The world was a busy place 3,000 years ago. King Tut ruled Egypt. Stonehenge was built in England. The Greeks and the Spartans fought the Trojan War. And ancient Louisiana constructed one of the largest and most complex engineering marvels in North America.
One of Louisiana’s best-kept secrets is Poverty Point State Historic Site, located outside of Epps, Louisiana. Poverty Point is a massive 910-acre site featuring six concentric rings, as well as a number of mounds. Working by hand, Native Americans dug, moved and built with 53 million cubic yards of soil. The site is so large that it took 2,200 years for humans to build a structure larger than Poverty Point. Archeologists have been studying the site for decades, and they are still excavating and learning more about these ancient Louisianans every day.
The visitor’s center has a great museum to explain the structures and the peoples who built them, but there’s no substitute for seeing them with one’s own eyes. There is a park tram that provides guided tours, and there’s also a self-guided driving tour that’s available; however, the best way to experience Poverty Point is to explore it on foot. The park features a 2.6-mile hiking trail that takes hikers through the entire site, including areas that the tram and the driving tour skip over. The trail is mostly flat, and is not at all strenuous hiking; the biggest problem will be the Louisiana heat, but portions of the second half of the trail are wooded and bring hikers through the shade. The trail is very well-marked, both by being physically well-defined and by the presence of signposts. Some signposts are directional, while 20 others indicate points of interest that match up with the descriptions in the hiking guide provided by the park rangers.
The main highlight of the trail is climbing to the top of Mound A, Poverty Point’s tallest earthen structure. From the top of the mound, more than 70 feet in the air, hikers will be able to take in panoramic views of the surrounding mounds and rings, as well as enjoy a well-deserved breeze.
The historical site is located 14 miles away from Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, which is a great camping location. Not affiliated with the historical site, this state park features camping, fishing, swimming and hiking. The campground offers sites with tent pads, fire pits and picnic tables, and they’re shaded to keep campers out of the hot sun. If the heat is still too much, the park features a beach and swimming area in the reservoir. The reservoir is also a hotbed for fishermen, with people casting from shore and boating out across the 2,700-acre man-made lake. Many varieties of fish live in the reservoir, including largemouth bass, blue gill, black crappie, and catfish. Birders will enjoy watching the sky over the reservoir for a variety of birds flying the Mississippi Flyway, including ducks, geese, cormorants and pelicans.
Campers who are looking for land-based activities may be interested in the park’s hiking trails, which are wooded and shadier than the trail at the historical site. These trails are great for a short trip out of the campsite, and allow hikers to explore an area of the park that’s otherwise unreachable. The park is located within the habitat of the Louisiana black bear, so hikers are encouraged to make noise and talk to each other on the trails. Hikers should never startle a bear; bears don’t like interacting with humans, and if the bear hears people coming it will most likely move out of the way.
With opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing, as well as experiencing some of Louisiana’s earliest history, everyone should make an effort to check out this area of the state. Not only a state park, Poverty Point has been recognized by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that it has special cultural and physical significance that is important for the entire world to recognize. Poverty Point is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Louisiana, and one of only 22 in the United States.
Photo by Chase Berenson.