Parks in the heart of Louisiana offer loads of summer family fun
Summer is here and there’s no better time for Louisiana’s State Parks to shine. And the action is heating up at two of the best facilities located in the heart of the state, Jimmie Davis State Park in Chatham and Chicot State Park in Ville Platte.
Variety is the spice of life and these two parks offer just that. Jimmie Davis is located on beautiful Caney Lake, home of six of the top 10 largest largemouth bass ever caught in the state. It’s piney woods camping spots and appealing summer beach brings folks from all around. At Chicot, there is also good fishing on the lake the park is named after, but the camping spots are in hardwood forests and the kayak trails and nature walks take you through giant cypress swamps with mystery around every turn.
Jimmie Davis State Park
Not many state parks leave visitors humming a tune, but those that visit here and know their history do just that. The park is named after two term Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, who was also a country-western singer who sold millions of records. His biggest hit? “You Are My Sunshine,” which has been recorded by more than 350 artists, translated into 30 languages, and is the official state song.
But today, Jimmie Davis brings to mind fishing, swimming, camping and just chillin’ . That’s because the Jackson Parish park on the northern banks of 5,000 acre Caney Creek Lake is a haven for outdoor activity.
There is no better place in the state to land a 10 pound bass. The lake also has huge chinquapin and bluegill bream and an ever-present population of big crappie. The park offers two boat launches and a fishing pier that cater to the fishermen. Waterskiing is another way to enjoy the clear waters of the lake.
There’s even a beach, a playground for kids and biking treks that can take you through the hills of North Central Louisiana.
Staying is easy. Much of the park had to be rebuilt after a devastating tornado a few years back, but everything is in working order now with beautiful camper sites overlooking the lake, cabins fro rent and plenty of tent camping spots as well as a few choice glamping spots.
For large groups, a group camp — including four dormitories and a dining hall — is available, with its own playground and fishing pier. RV campers have several scenic sites to choose from, for a closer visit with nature.
The closest major highway to Jimmie Davis State Park is I-20 to the north and I-49 to the south and west. The park is located near Chatham and is easy to reach through a series of state roads.
Chicot State Park
If there is any park that is “all things Louisiana,” Chicot State Park at Ville Platte just might be it.
The big park contains 6,400 acres of everything from rolling hills to swampy cypress bottoms. And with the varied terrain comes a variety of activities. The timing couldn’t be better to go to the cool, clear waters of Lake Chicot to catch largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and chinquapin bream. There’s a boathouse, three boat launches and boat rental facilities to make it easier to get on the water.
An extensive hiking/backpacking trail completely encircles Lake Chicot and includes several primitive campsites along the way. The hiking trails allow visitors to experience and enjoy the park’s natural landscape, its bottomland hardwood forest and the lake itself. For visitors who enjoy a quicker pace, much of the trail is geared toward mountain bikers, and all cyclists are welcome to ride the roadways throughout the park.
Chicot State Park is home to the Louisiana State Arboretum. This beech-magnolia forest covers 300 acres, with diverse topography that allows the Arboretum to house many of Louisiana’s indigenous plant species. It was the first such area in the south and the first state-supported arboretum in the United States. The Louisiana State Arboretum is large — more than 600 acres of natural growth, embellished with additional plantings of species that are indigenous to the state. A Visitor Center is dedicated to the memory of J.D. “Prof” LaFleur, an outdoor enthusiast instrumental in establishing the Arboretum.
Nature trails take you deep into the wooded areas and longer trails take you along Walker Branch or Ferguson’s Gully where several of the footpaths converge. The area is great for backpacking, birding, watching wildlife and taking in the rich beauty of the swamp.
The park has three main areas. The South Landing includes cabins, a group camp, picnic areas and playground, a water playground, a boat launch, a fishing pier and a dock with rental boats. A scenic road links the South Landing with the North Landing.
The North Landing features campsites, a boat launch, a dock, a 400 foot fishing pier and a primitive group-camping area. Lodges also are located in this area.
The East Landing is accessible from LA 106. It is less developed than the other two areas. It includes a boat launch, a dock, a meeting room and a barbeque pavilion, which makes this area ideal for day visitors.
Chicot sits halfway between Alexandria and Lafayette, just a short trip from Ville Platte. The park is between two major routes, US Hwy. 167 and I-49. The park has several entrances, but the one on the east side off of LA- 3042 is by far the most RV- and trailer-friendly.
As the for lake that anchors the park, it is a 2,000-acre manmade lake that has offered some of the largest bass caught in Evangeline Parish.