Perhaps the greatest moments of travel are those of solitude, be it a park bench or on a trail deep inside a forest. Those are found in abundance in South Louisiana.
You become one with the wild, a keen awareness of all it holds, every breeze, every sound is a glorious symphony. It’s an orchestrated melody of cicadas, two-inch beetles perched among the treetops in repeated performances. The chorus moves across the trees, from a low hum to a feverish pitch building to a mighty crescendo, and all are waiting for you here on a South Louisiana road trip.
Louisiana is home to many landscapes, from regal oaks and their majestic crowns to the mighty cypress and their knobby knees. They have become our soldiers of solitude, redeemers in a world of woe, where we seek solace. Now is the time to trail nature’s glory, be it hiking, biking, canoeing, or long rides along the back roads.
Editors’ note: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we travel. With so many restrictions in place, many travelers are venturing closer to home, taking day trips, and seeking to spend their time outdoors.
This trip explores from St. Tammany Parish on the east side of the state, known for its abundant nature preserves, to Lake Charles bordering the western state line and its expansive Creole Nature Trail. It includes stops in Baton Rouge, the state’s capital graced with historic landscapes and architecture, and the city of Lafayette, home to Cajuns and storied rivers and bayous.
Louisiana’s Northshore, a natural wonderland
Just 35 miles north of New Orleans, bordering Lake Pontchartrain, begin your Northshore adventure on Highway 22, rolling past the lake’s coastal parks, all crowned with canopies of oaks, pines, and cypress. Biking is a favorite activity for locals and visitors along the Tammany Trace Hiking and Biking Trail, a 31-mile asphalt corridor, links parks, wetlands, forested greenways, and historic neighborhoods.
Northlake Nature Center is a must-stop with 400 acres of marked trails across four ecosystems with elevated walkways through swamps and marshlands. Grab a map at the parking area; families and their canines are welcome.
Fontainebleau State Park, just down the road, lures families, campers, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts. Skirting Lake Pontchartrain, relax along a sandy stretch of cypress trees or stroll the boardwalks over the lake and marshland. One of the park’s highlights is a tunnel of centuries-old oaks dripping with Spanish moss. At dusk, spy the glowing eyes of deer emerging from the woods.
Near the state line in Slidell is the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, with 36,000 acres of forests, swamps, and bayous. Board the Honey Island Swamp tour boat for a front-row seat to view the 12-foot alligators on the prowl and massive cypress trees rising from the enchanting waters. Local guides will share the history and details of the native species.
Baton Rouge, State Capitol
Gather the family for a fun-filled history lesson in Baton Rouge. Prominent architecture and storied politicians have left their marks on the banks of the Mississippi River. Walk inside the Gothic “Castle on the River,” the Louisiana Old State Capitol, built between 1847 -1852, and climb the spiral staircase leading to a domed stained-glass ceiling.
Not far from the river is the beacon of Louisiana pride in the art deco State Capitol currently in use. It was built in 1932 and is the tallest capitol building in the country at 450 feet high with 34 floors. Grab the cameras and head to the Observation Deck on the 27th floor for a panoramic view of the city, river, and the gardens of the Capitol.
A short stroll from the State Capitol is the Capitol Park Museum that shares the Bayou State’s passion, adventure, and discovery with grand exhibits. Follow the state’s cultural migration; take a close look at the 48-foot wooden shrimp trawler and the eclectic displays honoring musical greats like Pete Fountain, Buddy Guy, and Clifton Chenier.
Lafayette, heart of Acadiana
Lafayette is the heart of Acadiana, with incredible food, music, festivals, and stunning wetlands, including the world-renowned, Atchafalaya Basin. Paddle through the nation’s largest river swamp rich in wildlife; the basin holds more than 270 species of birds with herons, egrets, hawks, and swallow tailed-kites scouring the skies.
No matter the season, the mystical waters and forests explode in a kaleidoscope of color, from the green glow of cypress trees to autumn’s scarlet hues of maples.
Another favorite is the Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin. It features a year-round a rookery with magnificent birds, including the Roseate Spoonbill in a flaming pink color, much like a flamingo. Hikers enjoy a birds-eye view across the preserve’s levee trail thick with a tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest; perfect for bird watching.
Drive Rookery Road along the lake’s edge, and look for the gator’s beady eyes above the water. Enjoy the beauty of Lake Martin by car, along with hiking trails, kayaking, and boat tours.
Pedal the Atchafalaya Wilderness Trail, touted as a biker’s heaven, on a 55-mile gravel trail along the basin’s levee. There are many places to stop with restaurants, campsites, and cabins along the way.
Lake Charles, South Louisiana’s playground
Down yonder in the state’s southwest corner, people from across the country and beyond find their way to Lake Charles and the Creole Nature Trail All American Road. This 180-mile road trip features world-renowned birding, fishing, and photography, with a look at the area’s agriculture and aquaculture industries.
The Wetland Walkway inside the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is a must stop where alligators rest inside the tall tufts of grass and casually cross the walkways. Look closely, and you may find a family of baby alligators wrapped in a tightly woven lair soaking up the sun. Pavilions bring shade and a front-row seat for watching waterfowl grazing the marsh and scouring the skies.
If you’re a beach guru, the trail has eight beaches on the glorious Gulf of Mexico. Holly Beach has 26 miles of beaches covered in layers of seashells bordered by sea grass and cedar trees. Several recreation areas promote fishing, crabbing, and boating.
Don’t miss the Peveto Woods Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary, a critical stopping point for migrating birds and butterflies. Home to oak cheniers, the winged beauties nestle inside windswept sculpted trees joined with green tunnels of lantana and honeysuckle.
Time to do nothing
In a place that allows for communal stillness, pay homage to the gifts it brings. A slower pace and a new beginning from a world cursed with too much and too many. Take the time to do nothing in a place of longing with a profound discovery minus a page-long itinerary. Much like we did as children, dream away the day under a tree or walk a trail of flowers taking note of the creatures that populate the woods and waterways.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- All the highlighted locations have luxury hotels with equally superb restaurants. Given the current environment, some may have limits on numbers of patrons, dependent on state rulings.
- Every destination offers tours along with handicapped access. Check the respective websites for more detail.
- South Louisiana is known as one of the premier birding destinations, and the tourism offices are glad to connect visitors with local birding experts.
- The locales in South Louisiana are highly recommended for both their natural beauty and culinary flair. Check out local sandwich shops and restaurants with seafood and Cajun cuisine.
- In the warmer months, wear a hat, stay hydrated with lots of water, generously apply suntan lotion, and bring bug spray.
- Download the free Creole Nature Trail app on Google Play, available in six different languages, for a tour of the trail’s flora and fauna. While touring the trail, the app alerts you to upcoming highlights on your next stop.
- The Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge visitor center is closed at this time, but the walkway is open.
- Birding enthusiasts are encouraged to use the eBird Trail Tracker that offers live trail sightings with species, map, date, and time.
All photo credits by author Deborah Burst unless otherwise noted.
Disclosure: On some trips, the author was invited courtesy of the local tourism offices, while other road trips were on her own time and expense.
Editors’ note: This is one in an ongoing series of close-to-home road trips suggested by our GOT Contributors. Also see:
- Ottawa Road Trip: Lanark County Makes A Great Day Trip or Overnight
- Townsville, Australia Road Trip: A Patch of Paradise Close To Home
- Grand Country Colorado Road Trip: A Rocky Mountain High
- Carlsbad, California Road Trip: A Chance to Refuel and Recharge
SAVE TO PINTEREST!