By Danny Garrett
It’s July, and we’re deep in summer in Southwest Louisiana. The weather’s warm, and everyone’s outdoors making a time of it.
In town, many of us have different interests when it comes to enjoying ourselves deep in the summer months: beach volleyball at Golden Nugget, tennis at the Lake Charles Racquet Club or swimming at Second Ave. It’s imperative to know you don’t have to leave Calcasieu or Cameron Parish to engage in your idea of summer fun.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that we engage in water sports for competition or good-ole-fashioned leisure. Kayaking is an extension of our love of boating, paddle boarding and water skiing.
But let’s say you’re not aware of the best places to kayak in the Lake Area, as the best places to water-ski or deep-water fish aren’t necessarily synonymous with the best places to kayak. No worries. Lagniappe Magazine has you covered. We have devised a list of some of the greatest places to kayak locally. In so doing, we covered our bases, keeping in mind that many kayakers have varying desires. While some will enjoy a family kayaking trip down a recognizable path at a popular Lake Charles park, others will enjoy a solitary trip in a bayou outside Hackberry, peacefully taking in the marsh, wildlife and quietude.
Prien Lake Park – 3700 W. Prien Lake Road
Prien Lake Park has many assets. The one that tops the list for me is its sand launch. Not every kayak spot has one, which means you miss out on the smooth and soft launch into the water, and the seamless landing once you return. The sound can be a tad grating when the polyethylene bottom of your kayak scrapes against a concrete launch.
And that gets us to the thematic beauty about Prien Lake Park’s kayak path. There’s nothing grating about it. The spot’s both familiar and familial. On land, you’ll have a family hosting a birthday party and barbecue, with children playing in the water in proximity to the banks. Families are kayaking, too, staying together in their multi-colored watercrafts. They head south, down Henderson Bayou, under the Henderson Bayou Bridge and beyond.
The water isn’t too deep, and it’s the color of a light mocha — so light that you can see speckled trout swim near the water’s surface. The gill-breathing creatures are a happy bunch on Henderson Bayou. Out of the water, they somersault into the air and dive back – splashing – into their liquid, sedimentary habitat.
On the kayak path, you never feel as if you’re far from civilization. After all, you are launching from a park that has a SprayGround Waterpark and an amphitheater. As you paddle south past a wide collection of moss-covered cypress trees, you pass the luxurious backyards of Lizlynn Lane, Henderson Forest Lane and Bayou Bend Road.
Once you head back north, you can either end your journey or keep paddling out to Indian Bay and Prien Lake, where the waters are deeper. The extended journey affords an excellent view of the Israel LaFleur Bridge, and a stunning setting sun if you’re kayaking in the late evening.
If you have extra energy, feel free to kayak all the way to LaFleur Park, which is half a mile from Prien Lake Park. There you’ll find another sandy launch from which you can seamlessly and smoothly arrive and return.
WEST COVE BAY – N 29.866483 W 93.452686, Highway 27
You may wish to go farther on your next kayak trip — to some place that’s not necessarily in Lake Charles and that will quench your appetite for a spot more adventurous and on the wild side. It would be an opportunity for your family, or maybe just you, to be more isolated, and engage in what suits you best in this type of environment, whether it be bird-watching, fishing or photography.
Such a place is West Cove Bay, located in Cameron Parish between Hackberry and Holly Beach. Highway 27 is the major route you use to reach this destination.
Why is this spot more beneficial to someone seeking isolation and a wilderness aesthetic? It’s a part of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, a nearly 126,000-acre sanctuary that’s home to more than 200 species of birds, American alligators and blue crabs, and a whole host of mammals, including rabbits and otters. So, while wading through the marshland, focusing Zen-like on the calm push of your paddle through the bay’s waters, keep your camera ready if photography is your niche. There’s much to capture.
While there, I was able to set my camera’s lens on a fledgling eastern cottontail, geese, a black butterfly with yellow trim and almost a red-winged blackbird. I’m usually too slow on the uptake, and they are too quick for me to get a decent photo of them. No matter — if there’s one thing that’s easy to capture, it’s the plentiful marsh and saltwater coexisting together. They seem to stretch for days on the refuge.
If West Cove Bay is up your alley, I also recommend Choupique Bayou. It’s a few miles north of West Cove on Highway 27, and it offers a lot of the same things in terms of environment.
Anthony Ferry – 3201 Anthony Ferry Road, Sulphur
From Lake Charles, it’s a bit of a trek to get there. You first take I-10; next, get off at the Westlake exit; then connect from 378 to 379, the latter of which is Houston River Road; and last, you verge right on to Anthony Ferry Road. Got all that? Excellent.
The trek is worth it. Anthony Ferry’s Boat Launch is connected to the meandering Houston River, and the water is still there — peacefully so. Even when a boat equipped with a motor comes around a corner — creating ripples, making waves — the river quickly returns to equilibrium; back to a calm stillness. It’s as if the boat wasn’t there a minute ago.
This kayak spot is relaxing for these reasons and others. It’s Louisiana, so you’ll have your moss-covered trees and lily pad-dotted waters to embellish the scenery.
Anthony Ferry has so much going for it in terms of its tranquility that Heroes on the Water, a non-profit organization that helps “wounded warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors,” recently held a session there.
Sam Houston Jones State Park – 107 Sutherland Road
Sam Houston Jones State Park is our last kayaking spot on the list, and for good reason. The location overflows with advantages. Even before reaching its waters, you’ll be impressed by the park’s massive size and the diversity of its wildlife. I had to stop in my tracks many times before I reached the kayak and boat launch to marvel and take photos of friendly deer grazing on the outer edges of the woods. I imagined myself camping here, surrounded by the bald cypress trees and the green-filled lagoons.
You’re free to admire from your kayak, and admire long. You can paddle for miles, beginning at this park. Sam Houston Jones is located at the confluence of the Houston and Calcasieu Rivers and Indian Bay. You could paddle all the way to the Gulf of Mexico if you so desired, for one launching spot is on the West Fork of the Calcasieu River.
Like other spots on this list, Sam Houston Jones is very peaceful. The park’s named after our state’s 46th governor, who was heavily involved in setting aside this land for the public to enjoy. The caretakers of this park have done such an excellent job of keeping the land in its natural state that, while kayaking, you’ll have scenic views of many tree species and migratory birds. It’s the perfect place to do photography or simply observe your surroundings.
If you’re an avid and seasoned kayaker or boater in the Lake Area, I’m sure you have more spots to recommend, from Lorraine Park in Hayes (can’t forget about the Bell City area) to English Bayou in Moss Bluff and Big Lake, right here in Lake Charles.
We have many local waterways that kayakers can enjoy. It’s important to share the wealth.
For a couple of these trips, I used a black cherry Old Town, Trip 10 Angler DLX kayak with a blue 2-piece Chute paddle. The Old Town’s 10 feet long. It comes equipped with a large camlock hatch and a comfort flex seat.
If you’re in the market for a kayak, you can definitely go all out and purchase a deluxe Hobie with supreme specifications.
You may want your kayak to have a paddle drive, a retractable rudder and a transducer mount.
But none of that’s necessary if you desire a simple and scenic kayaking trip in your spot of choice. You can use a vessel that can easily be attached on the top of your car or SUV for a family trip. A kayak that’s lightweight and less well-equipped can do the job for you.
If you’re in need of further information, Ship To Shore Co., our local maritime store in Lake Charles, will provide helpful assistance. Their staff is knowledgeable about marine safety, waterway maps, boat specifications and places to buy or rent kayaks. One of their staff members, Garrett Picou, has been of invaluable help to me and others for all things kayaking. I’m thankful for him and the high-quality service that Ship To Shore has brought to the Lake Area for years.