Down Home LA: An unforgettable destination that can only be reached by kayak

Chemin-A-Haut State Park is fun for the whole family, and offers a kayak trail that you can't skip.
Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 7:13 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 8:10 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Filming Down Home Louisiana this Summer has been a blast. One of my favorite parts of the series has been covering nearly every corner of the state over these past weeks. In Northwest Louisiana, we drove the sunflower trail, before heading to Louisiana’s tallest peak in the north central region. After that, we went deep down into Cajun country to see alligators in a stunning state park, before cooling off on a river float near the state capital.

But there’s one region of the state that often goes overlooked, even more than Central Louisiana. I’m talking about the Northeast corner of the bayou state. That’s where we’re headed next. We’re emphasizing the “North” here, going nearly to the Arkansas state line to visit another state park that should be on any nature lover’s bucket list.

Chemin-A-Haut State Park is about as fun to visit as it is to say. The small park is located just outside of Bastrop, LA and offers amenities for every type of traveler. Walking and horse trails, a peaceful lake for fishing, a playground and even cabins available for rent to turn your day trip into a memorable weekend getaway.

The sign, greeting visitors to Chemin-A-Haut State Park, near Bastrop, LA.
The sign, greeting visitors to Chemin-A-Haut State Park, near Bastrop, LA.(Mark Klein)

And yet, there is one more draw that really caught my attention. In addition to all the fun visitors can have on land, Chemin-A-Haut boasts even more on water. The park offers kayak rentals starting at $7 an hour, giving visitors the chance to explore Bartholomew Bayou, a nearby waterway that’s believed to be the longest flowing bayou in North America. Along the way, you’ll be treated to beautiful sights of old cypress trees, Spanish moss, fish leaping out of the water and maybe even a river otter or two. There’s a slight current on the water you’ll be paddling against for a considerable portion of your trip, but as long as river levels aren’t too high, most paddlers should be ok. Roughly translated, Chemin-A-Haut is French for “the high road,” referring to the tall bluffs surrounding the bayou on either side.

Ancient Cypress Trees on Bartholomew Bayou.
Ancient Cypress Trees on Bartholomew Bayou.(Mark Klein)

About an hour down the bayou from our launch site inside the park, we reached a fork in the road. Turn left here to check out Chemin-A-Haut Creek, you’ll be glad you did. Trust me. This place is special. All of a sudden, the current disappears, and it seems that you have the water to yourself. It’s quiet here, almost eerily too quiet, with the exception of the occasional jumping fish. There isn’t easy access to this creek, so the only way in is to take up the long paddle from the nearby bayou. Because of that, odds are you won’t see many other travelers, or the trash they leave behind. It’s a magical feeling to be on this undisturbed slice of the bayou state.

The real reason we paddled to Chemin-A-Haut Creek was to see the ancient cypress trees that outlast Louisiana’s statehood by hundreds of years. For whatever reason, these cypress trees survived the logging industry and are estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. These huge trees will take your breath away as you paddle by.

The star of the show is about a mile down into the creek. “The Castle,” as its famously known, is a particularly huge cypress with a hollowed out interior, large enough for ten people, or a kayak, to fit inside. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it’s pretty amazing to paddle inside and look up into the heart of a something so old.

The Castle Tree, located inside Chemin-A-Haut Creek, off of Bartholomew Bayou.
The Castle Tree, located inside Chemin-A-Haut Creek, off of Bartholomew Bayou.(Mark Klein)

Because you can’t see the tree’s interior from the nearby shore, rumors suggest that smugglers may have even hid moonshine inside the tree at one time. Whether that’s true or not, I can just imagine there are plenty of stories that have originated from this spot.

Looking up, inside the ancient Castle Tree on Chemin-A-Haut Creek.
Looking up, inside the ancient Castle Tree on Chemin-A-Haut Creek.(Mark Klein)

Once we left the tree, we headed back through Chemin-A-Haut Creek, before eventually returning to the main bayou. This time, we had the river’s currents to help us as we headed back to our launch site. The entire trip up and downstream took us a little over two hours, and experienced kayakers could probably shave about thirty minutes off of their journey. While this trip was physically demanding, it was worth every minute to see the incredible sites of Chemin-A-Haut Creek.

I hope you have an incredible time, exploring this often unvisited corner of Down Home Louisiana.

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