From fishing, hiking, boating and birding to passing the time like it’s standing still – these Louisiana State Parks are worth visiting.
April is for crawfish boils, baseball and hunting Easter eggs. But for Louisiana’s outdoor oriented families, it’s also the start of parking season — State Parking, that is.
Warmer weather, blooming trees and flowers, biting fish and the need for a full dose of cabin fever medicine gets people moving this month, peaking on the long Easter weekend.
And nothing captures the diversity of Louisiana’s outdoors like the possibilities of the Louisiana State Park System. Make a list of what you want to do outdoors, and one of these parks has you covered.
Here are a couple of quick tips. First, whichever park you pick, take some time to study the park map and other details about it online (https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/maps/stay/ ). Learn the lingo of the map icons (boat launch bait, fishing pier, trails, cabins, camping, etc.) so you can catch what’s available at a glance.
Second, check the calendar of events to see if there is something going on there that you want to take part in, or perhaps avoid if it is going to attract more of a crowd than you want. Most of the parks have Facebook pages, too, so it’s another great source of up-to-date information. State parks are governed by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
Speaking of those activities, perhaps the favorite activity of all is no activity at all like sitting around the camper or campfire passing the time like it is standing still, Or you can take on high-tech activities like roasting marshmallows or making smores; skipping rocks across the lake or chatting with your new-found neighbors like you’ve been friends for life. Each park has regular educational presentations and displays as well.
Every state park is worth a look, but here’s “Park Paradise Pick Six” that you should try.
North Toledo Bend
We start on the western side of the state, where the North Toledo Bend State Park out of Zwolle in Sabine Parish is one of two state parks on the 190,000 acre manmade reservoir. The North park covers 900 acres. Main attractions are camping in a secluded environment and fishing. Cabins are available, but most spend their time in campers or primitive camping spots.
This time of year the big bass and catfish are biting and the bream are starting to warm up to bobbing your cork. A great double boat ramp sits protected from winds and waves, which can be an issue this time of year. Hikers can take on the piney woods by walking trails from 1.5 to 4 miles long.
Ask your average outdoor enthusiast about Palmetto Island and you might get a blank stare, unless you live near Vermillion Parish. The park is located just south of Abbeville. It is the newest of Louisiana’s state parks, opening in 2010.
It has plenty of camping spots, cabins and hiking. The Visitors Center even has a splash pad and water playground, although it may be too early for that this time of year.
The boat ramp and dock put boaters right into the waters of Vermillion River where they can run as far south as Vermillion Bay. There is a viewing platform at the river so visitors can take in the view. The water area gives anglers access to a mix of fresh or saltwater fishing experiences. The 1,300 acre park is a mixture of swamps, rivers and, of course, stands of palmetto almost everywhere.
Located near Ville Platte, Chicot State Park has a little bit of everything, from fishing in a 2,000 acre freshwater lake to nature lessons galore in the Louisiana State Arboretum, now located within the park.
The Arboretum is home to a magnificent mature beech-magnolia forest and almost any type of vegetation or terrain found in the state, except for coastal marsh. It was established in 1961and covers 600 acres.
Like other areas, Chicot also has all kinds of campings, picnic facilities, fishing piers and boardwalks. this park has been around a long time after being established in 1939.
Travel across the southern part of the state to Livingston Parish for the next stop at Tickfaw State Park, located just west of Springfield. This park is extremely popular with residents wanting to get away from large nearby cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Within the 1,200 acre park, the Tickfaw River traverses standing hardwood and pines, which can cause problems in years with high water. Visitors to the park can pitch a tint, bring a camper or rent a cabin.
The Nature Center even boasts an 800-gallon aquarium stocked with fish found in the Tickfaw River.
If you are a hiker, you’ll enjoy more than a mile of boardwalks through diverse outdoor habitat. This is also a great park to canoe in.
One word of caution here. Tickfaw is a low-lying area and has experienced some pretty serious flooding, including this past January. But the park received no substantial damage and re-opened quickly. Check on current conditions in plenty of time before you go here.
Heading north, we end up at one of the top crappie and catfish lakes in the state in Poverty Point Reservoir State Park. Here you are just a few miles from the nationally acclaimed Poverty Point World Heritage site, a magnificent collection of earthen mounds and ridges constructed by native Americans that overlook the Mississippi River flood plain.
Not only can you rent a cabin here, but you can fish in the lake right off the back porch, which is constructed over the water You can also do any kind of camping or boating in the 2,700 acre man-made lake. A nature trail winds along Bayou Macon where you may see just about anything, including an occasional Louisiana black bear.
Visitors to the park north of Delhi can walk across a raised wooden archway spanning a section of the lake which leads to two fishing piers.
If you keep up with fishing, this name will probably kick off thoughts of giant white perch, crappie or sacalait, depending on what you call them. D’Arbonne is the site of two national crappie tournaments and is known for numbers and size of crappie.
But the state park offers much more than that. Camping, trails through the woods, bike riding the rolling hills or canoeing the cypress lined banks of the lake are all favorite activities in this site located between Farmersville and Bernice in Union Parish. The park itself is only 650 acres of piney woods. The lake covers 16,000 acres. If you don’t have a boat, no worries. This park has five long fishing piers which give you ample chance to catch a mess of fish for supper.
The cost to park
It’s obvious there is a good time to be had by all at Louisiana’s State Parks. But how much does it cost?
Whether it’s a day trip or a week-long excursion, state parks are an exceptional value. For $3 per person (unless you are under 3 or 62 or older, when it’s free), you can enjoy most everything in the park. Make sure you check for any additional fees when you arrive at the park’s main gate.
Some rental fees vary from park to park due to size or amenities in the specific facilities. Camping fees range from $25 to $33 a night for premium campsites with sewer hookups or prime locations. The average cost for water and electric hookups at improved campsites is around $25 a night and a primitive camping spot is $18 per night.
Cabins can run from $85 a night for standard cabins to $150 on weekdays or $175 a night for weekends for larger deluxe cabins. Group pavilions range from $50 to $120 a day. Once you are inside, you pay no boat launch fee, but you are required to have valid fishing licenses for anyone who goes fishing.
Wait, there are more…
If you don’t like our short list, no worries. There are more choices.
“Louisiana’s 21 State Parks all offer a uniquely rewarding experience of our state’s natural beauty and you are never more than an hour away from a State Park,” says Louisiana State Parks Assistant Secretary Gene Reynolds. “Obviously, the bulk of our visitors are coming in to stay at our cabins, or camp in RVs or tents. We also have a large visitation that fish, as all of our parks are located on a body of water – rivers, lakes, the Gulf of Mexico. And with several of our parks located on migratory paths, there’s ample opportunities for birdwatching. In fact, eagles have been spotted in increasing numbers at Fontainebleau and South Toledo Bend State Parks over the last few years.”
Most visited parks
As you would expect, Reynolds says the top parks for attendance over the past few years have been the ones near large population centers.
“Based on a five-year visitation average our top two visited parks are Fontainebleau SP outside Mandeville and Bayou Segnette SP south of New Orleans,” he said. “After that, the rest of the top five in attendance are Poverty Point SP near Delhi, Chicot SP near Ville Platte and Jimmie Davis SP on Caney Lake near Jonesboro.
Reynolds says the bulk of visitors come to stay in cabins or to camp in RVs and tents. The next biggest draw is fishing, from small to large lakes to rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to these activities, there are disc golf courses at five parks – Bogue Chitto, Lake Bistineau, Lake Claiborne, Lake D’Arbonne, and Sam Houston Jones State Park. Disc golf has grown in popularity across the nation, and the installation of these courses has brought in a new type of visitor. With more than 160 miles of trails, visitors can also hike, bike, and even ride horses through our various natural settings.
For water play, beaches at Bogue Chitto, Cypremort Point, Fontainebleau, Grand Isle, Jimmie Davis, Lake Bruin, Lake Claiborne, Poverty Point Reservoir, and South Toledo Bend State Parks are open year-round. Water playgrounds are open April through September at Bogue Chitto, Chicot, Fontainebleau, Lake Bruin, Lake Fausse Pointe, Palmetto Island, and Tickfaw State Parks. And when summer rolls around, the wave pool at Bayou Segnette State Park opens as do pools at Chemin-A-Haut, Lake D’Arbonne and North Toledo Bend State Parks; these pools are open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.