Paddling the Trail

Irvin Hendrix, Hatch, Dora Ann  |  3/29/2012 2:17:54 AM

Bayou Bartholomew Trail

Already a designated scenic and natural waterway, the richly endowed Bayou Bartholomew springs from the Arkansas River floodplain hundreds of miles upstream in the middle of Arkansas near Little Rock and flows southward and parallel to the Mississippi River in a bewildering pathway of angular river bends. It is thought to be the longest bayou in North America (365 miles). In addition, it is the longest un-dammed waterway on the Lower Mississippi River. This fact alone will be of great interest to any paddler because paddlers know that un-dammed rivers are the wildest and most scenic. Like most flowing waters of any size in the area, “Da By” (as it’s referred to locally) once provided transportation for the steamboats of the region that plied its waters to reach remote plantations and outposts. However, unlike most other waters of the South, the “By” somehow escaped the zealous river engineering of the last century. As a result, it is a thriving paradise of bankside cypress forests and wildlife. It is the richest fish habitat of any bayou. Bayou Bartholomew is a classic mixed cypress/hardwood bayou which reaches its most beautiful articulation at the confluence of Chemin-a-Haut, a forest of giant Louisiana bald cypress.

Getting There:  

Directions to Old Berlin Road access site for trail: from the Morehouse Courthouse square in Bastrop, Louisiana, take US 425 north toward Crosset /Hamburg for 4.6 miles to Louisiana Highway 140, Old Bonita Road. Take a right on Old Bonita Road. Go 6.6 miles to the intersection with Louisiana Highway 591, Berlin Rd. Take a left on Berlin Road and go 2.2 miles to Bayou Bartholomew Bridge. To reach the take out on Bayou Bartholomew at 425: US 425 crosses Bayou Bartholomew 7.4 miles north of courthouse square.

Trail Length:

The trail length depends on route length, river speed and your own paddling ambitions. In general any paddler can sustain 3 mph with strong paddling, 2 mph with casual paddling, and maybe 1 mph with gentle paddling. Add to that river speed and you can calculate approximately how long your journey will take.

Skill Level:

Easy to Moderate to Advanced: Skill level depends on water level, which can fluctuate as much as 30 feet in between drought conditions and flood events. Any route on Bayou Bartholomew could be classified as “easy,” but beware fast rising waters following heavy rainfall. Inspect river conditions carefully before putting in. If the water is muddy and moving fast, you’d better be prepared for turbulence, snags, strainers and sections of river that require quick decisions and a lot of fast water maneuvering. Heavy rain from thunderstorms out of view a hundred miles away in central Arkansas could lead to flash flood conditions here in northern Louisiana. All previous warnings aside, this is usually flatwater paddling on a gently flowing stream. Pick the length according to your strength as a paddler. At all levels paddling on the "By" might require some maneuvering through snags and fallen trees blocking channels. Rare portages might be necessary to get around blockages. Expect muddy banks and possibly slippery landings.  

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