Bienville National Forest
Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region
382,821 acres (178,541 federal/ 204,280 other)
Managed collectively with Mississippi’s five other National Forests, Bienville is centered around the town of Forest, which has numerous rooster statues. The ranger station is located just south of Interstate 20 and has an interpretive trail that passes a pond on a half-mile loop. Just north of the freeway, there is Harrell Prairie Hill National Natural Landmark and 189 acres of old-growth forest protected in Bienville Pines Scenic Area (which we could not locate any signs nor trailheads to access).
Harrell Prairie Hill National Natural Landmark, Marathon Lake Recreation Area, Coursey Lookout Tower, Shongelo Lake Recreation Area, Shockaloe Horse Trail
Marathon Lake is 50 acres in size and got its name from Marathon Lumber Company, which closed in 1929. The lake was built in the 1950s for recreation in the former logging camp. Bienville National Forest also has the upper courses of the Leaf and Strong Rivers and several other lakes, including five-acre Shongelo Lake (with a swimming area and hiking trail open May to September), 67-acre Beaver Lake (open year round), and 33-acre Greentree Reservoir (open year round).
Despite the lake being at flood levels that submerged many parts of the trail, we circumnavigated Marathon Lake in about 1.7 miles and didn’t get our feet wet. The 22-mile long Shockaloe Horse Trail was too muddy for us to hike in April.
The National Forest’s lakes have largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie that attract fishermen. At Marathon Lake we saw several great egrets, little blue herons, and a very noisy murder of crows. Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers nest in large pines trees (at least 60 years old), especially longleaf pines. Gray rat snakes can climb trees, so red-cockaded woodpeckers drill small holes around their nesting cavity because fresh pine resin causes the snakes to turn around or slip off the tree. There are three Wildlife Management Areas within Beinville National Forest that provide hunting opportunities for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and invasive wild pigs.
Harrell Prairie is the largest and least disturbed alkaline prairie in the state and is burned about every three years to maintain native vegetation. It is located down Forest Road 518 in Caney Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is closed May 2 to September 14, perhaps to protect wildflowers.
Spring and fall
There is a $5 day-use fee at Shongalo Lake and Marathon Lake, but no day-use fee at the Shockaloe Trailhead or Greentree Reservoir.
The dirt roads were in good condition in April, even when the trails were flooded and muddy.
Marathon Lake has 34 campsites ($20 per night with water and electric hook-ups), a boat ramp, a swimming area, and two bath houses with warm showers. Camping is only $7 per night at Shockaloe Base Camp I, but no camping is allowed at Base Camp II.
Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee)
Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)
Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)
Nearest National Park
Hot Springs (Arkansas)
Conifer Tree Species
baldcypress, loblolly pine, longleaf pine, shortleaf pine
Flowering Tree Species
white oak, southern red oak, willow oak, overcup oak, blackjack oak, laurel oak, shagbark hickory, winged elm, black gum, tupelo gum, sweetgum, red maple, flowering dogwood, tulip-poplar, sweet bay, southern magnolia, black cherry, loblolly bay, Amerian holly, yaupon holly, dahoon holly, black titi, azalea
Explore More – Bienville National Forest is named after whom?