What makes Northwest Louisiana a Sportsman’s Paradise?
Looking for outdoor adventure? Louisiana, home to an environment unlike any other, is not called the “Sportsman’s Paradise” for nothing. The northwest region of Louisiana is replete with rolling hills, bountiful wildlife, lush vegetation, brimming lakes and an endless array of rivers and streams — all of which make it as diverse as the people who call it home. Shreveport-Bossier City draws outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy camping, hiking, sailing, hunting, fishing, birding and even such off-the-beaten-path activities as mountain biking or off-roading. Whether you’re in search of serene strolls through scenic vistas or a heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled activity, look no further than northwest Louisiana.
Paddleboarding, Canoeing and Kayaking
An intimate and peaceful way to experience the area’s unique aquatic ecosystems is via paddleboard, canoe or kayak. Scenic, slow-moving waterways crisscross northwest Louisiana and the abundance of creeks, bayous and small rivers lend themselves to excellent opportunities for any paddling enthusiasts. Chances are you’ll see elegant birdlife, pass under groves of mysterious tree canopies or even brush past the occasional alligator no matter your vessel of choice. Unlike the fast-rushing “white waters” found in other states, here you’ll find tranquil exploration in the labyrinthine bayous, small rivers, creeks and marshes that cover the region in a liquid network full of paddling adventures around every bend.
“Paddling is such a unique experience,” said Adam Harbuck, owner of Harbuck Outdoor Sports in Shreveport, who loves exploring the waters of north Louisiana. “I can travel to any point on the compass and find easily accessible paddling where you have the opportunity to just lose yourself.” The key to getting the most out of your paddling experience, Harbuck suggests, is to adventure to the less-traveled areas.
Bartholomew Bayou is perfect for an afternoon paddle or an extended trip. It’s North America’s longest bayou at 365 miles and manages to be both dark and light-dappled at the same time, much like a stony cathedral with light streaming through stained glass windows. The bayou’s ceiling is its canopy of cypresses and tupelos, permitting long and lovely rays of sunlight to sparkle on the water’s surface.
If calm-water canoeing interests you, only a short drive from Shreveport-Bossier City is the beautiful Bayou Dorcheat, which winds its way through the entire length of Webster Parish. Once a major thoroughfare for steamships and paddleboats, today Dorcheat entices canoeists by offering up scenic views of adjacent hardwood, cypress and tupelo forests. Paddlers can access the bayou from a number of locations, including the neighboring village of Dixie Inn. There’s also Bayou Chemin-A-Haut, located northeast of Monroe near Bastrop, which offers some of the loveliest day floats you could possibly imagine. It’s walled on both sides of the bank by what Canoeing Louisiana describes as a “veritable gallery of cypress trees.” If you want to stick closer to Shreveport-Bossier City, Harbuck said there are plenty of opportunities for paddling at Cross Lake, Caddo Lake and Lake Bisteneau. “Scenic views on Caddo Lake offer great opportunities for paddlers. It’s a great way to see a lot of the wild country in Louisiana and enjoy the landscape from a completely different point of view,” he said.
Straddling the Louisiana-Texas line just west of Shreveport, Caddo Lake’s 26,000 acres offer a rare, if not singular, wetlands environment. And calling it a lake is a stretch. At 12 miles wide and 16 miles long, it looks more like a flooded cypress swamp than a natural lake. It’s home to over 200 species of birds, hundreds of different species of mammals, reptiles and fish, as well and countless plants and trees — most prominently the towering bald cypress, some as old as 400 years, that erupt from its surface like limbs of drowned giants. Its natural beauty by itself can stop you dead in your tracks, but Caddo Lake also works on the primal circuits. Simply put, it sticks with you (even if it is kind of a creepy place).
Catfish or bass? Lake, river or bayou? Do I need a boat or can I fish from the shore? These are the questions you’ll be forced to answer when you prep your line to fish in a region that has become one of the nation’s angling hot spots. From its sleepy bayous to the tranquil marshlands, breezy lakesides to mighty rivers, the ebb and flow of the waterways significantly define the legendary fishing grounds of northwest Louisiana.
What makes this area such a unique location, according to Harbuck, is that “it’s just a couple of hours drive from world famous bass fisheries like Toledo Bend and Caddo Lake, and only a half a day away from both world class inshore saltwater fishing on the coast of Louisiana. We are truly a hub for anglers.” And while this area of the state is best known as the state’s hill country, there are lakes — lots and lots of lakes. From the start of January to the end of December, fishermen haul in white perch, catfish, gar, sauger, redear sunfish, drum and numerous other species on the many scenic freshwater fishing hot spots throughout the regions.
You already know how popular paddling is on Caddo Lake, but it’s also a fisherman’s dream come true. Strands of moss-draped cypress trees and lily pad thickets make Caddo Lake not only picturesque but also highly productive for largemouth bass, catfish, bream and crappie. Managed as a trophy bass fishery, it remains one of the best places in northwest Louisiana to catch a largemouth that weighs in the double digits. “Caddo Lake has the best potential for a trophy bass in northwest Louisiana,” James Seales, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) biologist, told Louisiana Life Magazine. “People catch bass up to 10 pounds fairly often and numerous 8-pound fish.”
Another option for fishing is on Caney Lake, located in Jimmie Davis State Park. At 5,000 acres, it’s certainly not the largest lake in Louisiana, but it has some of the biggest bass in the state. “It’s still one of the best bets for catching a double-digit bass in Louisiana,” Ryan Daniel, a LDWF fisheries biologist, told Game & Fish magazine. For the best feeding grounds, head into the fingers that extend into the north shore of the lake or to one of the creek channels that feed into the shore. After a long successful day on the water, you can then drive back into Shreveport, where you can try some of the best fried “cats” in northwest Louisiana at the legendary Johnny’s Catfish and Seafood.
The area’s biggest draw, Toledo Bend, is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the southern U.S. It’s so large it practically has its own gravitational pull. Covering nearly a third of Louisiana’s western region, this 186,000-acre expanse has anglers from all over the world frothing with possibilities. Toledo Bend is so fruitful, in fact, it’s been named the No. 1 bass lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine two years running. And while bass are the favorites — crappie, bream and catfish are also in abundance. More than a dozen boat launches are scattered along the Louisiana side of the reservoir. The only challenge? To see if you can land a “lunker” (a bass that weighs over 10 pounds).
It’s sufficed to say — as locals and pros alike will agree — the fish are definitely biting.
Louisiana is arguably one of the best locations in the country for some in-your-face, hard-hitting duck hunting. From the flooded hardwoods to the vastness of the grassy coastal marshes, ducks can be found virtually any and everywhere in northwest Louisiana. Sitting at the southern end of the Mississippi Flyway, the state’s diverse habitat makes it arguably the most important state in the country for wintering waterfowl (ducks, geese, teal, rail, gallinule, snipe, woodcock and mourning dove). The abundance of swampy backwaters and winding bayous attract ducks in numbers from early teal migrations in September until late-season mallards call flooded timber home in January.
Spanning from the farthest reaches in just about any direction and scattered generously in between, Louisiana’s public waterfowl hunting areas are as numerous as they are diverse. And, out of those public access areas, these two have proven to envelope the most superb duck hunting the state has to offer — Catahoula Lake and Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area.
Known for having some of the best duck hunting imaginable, Catahoula Lake definitely lives up to the hype. Covering over 26,000 acres, this poorly drained, shallow lake is bordered by Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge and Dewey Wills WMA, offering superb wetland habitat for waterfowl. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the area is a hotspot for Canvasback, which can often be caught feeding in shallower sections of the lake.
The Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area, located about seven miles east of Monroe and 10 miles west of Rayville, is just shy of 17,000 acres sporting copious amounts of sloughs, bayous and shallow, flooded wooded areas. Two “greentree” waterfowl impoundments on the property give it 2,400 acres of flood-controlled duck habitat, which offers excellent opportunity to harvest mallards among the flooded timber. The best part about hunting here: it’s easily accessible. Hunters often need only walk short distances to access hunting spots with no need for a boat or ATV.
And that’s not even counting the vast amount of private land managed for duck hunting. From marshes to flooded timber to flooded grain fields, there are plenty of ways to hunt in northwest Louisiana — and plenty of places, too.
Whether you’re a traveling or local birder, northwest Louisiana’s mild climate and unusual terrain, along with the many state parks and national wildlife refuges, make it a haven for those who enjoy bird watching and bird photography. The state’s rich ecosystems form a nurturing habitat for vast numbers of birds, including both those that are native to the region and many that migrate to or through the area each year. The diversity of habitats offers a mix of remnant prairie, bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands, and piney woods.
Birds that could be considered target species in the region include ringed kingfisher, gray flycatcher, cassin’s sparrow and dusky-capped flycatcher. It’s also the only region in the state where bewick’s wren, western meadowlark, smith’s longspur and harris’ sparrows regularly populate.
The Red River National Wildlife Refuge in Bossier City is a seven-mile trail system that provides access to what is said to be a critical stopover point for more than 200 species of migratory songbirds and shorebirds, plus wintering grounds for waterfowl and wading birds in its swamps, wide bayous, upland streams, pine hills and grasslands. The most common birds seen are the Wild Turkey, Barred Owls, White-breasted Nuthatches and the rare Prothonotary Warbler. Spring songbird migration can be good, too, although the birds aren’t as concentrated in this region as they are in small coastal woodlands.
Birding doesn’t require much equipment. Grab the binoculars, some sunscreen and a camera, and you’re ready to go. But, before heading out, be sure you become familiar with the squeaky call of the nuthatch and the whistled song of the sparrow, as learning both greatly helps to know their raspy call.
Granted, northwest Louisiana may be best known for its lowland marshes, swamps shrouded in mystery, plentiful waterways and fertile cropland, but the region also boasts a variety of hiking trails for those who prefer to explore the outdoors on foot.
Shreveport native Nora Greer, an avid hiker and trail runner, suggests hitting the trails at North Toledo Bend State Park, where more than 900 acres are available for hiking and relaxing in the heart of nature. “The trails offer beautiful vistas along with some of the most popular fishing areas in the state,” Greer said. “Be on the lookout for wildlife that can often be spotted while walking or running.” And, believe-it-or-not, the trails that surround Toledo Bend have a lot of rolling terrain. Greer emphasizes that “you get a feeling of going up and down rather than having it flat. A lot of the trails that we have in the state are basically flat terrain.” Don’t forget to look out for the Bald Eagles.
For those seeking to add a little elevation to their hike, north Louisiana is home to Driskill Mountain, where a forested 1.9-mile trail suitable for all experience levels will take you to the highest point in the state at 535 feet above sea level. This relatively easy hike offers the chance to experience beautiful Louisiana topography that contrasts nicely with the state’s stereotypical swamps, marshes and flat southern prairies.
The Sugar Cane Trail within the Caney Lake Recreation Complex (near Minden) is a looped trail totaling about seven miles through rolling, hilly terrain that’s typical of this part of the state. A mixture of pine and oak give shade to the well-worn trail and one can expect several nice views of Caney Lake. This trail, according to Greer, is the most child-friendly hike among the groups named.
If you’re new to hiking or maybe you just want a nice long, relaxing stroll, a mere 20 minutes from downtown Shreveport, head to Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Park Nature Trail, a 160-acre pine-oak-hickory forest with five miles of hiking trails featuring beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels.
Greer explains, “All the walkways and trails through Walter B. Jacobs offer a unique educational experience for visitors. Clear and informative signs identify wildlife and foliage. It’s great for nature buffs, with plenty of flora and fauna, a leisurely romantic hike, or if you happen to have a little one or dog in tow. Just be sure to bring a picnic basket.”
Louisiana may be one of the flattest states in the nation, but it’s also one of the greenest, offering lots of natural areas worth discovering on a bike. No, you won’t find many mountains, but you will find plenty of winding trails through what hills are available. Shreveport, Minden and Ruston offer a variety of terrain for any mountain biking adventurist.
Three of the most popular trails in the area are the Monkey Trail in Eddie Jones Park, Lincoln Parish Park in Ruston and the Stoner Boat Launch trail in Shreveport. The Monkey Trail, which is regarded as one of the best trails in the state, is located near Chimp Haven and features some tricky switchbacks and turns. According to local architect and mountain biking enthusiast Jeff Spikes, the Monkey Trail offers “lots of technical sections yet is still a fast trail. There are a couple of short jaunts on fire roads but nearly all single track with several opportunities to get some good air. All around, it’s a fun, challenging trail. And it’s close.”
The piney woods of Lincoln Parish caught the attention of Spikes when he was attending Louisiana Tech. For a state that doesn’t boast of mountains, that’s pretty exciting news. Since opening in 1992, the Lincoln Parish Park Mountain Biking Trail has hosted several outstanding bike races and received wondrous acclaim. Professional biker Ned Overand called Lincoln Parish Park “one of the most challenging trails” and Mountain Bike! Deep South Guide Book recognizes the park as one of the best in the South.
If you’re a beginner to the sport, you might gravitate towards the convenient Stoner Boat Launch trail, which runs parallel to the Red River Bicycle Trail in downtown Shreveport. Perfect for beginners, this trail is a flat single-track with three different loops to keep things fresh.
What’s the draw when compared with ordinary road bicycling? “It’s a healthy and fun way to interact with nature and is free of cars and other hazards that come with the road biking,” Spikes said. “Riding any type of bicycle at a high level requires a lot of endurance and leg strength, so obviously it’s a great cardio workout, but mountain biking works the upper body more than a road bike.”
Like many riders, Spikes points to the sport’s ability to draw participants into the great outdoors to appreciate natural beauty. Add in a rigorous, full-body workout along with a group of adrenaline junkies with a shared interest and it’s easy to understand the allure.
“We have a close knit community of riders statewide. We have actual hills here as opposed to southern Louisiana or East Texas. So the trails around Shreveport-Bossier draw your weekend warriors looking for a bit more gravity than their home trails provide. Besides, every trail is different,” he said. “They all have their own flavor.”
The term “ATV” is typically synonymous with the slang term “quad” and conjures up images of four-wheeled vehicles intended for single-rider use. Most UTV’s offer the same benefit, hence the name “Utility Terrain Vehicle.” No longer are these machines intended for just hauling junk around the yard. In fact, many are built for performance and there are ample areas around Shreveport-Bossier City to test them out.
Muddy Bottoms, a 5,000-acre ATV/UTV park near Springhill, is only 50 miles northeast of Shreveport. According to the park’s website, it’s the largest facility of its kind in the nation. It’s an “outdoor lover’s dream” and offers multiple terrains to create an ATV rider’s paradise. Among the many features are a vast mud bog, a giant outdoor amphitheater and a huge spray park and playground.
If you prefer something a little closer to home, High Lifter Off-Road Park, near Keithville, extends its love of all things off-road and has created a place for local ATV enthusiasts to ride. For residents of Shreveport-Bossier City, this close-to-home park is operated by the people who wrote the book on riding ATVs in challenging conditions. The park includes 570 acres of land with over 25 miles of trails, four prepared mud pits, a motocross track, three ponds, and much, much more.
With its history and plentiful opportunities to eat, drink and copious entertainment options, it’s sometimes forgotten that the Red River isn’t the only major body of water near Shreveport-Bossier. On the west side of Shreveport is the large, open expanse of Cross Lake, to which sailors of all experience levels flock, taking private lessons to learn the ancient art. And the Shreveport Yacht Club has a great history of sailing on its waters. Regattas usually include a laid-back racing environment, with outdoor cooking, revelry and a day fun-filled racing. Anyone passionate about sailing or simply learning how is encouraged to come and join in the celebration.
And there’s so much more — With a long and unique history reaching back centuries — long before the area became a state of its own — the region surrounding Shreveport-Bossier City is famous for the richness and diversity of its heritage. But, enticing as they all may be — paddling, hunting, hiking, fishing, birding or sailing— these aren’t the only activities northwest Louisiana has to offer. The diverse region provides a wealth of opportunities for any outdoor enthusiast to enjoy, whether it’s urban hijinks in Shreveport-Bossier City, wilderness escapades in the region’s piney backwoods or explorations of any sort on the open water. Any outdoor lover who has visited the area knows how Louisiana earned the nickname, the Sportsman’s Paradise.