FORT POLK — As has been noted on the pages of the Guardian the last few weeks, those who are fortunate enough to receive an assignment to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk can be sure of one fact: The surrounding Kisatchie National Forest offers outdoor enthusiasts some of the best hiking and beautiful scenery they’ll ever see.
One of the gems in this crown that dominates the area to the north, east and south of Fort Polk is the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail, which follows the rolling hills, ridgelines and soggy bottoms of Kisatchie between Fort Polk and Alexandria.
If you want to see the pink and white blossoms in full bloom, now is the time to plan a trek along all or part of the 24-mile path.
Brochures from the Kisatchie National Forest’s Calcasieu Ranger District, advise spring is best for viewing wild azaleas in the forest.
For those unfamiliar with the showy blooms, wild azaleas do not look like the garden-variety plants that sightseers get a glimpse of in yards or lining lanes in old antebellum home sites: They are light white and pink instead of darker colors. They also tend to attract butterflies, which offers visitors another palate of colors to enjoy.
Another reason for choosing this time of year to hike the trail is the weather — the stifling hot Louisiana summer is still a few weeks off, with its humidity and snakes that like to frequent the bayous, creeks and ponds, which are the favorite haunts of wild azaleas. Also, odds are you will also catch a glimpse of dogwoods in bloom, scattered among the towering dark green pines of the forest.
The Wild Azalea Trail is located in the Evangeline Unit of the Calcasieu Ranger District. End points are located at the Valentine Lake Recreation Area and at the town of Woodworth’s Town Hall parking area.
It is designated for both foot and bicycle traffic and is accessible by road at several points along the trail. This makes it possible to hike short sections — a nice choice for those who have time constraints or are physically unable to hike the entire length. It is marked with bright yellow paint blazes and has signs at road crossings.
The U.S. Forest Service has divided the trail into seven segments for those who wish to hike the entire trail, but not all at once. For a list of the seven segments or for more information about the forest’s trails and day use areas, visit one of the Kisatchie National Forest ranger stations or its website at www.fs.usda.gov/kisatchie.