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Toledo Bend Lake in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, is a top destination, not just for watersports, but also golf, hiking, scenic drives, and other outdoor adventure.


I was a guest of Toledo Bend Lake Country, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.


Toledo Bend Lake & Sabine Parish, Louisiana


Louisiana has become one of my favorite roadtripping states. Until recently, my Louisiana travel destinations were limited to a handful of New Orleans visits and a day trip scouting Louisiana’s River Road Plantations.

But this year all that changed. In the spring I visited the Cajun food mecca of Lafayette and Ascension Parish, home to historic Donaldsonville, the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival, and even more River Road plantations.

I did not know at the time that I would return to Louisiana before the end of the year and that on my backroad journey I would experience regional culture in St. Landry Parish, explore history in Natchitoches, and time travel along the Cane River National Heritage Trail.

The first stop on my itinerary, however, would be a region of Louisiana previously off my radar.

Toledo Bend Lake and Sabine Parish, Louisiana, are located in the West Central part of the state along the Texas state line. This off-the-beaten-path discovery is the perfect destination for anyone who enjoys outdoor recreation in a scenic and historical setting.


Toledo Bend Lake


Toledo Bend Lake is the largest manmade reservoir in the southeastern United States. Stretching for 65 miles along the Texas – Louisiana border and boasting more than 1,200 miles of shoreline, it has become an ideal location for lovers of outdoor recreation.

The lake’s inherent quality as a flooded forest in combination with a joint-agency stocking initiative has helped it become a top bass fishery and host location for scores of annual tournaments. That, combined with its catch-rate data and popularity among bass fishermen, has earned Toledo Bend Lake the title of Bassmaster® Magazine’s #1 Bass Lake in the Nation two years running (2015 & 2016).

The Toledo Bend Lake Association’s Lunker Bass Program offers free fiberglass replicas to fishermen who catch and release any bass weighing in at more than 10 pounds. In angler lingo, a “lunker” is a term used to describe an exceptionally large game fish.

Learning that description made me wonder what the term would be for a fish that doesn’t meet the criteria.

A “flunker,” perhaps?

Toledo Bend Lunker Art Project


The popularity of bass fishing on Toledo Bend Lake is celebrated through the Toledo Bend Lunker Art Project. Ten larger-than-life “lunkers” featuring the work of local artists are displayed at select locations throughout Sabine Parish. Photos, locations, and descriptions for each of the public art pieces are included in the Toledo Bend Lake Country Visitors Guide.

Toledo Bend Dam


There would be no Toledo Bend Lake were it not for the construction of the Toledo Bend Dam. Like most dam projects, the Toledo Bend Dam was built for the purposes of flood control, the production of hydroelectric power, and to create public recreational lands. But unlike other dam projects constructed across the country by the Army Corps of Engineers or the Tennessee Valley Authority, this dam was built with no federal assistance.

In the 1950s, Sabine River Authorities from Texas and Louisiana joined forces to pass legislation and allocate funding for the project. The two states acquired lands in 1963, began construction in 1964, and brought the project to completion in 1969.

Branches of the Sabine River flow from spillways on both the Texas and Louisiana sides and converge at a point not far downstream. Views below the dam reflect how the floodplain appeared prior to construction of the dam.

I explored a primitive recreational area along the Sabine River below the dam on the Louisiana side. When spillway gates are open, these scenic downstream areas are closed.


South Toledo Bend State Park


Louisiana’s South Toledo Bend State Park opened to the public in 2004, and its excellent facilities have made it a natural place to experience the great outdoors first-hand.

The interactive exhibits in the visitor center museum provide a great introduction to the park. The facility also features a meeting room that can be booked for small-group conferences and an observation deck with a panoramic view of the lake.

The Lakeview Trail is a 3,000 ft. surfaced nature trail that begins at the visitor center. This ADA accessible path winds along the lakeshore, through the woods, and over a boardwalk, making it an excellent choice for a leisurely hike. In addition to the 1.5 mile Hippie Point Trail, the park offers a series of nine ATV trails for an additional fee.

Jon boats are available for rental to park guests who want to experience Toledo Bend Lake first hand.

If you plan to get on the water, I recommend that you bring sun protection, shoes that can get muddy or wet, and at least one strong buddy to help you carry, launch, and paddle your boat.

The park offers both primitive and improved camping sites with water and electrical hookups, as well as 19 deluxe cabins that sleep up to eight people.

Visitors to the area might also want to consider North Toledo Bend State Park, located one hour to the north outside the town of Zwolle.


Cypress Bend Park


Cypress Bend Park is one of seven recreational areas managed by the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana. Day use facilities include a beach, playground, covered pavilions with picnic tables, and restrooms.

A 6-lane paved boat ramp and lighted pier make it a suitable facility for both day use fishermen and the lake’s frequent bass tournaments.

For extended stays, the park offers 60 RV sites with water, sewer, and electrical hookups. New fully-furnished cabins outfitted with A/C, heating, and satellite TV are available for booking at seasonal rates.


Living the Dream Guide Service


The jon boat paddle at South Toledo State Park was a mere appetizer for the water excursion I would enjoy later in the day. That afternoon, I met up with local legend Jerry “J.T” Thompson, owner of Living the Dream Guide Service, for an excursion on Toledo Bend Lake.

The cool and clear afternoon could not have been more perfect as we boarded the pontoon barge and headed out across the water. We followed the route of the original Sabine River, under the Pendleton Bridge between Texas and Louisiana, to a spot with a submerged sweet gum brush pile where crappie love to congregate.

I’m no fisherman, but watching J.T. and his bud Marion reel them was great fun.

Even though fishing is not my thing, I come from a family of fishermen, and I have eaten my fill at more fish fries than I can count. I have aunts and uncles and cousins who live to fish, so I knew the speckled perch we Floridians call “specks” are known as crappie everywhere else. What I didn’t know is that in addition to black crappie (speckled perch) (R), North Louisiana lakes also have a species of white crappie (L) the Cajuns call “sac-a-lait” (sack of milk).

As the sun began to set, the golden hour arrived, illuminating the red bluffs reflected in Toledo Bend Lake.

Soon it was time to head in. LTD mascots Trisket and Pearl were waiting with a warm welcome as we pulled up to J.T.’s boathouse.

LTD Guide Services offers a variety of packages for fishing excursions, and their interactive website can help you plan your own perfect day on the water.


Village of Fisher


The village of Fisher, in central Sabine Parish, is a former company-owned sawmill town built by the Louisiana Longleaf Lumber Company at the turn of the 20th century.

Pulling into town, I felt as if I had stepped back in time.

Ninety-percent of the original wood frame buildings survive to this day including the railroad depot, post office, school, church, homes, and even the opera house.

Fisher Sawmill Days is an annual event held the third weekend in May. It is a time for former residents of Fisher and other sawmill towns to gather and reminisce about days gone by with a backdrop of music, dancing, lumbering contests, crafts, and of course fair food.


El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Historic Trail


The El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail passes through Sabine Parish as it approaches its eastern terminus in nearby Natchitoches.

This historical corridor, traveled for centuries by Native Americans, gained prominence in the late 17th century as it connected the Caddo Region of Spanish Texas to the colonial capital in modern-day Mexico City. Explorers, soldiers, pioneers, and missionaries traveled this thoroughfare, bringing cultural interaction and exchange along the multiple routes.

My own exploration took me to three sites along the Camino Real bordering the Sabine National Forest on the Texas side of the trail.

Lobanillo Swales (1700s)


The Lobanillo Swales are a series of parallel trail ruts dating to the 1700s and are located deep in the forest of East Texas.

The swales, recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also gained the attention of the National Park Service, and the property is currently under development. Although not visitor-ready at this time, the property owners, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association, are currently working with the NPS and local officials to make the site accessible to the public, and an opening date is targeted for early 2018.  Please visit the association website for updates on the opening.

Gaines-Oliphint House (1818)


Built by slaves around 1818, the Gaines-Oliphint House is believed to be the oldest Pre-Republic, Anglo-American structure in Texas. James Taylor Gaines, who owned and ran the historic Sabine River ferry, oversaw construction of this house for his third wife’s parents. Accounts say Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stephen F. Austin, have all slept under this roof. Lots of rich history here!

Causey House (1830)


The Causey House is an 1830 log home rescued and reassembled by volunteers at El Camino Park in Milam, Texas. Close inspection reveals the home’s square-notched corners, a type of dovetailing that required no pegs. The angles of cuts and weight of the logs made the corners secure.


Louisiana Trails and Byways


The state of Louisiana has also implemented a series of trails and byways tailored to the interests of travelers who enjoy scenic, outdoor, and sporting activities.

Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway


I am a huge fan of Louisiana Trails & Byways, or any scenic highway for that matter, so of course I was excited to be driving a segment of the 76-mile Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway during my visit.

Roadtrippers interested in fully exploring the Toledo Bend region of the state can click the image above to download a handy 2-page guide.

Louisiana Bass Trail


Image Credit (R): Louisiana Sportsman

The Louisiana Bass Trail is a new initiative to encourage bass fishing on seven North Louisiana lakes and eight state parks. Interested participants can order a free Bassport online or grab one at a state park to begin fishing, collecting stamps, hashtagging social media photos, and earning a range of prizes.

Audubon Golf Trail


The Audubon Golf Trail is a series of 15 golf courses across the state of Louisiana designed with nature in mind. All of the trail courses “are members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses, a program dedicated to protecting the environment and preserving the natural heritage of the game of golf.”

The Cypress Bend Golf Resort in Sabine Parish is home to one of the Audubon courses.


Cypress Bend Resort


The Cypress Bend Golf Resort, Spa & Conference Center is a full service facility situated on a bluff overlooking Toledo Bend Lake.

Resort amenities include an indoor/outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, Swedish sauna, fitness center, and spa. The Cypress Bend Dining Room, Cypress Café, and Sabine Social Room offer guests a variety of food and beverage options.

The Course


But the 18-hole golf course is without question the star attraction at Cypress Bend. Ten of the course holes are along the water, and six shots go across inlets and hidden coves.

I am no golfer, but there was no denying the stunning beauty of the views from hole #17 at sunset.

In fact, it was one of those moments I found it difficult to stop taking pictures.

Miss Virginia’s Memorial Garden


Mornings and evenings are ideal for guests and other visitors to enjoy a time of reflection and meditation at Miss Virginia’s Memorial Garden, another scenic resort location.

Dr. Ted Bailey planned and dedicated the garden to the memory of his wife, local real estate developer and businesswoman Virginia Bailey.

As an avid prayer-walker, I found the garden an inviting location to get centered before starting my day.

Paved trails wind through a forest of native pines and botanical plantings to a central fountain and pavilion. Stone benches, scripture rocks, and a statue of St. Francis are additional highlights among the garden hardscape.

I walked the garden during a Louisiana late autumn, yet brilliant color was still evident in fruiting ornamental citrus and southern camellias in bloom.


Dining 


On my Toledo Bend visit, I sampled a variety of local cuisine across Sabine Parish.

Cypress Bend Dining Room


I enjoyed a delicious meal at the Cypress Bend Dining Room on the first evening of my stay. For starters, my host and I shared a Cypress Trio Sampler of Natchitoches meat pies, crab meat-stuffed shrimp, and boudin balls, served with a housemade remoulade sauce. For dinner, my host ordered papaya jalapeño glazed quail, and I chose an Angus beef tenderloin, both with wedge salads.

The Fisherman’s Galley


The Fisherman’s Galley is a popular spot with locals and visitors alike, and I guarantee you won’t leave hungry. The menu stated that the fried shrimp and oyster combo included six oysters, but I lost count of how many were piled on my plate.

A warm and welcoming ambience permeated the dining room. Customer fishing and hunting photo galleries added to the rustic decor, and the fun family of servers kept smiles on our faces and our glasses of sweet tea filled to the brim.

Zwolle Hot Tamales


Zwolle is a small town in Sabine Parish known for its historical multicultural influences. Spanish, French, and English-speaking settlers arrived by way of El Camino Real de los Tejas and intermarried with local Native Americans. Then in 1898, the community was chartered and named for the Dutch hometown of Jan De Goeijen, a wealthy coffee merchant who helped fund the Kansas City Southern Railroad that passed through town.

Today, Zwolle is best known for its signature hot tamales, a product of the region’s Spanish and Native American roots. The town has one USDA certified tamale factory, and more than a dozen families sell tamales from their homes. Tamales make great carry-out food. You can take them home for dinner or eat them off the trunk of your car like we did.

Thousands of visitors flock to town for the annual Zwolle Tamale Fiesta held the second weekend of October.

Bayou Crawfish


Bayou Crawfish is a Cajun and Creole restaurant located in downtown Many, Louisiana, directly across from the historical Sabine Theater. The menu features steak, seafood, and pasta.

Country Boy Restaurant


The fried chicken and fish at Country Boy Restaurant in Many are legendary. The carb-lover in me ordered the Barn Builder combo, a feast including two pieces of chicken (customer’s choice), French fries, cole slaw, a dinner roll, fried apple pie, and a whole jalapeño pepper.

I arrived at noon on Sunday, and tables were at a premium due to the restaurant’s popularity with the after-church crowd. If you love your fish and chicken fried, you can’t go wrong at Country Boy!


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We Would Love to Hear From You


We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited Toledo Bend Lake and Sabine Parish, Louisiana? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!


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Toledo Bend Lake in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, is a top destination, not just for watersports, but also golf, hiking, scenic drives, and other outdoor adventure. #travel #TBIN #OnlyLouisiana #lakelife


Helpful Links


Toledo Bend Lake Country

Design Your Own Louisiana Road Trip

Toledo Bend Lake Association’s Lunker Bass Program

Toledo Bend Lunker Art Project

Sabine River Authority of Louisiana

Sabine River Authority of Texas

South Toledo Bend State Park

North Toledo Bend State Park

Cypress Bend Park

Living the Dream (LTD) Guide Service

Fisher Sawmill Days

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association

Sabine National Forest

Lobanillo Swales

Gaines-Oliphint House

Causey House

Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway

Louisiana Bass Trail

Audubon Golf Trail

Cypress Bend Golf Resort, Spa & Conference Center

Cypress Bend Dining Room

The Fisherman’s Galley

Zwolle Tamale Fiesta

Bayou Crawfish

Country Boy Restaurant

 

Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel web site Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Recently retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.
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