Hike Location: Legion State Park
Geographic Location: north side of Louisville, MS (33.15584, -89.04533)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2019
Overview: A short but occasionally steep circumnavigation of Lake Toppasha.
Hike Route Map:
Directions to the trailhead: North of Louisville, take SR 25 to Columbus Avenue; this intersection is located 5.3 miles north of the intersection of SR 25 and SR 15. Go south on Columbus Ave. Drive Columbus Ave. 3.6 miles to the park entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and drive the main park road to the circle in front of the park’s lodge, which is known as Legion Lodge. Go 3/4 of the way around the circle, turn right on a concrete driveway, then turn left on the gravel driveway for the picnic shelter. Park in front of the picnic shelter.
The hike: Established in 1934 as one of Mississippi’s nine original state parks, historic Legion State Park occupies 420 rolling acres in the red clay hills of central Mississippi. The entire park is on the National Register of Historic Places, mainly due to the 1930’s era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures that still stand on the park’s premises. On point, the Legion Lodge you drove past on your way in to the trailhead is a hand-hewn structure that has remained unaltered since the CCC built it in 1937. Legion Lodge is the oldest permanent facility in the Mississippi state park system.
True to its rustic character, the park is light on amenities; it offers only a small lake, a 15-site developed campground, and 5 cabins. For hikers, Legion State Park offers only one short trail, but it is a good one that circumnavigates the park’s Lake Toppasha. Such is the trail described here.
|Legion State Park trailhead|
From the parking area, walk toward the lake to find the information kiosk that marks the trailhead, then angle right to cross two wooden bridges and head for Lake Toppasha’s dam. Walking this direction gives a counterclockwise journey around the lake. When you reach the dam, turn left to walk across the warm and sunny earthen dam.
|Approaching the dam|
Upon reaching the west side of the dam, turn left to stay on the trail as it enters the forest. The trail is unmarked, but it is wide and easy to follow for its entire distance. Pine trees dominate the forest at Legion State Park, although numerous sweetgums also make appearances. A nice swinging bench located just past the dam invites you to sit, swing, and observe the lake.
The trail makes minor but occasionally steep undulations as it heads southwest with the lake on the left. Just past 0.3 miles, the trail curves right to head around a steep ravine before curving left to dip down through it and climb steeply up the other side. At 0.6 miles, you reach the lake’s headwaters before heading up another tight, steep ravine. On my visit a trail maintenance area near here contained some gravel that was being used to improve the trail surface, which was in quite good shape.
|Approaching the lake's headwaters|
After descending into a wider ravine, at 0.9 miles you cross the main stream that feeds Lake Toppasha on a wooden bridge wide enough to accommodate a car. Immediately after crossing the bridge, you reach an unsigned trail intersection with trails going straight and left. The option going straight is a spur trail that dead-ends at cabins #1 and #2, so you need to turn left to stay on the loop around the lake. Large amounts of mayapple and Christmas ferns grow in the understory in this area, and some signs identify common plants in the streamside forest.
1.1 miles into the hike, you climb a wooden staircase that lifts you to the ridgetop on which cabins #3, #4, and #5 sit. Cross the cabin access road and quickly descend back to lake level, where the trail appears to fork again. The left fork leads to a picnic table right beside Lake Toppasha but dead-ends there, so after a possible short detour you want to take the right fork to continue the loop.
While ascending the next ridge, you pass an old brick/stone chimney with origins I could not determine. At 1.4 miles, you reach an amphitheater that would have a commanding lake view were it not for some trees. The trail descends this ridge using a single switchback, after which a brief walk along the lakeshore returns you to the trailhead and completes the hike. On your drive out, make sure you take a few minutes and admire the impressive lodge building if you did not do so on your drive in.