Louisiana's Wild Azalea Trail Is an Easy (and Beautiful) Summer Trek
In Louisiana, azaleas bloom in beautiful and vibrant colors in March and April, but the wild azalea trail is open all year round. This easy-to-moderate walk through offers a chance to view azaleas during spring but aren’t always predictable, so check their likely blooms, from late March to early May, before you plan your trip. Located in the Kisatchie National Forest, the closest town is Alexandria, which sits east and northeast from the southern—and more popular—trailhead.
Hiking The Wild Azalea Trail
As an extended hike, the 24 miles of trail makes an excellent three to five day trek for novice hikers. This part of the country is relatively flat, so for beginners the Wild Azalea Trail is a perfect first overnight hike in lush and scenic surroundings. It's a popular spot for newbies to the backpacking world to get a sense for their gear and their surrounds, from their backpacking stove to the sights and sounds of a secluded backcountry experience. Even though it is flatland Louisiana, the Wild Azalea trail sports rolling hills and ridges during much of its mileage.
Other hikers aren’t a rare sight near start and end points, but the trail isn’t crowded beyond after as the trailhead recedes into the distance. The Wild Azalea Trail is clean, well marked and in a relatively populated area. Sections of the trail will include noise from car traffic. Beginning from the Woodworth Town Hall, the trail ends exactly 23.9 miles later at Valentine Lake. In the interim, expect to cross several major roads, including highways.
This trail can be hiked year round because of the mild Louisiana winters. In cool months, many trees are bare so visibility is better, but we recommend spring as the ideal season. It was named the Wild Azalea Trail for a reason, and constructed due to popular demand, so don’t miss out on these native flowers.
From Woodworth Town Hall (recommended as a safer parking area) it is 1.7 miles to the southern trailhead. It is possible to save on hiking and park at Castor Plunge Rd, but the parking lot is more remote and less safe for vehicles that are parked for more than a few days. Some hikers choose the upper trailhead at Valentine Lake Recreation Area. Whichever way you decide to access the Wild Azalea Trail, you’ll find a windy path with rolling hills but no daunting elevation gain (about 1700 feet total), forest canopy, and dozens of small creeks along the way.
This trail is flat, rolling and wooded, with few surprises. Hikers should be on the lookout for water if beginning at Woodworth, however. On the southern end of the trail, there is no water for the first five miles. In peak azalea season, beginning as early as mid-March, this trail gets muddy and waterproof boots or shoes are a must. Other hazards include ticks, so it’s best to wear a hat and keep the body covered.
The easiest part of this trail is the southern section, and it becomes more challenging after reaching the halfway mark.
Hikers who’ve done significant portions of this trail report deer, owls, feral pigs and wild turkeys. This area is also known for red wolves, foxes and wild horses, in addition to the deer and armadillo that are native region.
On the whole, the Wild Azalea Trail is a great starter hike since it is easily accessed and very well marked, and doesn’t require demanding or grueling ascents. If you want a challenging day hike for the mileage, or a moderate three to five day overnighter to test out your camping and backpacking gear (don't forget your camp cooking accessories!), this lovely winding path is an excellent destination in all seasons.