By Shannon Hurst Lane
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Hiking in Kisatchie National Forest
Explore the cool waters in Kisatchie National Forest, which spreads across portions of north and central Louisiana.
After asking my husband if we could all escape to Paragon Casino Resort for a little luxury and entertainment, he suggested the wilderness and overnight camping instead. Bags of ice and drinks went into the ice chest, and we headed out to Kisatchie National Forest for a family camping adventure.
 
Tribe Named Kisatchie
A friend recommended that we camp at Kisatchie Bayou. Named after a tribe of Indians, Kisatchie National Forest is divided into five districts, which total more than 604,000 acres.  Located about 45 minutes southeast of Natchitoches, we opted for Kisatchie District. There, hidden bayous, bald cypress groves, old growth pine trees, scenic overlooks, 12 miles of wilderness hiking trails, canoeing, 50 miles of multi-use trails, complete with panoramic vistas, entice nature and outdoor lovers with a world of natural beauty. Special interest areas are the National Red Dirt Wildlife Management Area and the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area.
 
Oceans of Pine
Once we entered the edge of the forest, we stopped to take the obligatory family picture at the entrance sign. We noticed in the midst of a sea of pines, a few trees were dotted with white stripes across the middle. My husband, a forester by trade, explained to us that this is a protected area for the Piliated Woodpecker, an endangered bird. When a tree is found to be inhabited by this woodpecker, it cannot be cut down, nor can a certain number of trees surrounding it be felled.
 
It was a good thing that we were driving up to the Longleaf Vista Interpretive Trail, because Longleaf is a day-use area with restroom. With a 1.5-mile paved trail, it is a perfect stop to stretch your legs. The kids ran up and down stone stairs that lead down from the vista . The first part of the trail offers amazing views. For a moment I thought I was in the Smoky Mountain National Park instead of the middle of Louisiana. I had no idea places in my state existed like this. 
 
Beaches on the Bayou
At the entrance to Kisatchie Bayou, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and well-kept the campground area looked. Just downstream was my kind of campsite (if there is such a thing!). There were bathrooms and a paved sidewalk, making it accessible for the wheeled visitors. Keep in mind, this is still a primitive site with no running water. The tent pads (located upstream and downstream from the recreation area) are large and include a picnic table, a fire pit and a lantern pole. The fee for the campsite is an incredibly affordable price of $2 per day. Be sure to pick up your permit at the front of the campground entrance and place it in your vehicle. 
 
We could hardly get the tents set up before the kids decided they just HAD to put their swimsuits on and go swimming in Kisatchie Bayou. I spread a towel and stretched out with beer in hand, while the kids and my husband went sliding on algae covered rocks. There are a few trails that lead from Kisatchie Bayou Campground, but our favorite activity was swimming in the bayou. Even worry-wart moms (like me) will be totally fine with letting their kids swim in the water. It was clear, cool and refreshing.
  
Crickets and Conversation
Sunset found us making a campfire, and we let the kids grill their own hot dogs. Hubby and I enjoyed a selection of cheeses and a bottle of wine that I had (cleverly) snuck into the ice chest. As the stars started to twinkle and a few fireflies flitted, we all snuggled into our blowup mattress beds (what, you thought I was going to sleep on the ground?), and we fell asleep listening to frogs, crickets and a few small animals rustling in the bushes.
 
Camping wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My cell phone had no coverage, which was a blessing in disguise. The kids had no electronics with them, and we spent our time actually talking with each other. Have fun with your family. I know I did.