This appeared first on The Trek.
Eric Heber is an Alabama native who has lived in Louisiana for 18 years. He began hiking just seven years ago in the Kisatchie National Forest, a 604,000-acre wilderness park spanning central and north Louisiana. Quickly enamored, he headed west for more austere trails, eventually making his way to a 13,000-foot summit in Colorado’s Triangle Pass. He had dreams of moving out west, but being married and having a daughter on the way kept him home.
But a yearning for the backcountry had taken hold, so he set out to see what he could accomplish on the low-elevation, humid trails of Louisiana, terrain where you can max out at about 200 feet of elevation.
He was not disappointed. Eric describes walking Louisiana’s trails as a “naturalist experience.” The state’s trails, swampy in places, dotted with moss-draped trees, alive with dragonflies, herons, and alligators, are a haven for him to recharge spiritually and mentally.
“I have been in recovery from addiction for over 10 years now,” he says. “The fulfillment I have found in hiking and backpacking has become a big part of that recovery. When I’m hiking all day alone, I am in this constant meditative state and I feel connected to something greater than me.”
He began discovering the trails of Louisiana and as he did, felt the need to share with fellow hikers and would-be hikers.
“Okay, what can I do here?” he asked himself. “I know we’ve got some great trails in Louisiana. Maybe I should focus on bringing more awareness to these trails. Maybe that’s what I should do with this passion for hiking and backpacking. So that’s what I did.”
What he did was create a website, Louisiana Hikes, a great resource for information about hiking the state, with detailed trail guides and maps as well as video and blog documentation of his own journeys.
A member of the Louisiana Master Naturalist Association, Eric knows well the biodiversity of Louisiana trails.
“The trails here are geared towards observation, and there is such a wide variety that we’re kind of lucky,” he says.
His favorite is the Backbone Trail, located about 40 miles northwest of Alexandria, in the Kisatchie Forest. He enjoys the trail’s vistas, views he describes as unique for Louisiana.
I asked Eric what people should know about hiking in Louisiana.
“That we do have backpacking trails in Louisiana,” he told me, and went on to discuss how to have the best experience there.
“It’s all about planning,” he advises. “Don’t come here in August thinking you’ll be comfortable. The off season for other more temperate trails is the perfect time to come here and hike.”
He easily lists some practical pluses of his home state’s trails, especially in comparison with other more primitive or isolated backcountry trails.
“They are accessible. You don’t have to go down rugged forest roads to get to them,” he says. “Many are close to the interstate. We have quite a few outfitters and it’s easy to get gear you need—fuel for your stove, food, whatever you need, and get back on the trail.”
He recommends the Wild Azalea Trail for first-time Louisiana hikers. It’s easy and well marked. He also speaks highly of the Kisatchie Loop, a route he created connecting the Backbone, Caroline Dormon, and Sandstone Trails. You can read more about the loop on his website.
He invites hikers to get in touch with him, or contact the Louisiana Hiking Club, to, as he puts it on many of his YouTube videos, find more trails.