Long Trails of the Southeast
by Johnny Molloy (Menasha Ridge Press)
© Johnny Molloy/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.
My buddy and I rode the Wild Azalia first 1/3 of the trail. It was a total of 10 miles round trip. The trail needs some serious clearing. We spent about 30 total minutes clearing large limbs that broke off of trees. There are some rather large logs that will grab anyone’s front sprockets. Those need to be cleared with a chain saw. It is a very good technical trail for Louisiana. There are a few bridges that I would walk across due to the degree of "slipperiness" on them. The hills are long, and smoking. You will get a good work out on the trail. It is not often ridden, so there are a lot of spider webs. Besides the general clearing, I would ride it again. There are slim pickings in the Alex area. This is a good one, but Kincaid Lake trails are more fun.
The Wild Azalea is a very well marked trail. It has some nice spots to camp and during our 3 day trip my dog and I saw not one other person. There are more open areas with tall pines all around and areas which are dense and boggy. The creeks were flowing in early spring here, though not strongly - enough to pump water using a filter. I would recommend parking closer to the trailhead than the guidebook recommends. The 2 mile each way walk through neighborhoods on sidewalks and streets was rather pointless. The only real detractor from the overall experience is that the trail is very near the Claiborne Bombing Range of the US Air Force. The pleasant silence was consistently interrupted by noisy jets and bombers overhead and ominous, loud thuds which I assume were dummy bombs being dropped. Typical dichotomy of America. Peaceful beuaty surrounded by extreme echoes of chaos.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina its been tough finding open trails anywhere near the Gulf Coast. In fact my hiking pal and I were thinking about (trying to avoid a hiking pun here) folding on a hike this winter altogether. However, upon calling the Forest Service Office at Kisatchie, we were told cheerily that the trails had been opened within weeks of the hurricane.
That about set the tone, we found the facilities were very well maintained and the trail was in excellent condition. The only disappointment is that the fire tower is now closed and fenced off.
We hiked from the North end at Valentine lake & parked (and paid) at the campground on the north side mainly for security. We ran into a Ranger on our second day, who pretty much pegged who we were, and advised this was verboten. One must actually camp at the camp ground.
I hiked this trail as an overnighter from Valentine Lake southward. The trail is well marked and offers some suprising elevation changes considering that it is, after all, Louisiana. The northern half is prettier but the whole trail makes a great 2-day hike. Plenty of wild flowers in the spring and wild orchids in the summer.
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