This is a trip that I've passed up many times before, opting for Lake Fausse Pointe farther south. I'm not big on lakes as a general rule, but after reading the description Ernest Herndon gives in his book, "Paddling Louisiana," I had to give it a try, and the fact that it sits adjacent to the Louisiana State Arboretum cinched it for me, as I'm a lover of old growth forests.
This manmade lake is long and narrow; about 7 miles long and 1/2 mile at it's widest, chocked full of trees, with lots of coves. Consequently, not a lot of room for speed boats and protected somewhat from the wind; the two primary reasons I avoid lakes - at least in the canoe.
I put in early on Sunday morning at the North Shore landing and set off south. The weather report the morning before when I left home was for SE winds 5-10mph. Perfect! Well, mother nature had other plans. As the winds began to stir mid-morning, they were definitely out of the northwest. Ok I thought, I'll just hug the west shore coming back. There are color-coded buoy markers throughout the lake, and a canoe trail along the west shore. I paddled in and out of coves and thru stands of trees, down to the far south end of the lake which looks much more like a river than a lake.
The scenery on the lake is beautiful. A mix of cypress and water tupelo all in early spring fluorescent green. At one point I watched intently as a young alligator, judging from the size of the head, maybe 3-4 ft., made his way along through the duckweed a few yards away. Later at the take-out I would see another, much smaller and wondered suspiciously where mom was, as they typically remain close to mom for a year, sometimes longer. At another time I watched an osprey flying overhead searching for lunch.
Hey, speaking of lunch, it was about time for me to do the same. I paddled into several quiet coves looking for a place to take out and sit for a while, but due to the shoreline being covered in cypress knees and seep mud, this became difficult. I finally found the perfect spot and was surprised when I stepped in the water at how warm it was. Seemed uncommon for so early in spring, but very pleasant.
Finally I decided it was time to turn back and head north. I was becoming increasingly aware of the wind now and made my way north by hugging the west shore and crossing coves. The canoe trail wanders thru the trees for the most part and keeps one out of the wind. However, there came a place about midway where the sign points across a large area of the lake, much to my chagrin, as the wind was stiff and the area was just this side of whitecapping. I'm thinking now that my rule about canoe for rivers, kayak for lakes, would have been well to heed. Well at least my spare paddle is a double blade. In order to cross this I must quarter slightly and paddle fast!
About halfway across a bass fisherman coming the opposite direction slowed down to watch me safely make it across. I was appreciative, but could only raise my head a little in thanks, as I dared not stop and possibly be blown sideways. Although the distance wasn't terribly great, I was happy to be out of the wind again, and loosened the grip on the paddle.
This was a wonderful paddle, lots of opportunities to see wildlife, and for dropping a fishing line if that's your pleasure. Be sure to make a side trip to the Louisiana State Arboretum adjacent to the park. It's awesome!
A side trip to the Louisiana State Arboretum 1.5 miles from the entrance to the park is a MUST, open daily 9am-5pm
An excellent example of mature Beech-Magnolia forest. The topography is varied and dramatic. Trails take you through hills, ravines, creek to view centuries old giant oaks, beech, magnolias, and a myriad of other flora.
The park has everything from very nice cabins sitting over the water, to 6 primitive campsites scattered along the 22 mile hiking trail that encircles the lake including at least one canoe-in only site. The usual state park facilities, for more info go to: www.crt.state.la.us/parks/
Solo Wenonah Vagabond
Nominal entrance fee, campsites range from $16/night (water & elec.) to $1/night for primitive.
Chicot Lake State Park is approximately 30 miles southwest of Alexandria, La. Take I-49 to exit 106 go west then south on 3042. Signs point the way.
Terraserver for map of lake (the park issues a small one that's pretty decent.)
Book: "Canoeing Louisiana" by Ernest Herndon
GPS and map recommended for the directionally challenged, due to flooded forest environment.