Chemin-a-Haut Creek runs alonside Chemin-a-Haut State Park, which is a popular destination for paddlers and anglers. It's easy to get on the water in the park's small lake or on Bayou Bartholomew, but you won't find the waterway that actually shares a name with the park if you don't know where to look. It is very much worth searching for because of its huge trees and dark, still waters. Chemin-a-Haut is a smaller tributary of Bayou Bartholomew that enters upstream of the park. Its shallow mouth has always made access difficult, and this difficult access has spared many large old trees from logging. The giants living here are old-growth, meaning they have stood since before European arrival and survived without being cut down. Some of the cypress may be more than 1,000 years old.
You can only get here by water or by foot. Trails lead from the state park, as does the natural waterway of Bayou Bartholomew. There are multiple access points to this bayou, but the nearest is the gravel boat ramp in Chemin-a-Haut State Park. From there you must paddle approximately 2 miles upstream to reach the mouth of Chemin-a-Haut Creek. The closest put-in above the creek is the Old Berlin Highway Bridge, another 2 miles up. You can set shuttle to avoid having to paddle upstream on Bartholomew. The current is normally slow, but it picks up as water levels rise. If the water is flowing high and brown, beginner paddlers may be unable to fight the current, so use good judgement. A possible shortcut, or sneak route if the water is too high, is to put in at the boat ramp on the lake in Chemin-a-Haut State Park, paddle to the north end of the lake, and carry around the dam plus a short distance through the forest to reach the creek. This option requires only about half a mile of paddling and a quarter-mile walk, but it cuts out all the fun of Bayou Bartholomew.
Chemin-a-Haut Creek enters Bayou Bartholomew on river right. You will know it by the dark, calm water entering over broad shoals. At lower water levels you may have to carry over these shallows. At higher water you won't know they are there. Once in the creek, the forest immediately closes in as the channel narrows. You will paddle through pools of deep tannin-red water, among gnarled cypress knees, and under hanging branches. The truly huge cypress trees await about 100 yards upstream. Some of these have been named according to their hard-earned uniqueness of form. Welcoming you to the grove is the forked trunk of a tree called The Jester and two opposing giants that flank it on either side. Beyond these, try to guess which ones are called The Blowdown, The Leaning Sisters, The Castle, and Old Stumpy. Near The Castle is a flat area with picnic tables on the high river-right bank. This is where trails from the state park emerge, and it makes a good place to stretch your legs and take a break on land. Water level will dictate how far you can continue up the creek. At lower levels the channel is usually blocked by overhanging branches and fallen logs. You can force your way through or hike around, and more scenery awaits, but most turn back at this point.
This paddle adventure was equipped by and published in collaboration with Bote Boards.