Lakeside and Virginia Pine
Springs National Forest Chewalla Lake
Geographic Location: east of
, MS (34.73512, -89.33833) Holly
Length: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2017
Overview: A semi-loop along the shores and bluffs of
Area Information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mississippi/about-forest/districts/?cid=stelprdb5213035
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=595033
Directions to the trailhead: Just east of
, take I-22 to Holly
Road (exit 37).
Exit and go north on CCC Rd. Drive CCC Rd. north
0.4 miles to SR 178 and turn left on SR 178.
Drive SR 178 west 0.7 miles to Higdon Road
and turn right on Higdon Rd. Drive Higdon Rd.
north 3 miles to the signed entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the recreation area, pay
the $5 day-use fee (unless you plan to camp here), and park in the day-use
area, which is reached by angling left where the campground entrance goes
The hike: Established in 1936,
consists of 155,661 acres in northern Holly
Springs National Forest Mississippi. Most of the land comprises unproductive farm
fields that had been abandoned during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted
over these fields with loblolly and shortleaf pines to help prevent erosion,
and pine forests comprise the majority of the forest’s lands today.
With 36 campsites, 40 picnic sites, and access to several hiking trails, at first glance Chewalla Lake Recreation Area looks like the many other lakeside recreation areas contained within
national forests. However, a closer look
reveals some hidden treasures. The name
Chewalla comes from the Choctaw Indian word Chiho-la, which translates
to “Supreme Being,” and the recreation area features a reconstructed Indian mound
that was originally located where the lake is today. Also, Chewalla Lake Recreation Area serves as
the trailhead for several trails that make good dayhiking: the Lakeside Trail,
the Virginia Pine Trail, and the Pine Mountain Trail. This hike combines the Lakeside
and Virginia Pine Trails to form a 3.5 mile semiloop that begins and ends at
the recreation area.
|Trailhead at day use area|
Start at the south side of the day-use parking area where the signed Lake Rd. Trail (also known as the Lakeside Trail) heads south into the campground area. An information board with a trail map is also located here, and you may want to take a picture of the trail map for reference during your hike. When I hiked here on a nice mid-March afternoon, forest workers were conducting controlled burns to clear underbrush from the campground area, and they were also repairing some severe trail erosion near the trailhead.
At 0.2 miles, you reach the reconstructed Indian mound, which is now located atop a low ridge. The mound is hemispherical in shape, and some erosion marks can clearly be seen. An observation deck located near the mound gives nice views up and down
. By looking down the lake, you can see the dam
area almost a mile away; you will be there in about 30 minutes. Chewalla
|View down Chewalla Lake|
Continuing southbound on the well-worn path, you reach the campground swimming area at 0.5 miles. The small sandy area sits adjacent to a tranquil-looking island, which is accessible via a short covered bridge. Past the swimming area, the trail heads west to (finally!) leave the developed part of the recreation area and enter the forest, which is dominated by sweet gum trees and loblolly pines.
|Covered bridge leading to island|
0.65 miles into the hike, you reach a trail intersection with trails going straight and left. Although the signs say only “trail,” the trail marked with blue plastic circles going straight is the Virginia Pine Trail, and the seemingly unmarked trail going left is the continuation of the Lakeside Trail. We will eventually go both ways, but for now turn left to continue your journey toward the dam.
After crossing a long wooden bridge over a small feeder stream, you reach another unsigned trail intersection. The trail going left dead-ends at the
shore of Chewalla Lake, so you need to turn right. At the next fork, angle left to stay on the
Lakeside Trail. Some old, faint white
paint blazes mark the trail here, but this trail will need to be remarked
within the next few years.
The trail crosses another feeder stream before climbing gradually up and around a low bluff. At 1.1 miles, the Lakeside Trail ends at its intersection with gravel
Chewalla Dam Road,
which at this point is closed to vehicle traffic. To get to the dam, turn left and descend
moderately to reach the west end of the earthen dam. For the best lake views, hike out to the end
of the dam, then turn around and retrace your steps to the Virginia Pine
Trail. Turn sharply left on the Virginia
The Virginia Pine Trail parallels one of the lake’s feeder streams until it reaches the powerline that services the campground, at which point it curves right and climbs a hill. Where the trail forks at 2.8 miles, choose the left fork that passes under the powerline. The right fork goes directly back to the campground.
|Hiking the Virginia Pine Trail|
Some more gradual climbing through a nice grove of loblolly pines brings you to the Virginia Pine Trail’s end at the area entrance road. If you want to extend your hike, the 1.4 mile Pine Mountain Trail starts just to the left and across the road; it leads to a forest road that leads to a nice lake overlook. I had a long drive back to
Carolina ahead of me, so I turned right and walked
down the area entrance road to the day-use parking lot to complete my hike.