Sam Houston Jones State Park is a state park located in the American state of Louisiana, on Bayou Bartholomew, just south of Lake Charles. The address is 1 Airline Drive Southwest, Lake Charles, LA 70510. It was named after Sam Houston, former governor of Texas and president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. In 1960, it became part of the new Sabine River State Park. However, when oil was discovered at the Spindletop field near Beaumont, nearby, the park saw a chance to expand its boundaries into that area. A lawsuit was filed against the state for this purpose, but was dismissed by the courts. SHSP expanded northward again in 1976, taking over all of the land previously belonging to the defunct Calcasieu Marine National Wildlife Refuge. This included most of Grand Isle, which lies between the Gulf of Mexico and the northern end of Cypress Lake (a branch of the Tchefuncte River).
The refuge had been closed since 1967, due to damage from Hurricane Betsy. When the property was sold back to the state, it was turned over to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, who manage it as a public place with facilities including beaches, boat ramps, picnic areas, playgrounds, cabins, campsites, nature trails, etc. The park has such amenities, plus hiking/backpacking sites, primitive equestrian camping sites, an air-conditioned group lodge, bathhouse, dump station, lighted fishing pier, unlighted fishing pier, primitive horse camp site, two equestrian stable blocks, and four non-equestrian camping sites. There are also three furnished cabins available for lodging. Other than those listed above, there are no other buildings or structures within the park. No hunting is allowed on any portion of the park.
Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by West Jefferson Developmental Center, using their standards and guidelines. All of the ramps were rated good, except one moderate ramp. They noted that some slopes are steep and difficult to access, and suggested widening some of the parking lots. Some minor drainage issues were also noted. Overall, they concluded that accessibility overall is Good. The park’s annual visitation numbers are not tracked, so estimates given here are based on per diem costs for a single worker, rather than actual counts. Official figures show that around 230,000 people visit each year, though unofficial sources claim this number is closer to half a million.
Most visitors drive onto the peninsula, although pilots can use the landing strip at the east end. Only residents with passes issued by the park office may enter the zone. Passes good for three days or a week are $8 per vehicle per day; annual passes good at all six state parks charging fees are offered at a cost of $20 per vehicle. Visitors needing shuttles to get to the ferry landing can rent one from LeFleur’s Landing for $15 per hour or $30 all day. Ferries to the mainland leave from the dock across the street from the visitor center every 20 minutes, Monday through Saturday, 10am until 5pm. Ferry tickets good for 3 hours or a full 24 hours are $7 per adult in addition to the daily pass charge.
The beach at Sam Houston Jones State Park consists of fine white sand, with blue waters and brown shoreline. On top of the dunes behind the beach are sea oats, cottonwood trees, salt cedar, and juniper. The vegetation provides excellent cover for nesting birds, and there are many species present throughout the entire season.
Numerous turtles nest along the shores of the bayous, and eggs are regularly found at the surface during late spring. Frogs, fish, crabs, oysters, perch, crawdads, crayfish, and shrimp are common items caught in the bayou. During autumn, large schools of fish congregate below the surface, seeking shelter from the winter storms. Amenities include beaches, boardwalks, bike paths, camper cabins, covered shelters, disc golf course, equestrian activities, hiking and biking routes, interpretive displays, nature trail, playgrounds, picnic areas, RV sites with water and electric hookups, restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.
The park features seven marked nature trails, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty. One mile of the South Shore Trail follows the coastline, while the 0.75-mile Circle Trail loops around cypress trees. Another moderately hard trail, the 1.5-mile Trace Trail, leads past sinkholes, dead tree stumps, and downed timber. Two miles of the North Rim Trail follow sandy roads and railroad tracks before climbing a moderate hillside. Easy trails include the .25-mile East Loop Trail and the .50-mile West Loop Trail, both of which stay close to the shoreline. Hikers need to be wary of motorized traffic, however, as these lanes are open to cyclists, runners, and occasionally trucks. Canoeists can paddle down eight miles of undulating bayou to the mouth of the Poydras River. Bicyclists can ride nine miles of mostly flat ground, passing marshy areas and small hills. Campers can set up camp in either the designated equestrian campground or among the 30 regular campsites.
Twenty-four of the latter have electrical hookups, and several others accommodate RVs. Boat camping is not permitted, only cabin camping. The cabins themselves sleep up to five in single or double bunks. Each has wooden floors, windows, screened front porch, fireplace, countertop, table, chairs, and yard space with water and electricity. Toilets and shower facilities are inside the building, while the kitchen includes a refrigerator, stove, microwave, and hot pot. The park has a concession stand where local fishermen sell bait, cold drinks, ice, and snacks. The facility is open everyday except Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, October through mid-May. Hours are 9am until 4pm. Entrance fee is $4 per person. Active military (with ID) are discounted to $3 per person. Children under age 12 eat free. Like most places, the prices increase slightly on weekends.
For groups of more than 15 people, a reservation fee is applied. Concessions are cash-only, unless otherwise specified. Hunting is prohibited on all portions of the park. Anglers will find redfish, black crappie, catfish, bream, and bass in the fresh water ponds. The park hosts numerous events, including festivals, rodeos, parades, concerts, Mardi Gras, Oktoberfest, New Year’s Eve, Labor Day, Presidents’ Day, Earth Day, and Halloween. While the official theme is “Bayou Country,” other cultures also celebrate various holidays and special occasions, including Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, and the Fourth of July. Events held in conjunction with other parks, municipalities, or organizations include the Beaux Arts Festival, Jazz Fest, MardiGrass, and Southern Decadence. The park offers nature programs throughout the year, led by naturalist Jim Burnett.
- wildlife viewing
Other animals are:
- nutria rats
- river otter
Commonly seen waterfowl include: