The background of this historically rich railway dates back to 1890, when the lumberman William Buchanan began expanding his four-mile-long logging railroad south from Bodcaw, Arkansas to Louisiana and eventually to Mississippi. When the rail line reached Barfoot, Louisiana, about 1900 the Louisiana & Arkansas became an interstate road, subject to federal jurisdiction. About 1923, the Buchanan family sold the railroad to financial interests associated with the Kansas City Southern Railway, who merged the L&A with the Louisiana Navigation and Transportation Company, owner of a line running north out of New Orleans to Shreveport, Louisiana. The new company kept the L&A name but maintained its separate corporate existence until 1995, when it was merged with KCS. Until nearly the end of its existence as an independent railroad, the L&A kept its connection with the lumber industry, although it served agricultural and some industrial interests as well. At Winnfield, it connected with the Carey Salt mine, and along its full length, particularly in Bienville and Webster Parishes, it passed through important oil and gas activities.

Historically, the area of Louisiana Trails can reach back to pre-European times, particularly with its vast salt deposits. In 1699, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, exploring the Red River, met natives entering the river from Bayou Saline, their bateaus loaded with salt from licks on Black Lake Creek and Saline. Two centuries later the L&A Railway crossed these licks on its way south. Drake’s Lick on the Saline and King’s Lick on Bayou Castor form an important undeveloped area of anthropological and archeological investigation. In a day when railroads served as the principal mode of transportation, the L&A attracted extractive industries, mining, timber, agriculture, as well as cultural activities. These latter may still be experienced at such diverse places as Briarwood, a few miles north of Louisiana Trails on State Highway 9, the preserve built by the naturalist Caroline Dormon, and the site of the judicial murder of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow on State Highway 154 eight miles southwest of Gibsland. On the southeast end of Louisiana Trails, the City of Winnfield keeps watch over Louisiana political heritage. Here Huey Long and his brothers and sisters grew up and launched a revolution that changed the political and social landscape of Louisiana and much of America.