Bayou Jean de Jean is a unique paddling experience in central Louisiana. Most would not rank this trip among the state's most scenic, and it's certainly not the most remote, but it has an eclectic mix of scenery that some will find appealing. The trip begins on a broad oxbow of the Red River and travels upstream through many twists and turns of the bayou near the town of Boyce. In an atmosphere of urban underbelly blended with untamed beauty, you will see a powerplant on the horizon and pass beneath an abandoned bridge, but you will also paddle among gnarled knees of old-growth cypress and see an abundance of birds and turtles. You never know what the next bend will hold—sights or smells, natural or unnatural, expected or unexpected.
Begin from the public boat ramp in Boyce. If you look closely you can see the mouth of the bayou to the west along the oxbow. Paddle that way, not toward the main channel of the Red River to the east. It is about half a mile to get into the bayou, where you will immediately tuck away into a patch of forest. The first landmark is a railroad bridge, followed shortly by the old Highway 1 bridge, now defunct and quietly decaying. From there you'll draw closer to the sounds of the street and pass under the highway and interstate. Though you never completely escape the road noise, you'll lose sight of it after a few more bends.
About 2 miles into the bayou you will see the first big cypress tree and knees at the water's edge. This is a sign that the natural scenery is about to get really good. By now you may have already seen several birds like egrets, herons, kingfishers, ducks, loons, and coots, but you are likely to see even more wildlife by continuing on. You will also see many more cypress trees and some fantastically shaped knees. Continue as far upstream as you can or are willing. At lower water levels there are likely to be log jams that you must pick around or drag over. At high water they are less of an issue. Current in the bayou is almost imperceptible, so wood will be your only real obstacle to upstream progress. Continue as far as you can before turning back to see it all in the opposite direction. It is possible to set shuttle by leaving a car near a bridge off LA-121, but the variability of log jams along the way is difficult to foresee.
This paddle adventure was equipped by and published in collaboration with Bote Boards.