Dig Baton Rouge

Into the Wild: A DIG writer visits Driskill Mountain

Louisianians don’t typically think of our state as mountainous, and outside of Bienville Parish it’s rare to even hear the word “mountain.” Florida and Delaware are the only two states in the United States that have lower highpoints than Louisiana. New Orleans even has buildings that are taller than the state’s highest natural point. However, none of that diminishes the excitement of summiting Driskill Mountain and catching your breath at the top of the hike at an elevation of 535 feet.
Driskill Mountain is located near Bryceland in northern Louisiana, and it’s named after James Christopher Driskill, who purchased the land in 1859. His ancestors still own the land, and they generously allow hikers access to their private property. The mountain features two different trails to the top, a maintained trail and a primitive trail. The maintained trail is about eight tenths of a mile long and is wide enough to drive a car up. (You can’t, though, because there are gates blocking the trail). On the other hand, the primitive trail is 1.2 miles long, and is a singletrack through the hardwood forest. The primitive trail also takes you up and over the false summit, so you actually get two peaks in one!
Once you reach the true summit, there is a sign with a guestbook to welcome you, and it includes names and addresses from all over the country. Thanks to the trend of highpointing, or visiting the highest point of every state, there are people who travel the country seeking out each state’s highest point. Next to the sign is the cairn marking the actual highest point, and a little further along the trail is the overlook for Jordan Mountain; even though it’s more than 40 feet shorter than Driskill, it’s still one of Louisiana’s tallest.
The trail itself is short, and it might not be worth the trip just for this hike. Luckily Driskill Mountain is just north of the Winn Ranger District of the Kisatchie National Forest, where the possibilities for adventure are nearly endless. The Gum Springs Campground outside of Winnfield is quite possibly one of the nicest campgrounds in the state. Spacious campsites with large tentpads are spread out throughout the campground, and they all feature running water. Campsite 16 is the best, as it’s the one with the best view of the campground’s lake. Of course, though, there are other options if you don’t want to stay at a campground. Barbara Poole, a Forest Service Ranger, reminded me of the Forest Service rules which state that dispersed camping is allowed in National Forests. Dispersed camping means being out in the wilderness, with no campground or amenities; it takes more skill, but it’s a lot more fun.
“Most people drive out a few miles on the Forest Service roads into the woods and find a clearing that looks nice,” Poole said.
In between Driskill Mountain and Gum Springs is another gem of the National Forest called Cloud Crossing. Cloud Crossing is the trailhead for the Saline Bayou Hiking Trail, which roughly parallels the Saline Bayou. Saline Bayou is such a remarkable waterway that it has been declared a National Wild and Scenic River. The Saline Bayou Hiking Trail allows hikers to experience a piece of this nation’s wilderness without have to venture too far away from civilization.
Poole said that Forest Service crews have come to Cloud Crossing after working in places like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and Florida’s Everglades, and the crews have been consistently impressed with Saline Bayou.
“They’re amazed with how natural and wild the area feels, even though it’s so easily accessible,” she said.
The Saline Bayou Hiking Trail is slightly over three miles, which means that hikers cover a little more than six miles on the out-and-back trail.
An overnight trip to northern Louisiana can easily include the state’s highest point, the state’s only National Wild and Scenic River, a great hiking trail and a whole lot of fun!

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