By Charli Stanley

Growing up in the middle of the woods, I always heard things like “How do you not get lost out here?” and “Everything looks the same; it’s just a bunch of pine trees!” If you’re new to Louisiana, I’m sure the same thought has run through your mind as well, but there is much more to this pine forest than meets the eye. Now, before reading on, I feel the need to warn you, some of the names used in this article are a little hard to say and may come off as intimidating, but bear with me, I’ll try my best to help you through it. 

Cypress knees peek out of the water at Little Cypress Pond in Kisatchie National Forest. Photo by Charli Stanley

Kisatchie (kuh-sa-chee) National Forest is a 604,000 acre forest that spans across seven of Louisiana’s sixty-four parishes. Due to the large scale of the forest, Kisatchie is split into five Ranger Districts, which are then split into smaller units. 

The name Kisatchie derives from a Caddoan tribe of Kichai (kee-chai) Indians who once called the banks of the Red River their home. This land was rich in timber, and the resource was milled and abused until the Forest Service was able to obtain some units of land in the late 1920’s, allowing the forest to begin the long road to recovery. It officially gained the title of National Forest in 1930.

While it may seem like pine trees are all you can see within the dense forest, there is a lively ecosystem of wildlife teeming within. Plenty of game available for seasonal hunting include whitetail deer, turkey, quail, squirrel, and more. Other species you may observe include turtles, foxes, otters, and frogs. More dangerous animals lurk as well, so keep an eye out for wild boar, black bears, snakes, and bobcats. The most elusive animals of the forest are the escape-artist horses that decided domesticated life wasn’t for them.

Butting borders with Fort Polk is the 85,000 acre Vernon Unit of the Calcasieu (kal-kuh-shoo) Ranger District. Within the Vernon Unit are nestled four of its own recreation complexes: Little Cypress, Blue Hole, Fullerton Lake, and Government Pond. Fullerton Lake Recreation Complex is home to one of the many sawmills that once flattened the lush forest. Ruins of the mill can still be found along the 1.6-mile Fullerton Mill Trail. 

Today, the forest is used for a plethora of activities, from hunting on designated grounds, to hiking through the pine-lined trails, or even camping on the shores of one of its many lakes. Miles-long ATV trails snake through the thick woods, kayaks can be rented for a day on the water, or you can even grab your pole for a day of fishing. If outdoor recreation is your style, Kisatchie has endless opportunities for your enjoyment. For more information on openings, closures, and announcements, check out their regularly-updated bulletin.