As we head into fall, and the heat abates, thoughts turn to the outdoors. What better place to enjoy the cool, refreshing weather than Louisiana’s state parks?
Smack dab in the center of the state lie two gems, Chicot State Park and the Louisiana Arboretum, both located north of Ville Platte and bordering the expansive Lake Chicot. The state park offers day use, cabins and camping opportunities, fishing and boating and miles of trails for hiking and biking. The Louisiana Arboretum, established in 1961 and the oldest state-supported arboretum in the country, offers several trails throughout its 600 acres, and a varied ecosystem to enjoy.
The combination of the two make for an excellent weekend getaway, a sporting outing or a safe accommodation for family reunions, special events — even holiday celebrations.
Chicot State Park came into the Louisiana park system in 1939 after the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the area for recreational use. About the same time, Louisiana naturalist and author Caroline Dormon, who helped create the state’s Kisatchie National Forest, envisioned a state arboretum to be used for environmental education. In the late 1950s, retired Ville Platte principal J.D. “Prof” Lafleur made a presentation at a State Park and Recreation Commission Board meeting, describing the remarkable trees growing in Chicot and A.G. “Sudie” Lawton, a board member, passed that information on to her friend Dormon.
“That’s when they carved a little bit out of Chicot to build the Arboretum,” said Louisiana Arboretum Naturalist Kim Hollier.
Today, the Arboretum is located at 1300 Sudie Lawton Lane with the Caroline Dormon Lodge at its heart.
More than 6,400 acres make up the rolling hills of Chicot State Park with the placid waters of Lake Chicot at its core. Fishermen reel in largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie, among other fish, and there are three boat launches on the lake, as well as boat rentals.
Park accommodations include deluxe cabins, lodges that sleep up to 14, a group camp for 52 and both primitive and improved campsites. Camping discounts are given to veterans, first responders and America the Beautiful Senior Pass holders.
Park trails include 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, one of which encircles the lake, and an 8-mile canoe trail.
For those looking for a relaxing day trip, day-use park fees are only $3 per person and admission is free to seniors and children 3 and under. Enter at the park entrance off LA Highway 3042 where it’s only a short drive to the lake and a long boardwalk that takes visitors above its water to enjoy fishing or bird watching. Between the entrance and the lake lies a playground area with picnic tables, a splash pad and a kids’ hiking trail, perfect for families.
The Louisiana State Arboretum provides visitors with 5.5 miles of its own trails, most beneath a forest canopy with many of the plants and trees labeled. Visitors to Chicot may access these trails, as well as the Arboretum’s Nature Center, from the park (by fee) or at the old Arboretum entrance off Highway 3042 that doesn’t require an admission cost. Two trails, the Walker Terrace Trail at the old entrance and the Bald Cypress Trail near the Nature Center, which ends at Lake Chicot, are handicap accessible.
Safety measures are in place at both sites and some regularly scheduled events may be postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. It’s imperative to check either the state park website or the individual park Facebook pages for updates. Arboretum programming, which is normally ongoing this time of year, has been impacted by COVID-19 and some of the Nature Center’s interactive displays — the ones visitors touch — have been closed. Naturalists are still offering guided canoe trips on the lake in small groups, however.
“We’ll take visitors out on the lake and talk about the trees and animals,” said Hollier.
Guided hikes may return this winter, she added, but in small groups.
For more information, visit lastateparks.com/parks-preserves/chicot-state-park and lastateparks.com/parks-preserves/louisiana-state-arboretum