail.
I took my time so I could really enjoyed this trail and the perfect weather, with the temperature in the 40's and forecasted mid 30's overnight. Some highlights are a fairly large gully at mile 11.5, the Little Kisatchie Bayou crossing at mile 12.7, and Steep Branch crossing at mile 18.5. I ended up camping about a half mile from the Caroline Dormon trailhead and would finish with the Backbone Trail the next day.
By the time you reach the Caroline Dormon trailhead you will have traveled close to 20 miles on this loop. The trailhead has a large parking lot and a privy. If you need to get off the trail you can take a left on the Longleaf Byway and make a 3-mile road walk back to the Backbone trailhead and your vehicle. Just across the Byway from the parking lot is the Backbone trailhead.
If you follow my route then you will have saved the best for last! In my humble opinion, the Backbone trail is the best backpacking trail in Louisiana. This was where I had my first ever backpacking experience and where I would spend my first night camping alone (yes, I was terrified!). Even though I've hiked 13,000 ft mountains in Colorado, and amazing trails in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee, the Backbone will always be special to me.
The trail turns left at mile 22. It is tempting to do the 2.5 mile out and back on the Turpentine trail.
The only reliable water source on this trail is Bayou Cypre, which you follow for about a half mile and then cross around mile 24. You make one last big climb and you find several nice campsites on a sandstone outcrop. If you want to stretch this trip out one more day this would be a great camp spot for the night. The rest of the trail is fairly level all the way back to the parking lot, where we started this loop.
At around mile 24 you will find this beautiful campsite on a sandstone outcrop.
A short distance past the campsite (above picture) on your right is a small trail. It leads to the best view on the trail. Be careful as there are lots of dead trees still standing and ready to fall!
I had fun planning this route and I hope this loop becomes popular with backpackers in Louisiana. There is another loop option I call the Kisatchie Loop, and It follows the north route of the Sandstone trail. I have attempted it before but found it very difficult and had to get off the trail after a knee injury. The total loop would be around 40 miles but there are some very tough sections of trail with deep sand and long climbs uphill. Even some ATV riders said it is difficult for them to do this section. I hope for another attempt soon. Stay tuned!
Trail Map / GPS Track
I had a little difficulty with my new phone and this track has some short gaps and mileage overages. The loop is more like 28 miles and I had a short detour on the Backbone trail around a mile into the trail until the Turpentine trail sign. The trails are well marked and easy to follow so shouldn't be a problem.