Friday, January 5, 2018

Tickfaw State Park: Pine/Hardwood and River Trails (Blog Hike #672)

Trails: Pine/Hardwood and River Trails
Hike Location: Tickfaw State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Springfield, LA
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2017
Overview: A pair of loops, one through drier hardwood forest and one through wet riverside forest.

Directions to the trailhead: From Springfield, take SR 1037 west 6.2 miles to Patterson Road on the left.  Take a soft left on Patterson Rd.  Patterson Rd. dead-ends at the park entrance in 1.1 miles.  Pay the small park entrance fee, then drive the main park road to the large parking loop at its end, where you should park.  A restroom building and several picnic areas stand here.

The hike: Straddling its namesake river, Tickfaw State Park protects 1200 acres of densely wooded and periodically inundated land.  The park was established only in 1999, making it one of the newer state parks in Louisiana.  The park’s location deep in rural southeast Louisiana makes its facilities under-used relative to their quality.  I was the park’s only day-use visitor on the Thursday morning in mid-December that I came here.
            For hikers, the park offers 5 different hiking trails, but 4 of them are short nature trails that offer only brief excursions into the woods near the park’s developed areas.  The exception is the River Trail, which forms a 2 mile loop along the east bank of the Tickfaw River.  Hiking the River Trail and tacking on the Pine/Hardwood Trail, a short nature trail that departs from the same parking area, forms the 2.4 mile double loop described here.
Start of Pine/Hardwood Trail
            To save the bigger and better loop for last, I chose to start with the short 0.5 mile Pine/Hardwood Trail, which departs the northeast corner of the parking loop at a crosswalk.  The trailhead is unsigned, but the trail is obvious.  Almost immediately the trail forks to form its loop.  I chose to turn right and use the trail going straight as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            Very quickly you walk through a wooden pavilion that serves as a nice outdoor meeting area.  True to its name, the Pine/Hardwood Trail passes through dense forest featuring oak and loblolly pines with some saw palmetto in the understory.  The thick layer of gravel that forms the trail surface keeps this trail dry when other trails are muddy.
Hiking the Pine/Hardwood Trail
            At 0.5 miles, you close the loop and complete the Pine/Hardwood Trail.  To reach the River Trail and the longer of the two loops, use the two parking area crosswalks and walk around the restroom/vending building to find the boardwalk that leads south to the Tickfaw River.  At first the highly elevated boardwalk passes over more of the same pine/hardwood forest, but soon you enter a periodically inundated area that features some cypress trees. 
View from River Overlook
Follow arrows to the River Overlook, your first stop along the Tickfaw River.  The River Overlook features a bench that overlooks a southward bend in the river.  Unfortunately, the muddy river featured a lot of litter and man-made debris on my visit, but I still managed to see some turtles and some waterfowl including herons and egrets.  A suspension bridge leads across the river to the undeveloped western part of the park.  While there are no trails along the river’s west bank, walking across the bridge gives a nice view directly up the river.
Because the area along the river floods periodically, your visit to the Tickfaw River may be limited to this boardwalk.  If conditions allow, for a walk on this park’s wild side descend the wooden steps on the near side of the suspension bridge to begin the River Trail.  The gravel and boardwalk you have walked on so far are replaced by the River Trail’s more primitive dirt surface.  No bridges or boardwalks exist to carry you over wet areas, but there were only a couple of wet areas to slog through on my visit.
Tickfaw River
The trail curves right to roughly follow the east bank of the meandering Tickfaw River, which stays to your left for this entire segment.  The dense jungle-like alluvial forest gives this area an almost primeval feel.  At 1.7 miles, you cross the worst of the wet areas before intersecting the canoe/kayak access road, which is not open to vehicles.  Turn right to begin hiking the access road back to the parking area.
Wet area on River Trail
Long wooden bridges/boardwalks carry the two-track dirt road across more wet areas as you pass through more dense undergrowth.  After curving right to head south, the access road comes out at the rear of the parking loop, thus completing the hike.  If you have more time to spend here, try the other short trails or check out the Nature Center (open only part of the week) to complete your visit to Tickfaw State Park.

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