By Chase Berenson
Everyone knows that arboretums are special places, but did you know that the LSU Hilltop Arboretum here in Baton Rouge is not the only type of arboretum that exists?
Only about an hour north of Baton Rouge, in the tiny town of Gloster, Miss., is the massive Gloster Arboretum. The arboretum covers over 400 acres and is open to anyone to explore at any time absolutely free of charge.
The front side of the arboretum is beautifully manicured and consists of large open meadows that have been neatly mowed. Arranged around the meadows are deliberate “wildflower patches,” which stand out in stark comparison. Unlike the surrounding grass, these patches are tall, wild, and filled with color. A visitor’s first impression is that the organization that runs the arboretum truly cares about the land.
After passing through the meadows, visitors enter the forest. The Arboretum is criss-crossed by over three miles of hiking trails that are ripe for exploration. There are maps at the entrance to the arboretum, and you’ll be all set to go!
The trails are maintained and signed but are a bit wilder than the meadows. Further north of Baton Rouge, the topography in Gloster is more interesting, and the arboretum actually contains some sizable hills and a couple hundred feet of elevation change.
The arboretum is ringed by the aptly named Fenceline Trail, which is quite primitive compared to the rest of the property. It would be hard to get lost, but one does get the impression of being in a less altered environment.
The Fenceline Trail even includes a creek to wade through along the way, accompanied by many warning signs about high water. On our most recent trip the water was only a few inches deep, and it was more refreshing than frightening. After a few miles in the humidity it feels great to have cold water washing over your feet!
If getting out on the trails sounds like a bit too much for you, the arboretum also has a couple miles of roads that can be driven. These roads can bring you direct to a specific trailhead so you don’t have to cross the entire property, or they can also lead you to one of the many ponds, benches, or picnic areas if you’re simply looking for a place to relax outdoors and enjoy the scenery.
When you visit the arboretum, especially this time of year, be sure to bring ice water and maybe even some snacks with you. Although the area is beautiful, it has absolutely no facilities to help you out. There is a small convenience store at a nearby gas station if you need essentials.