The town of Franklin and Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge together provide a network of paddle trails totalling more than 30 miles on bayous and canals. Multiple launch points and routes allow lots of options for trip variety and length. Wildlife and fish are numerous anywhere you go, but with so much area to explore, you are sure to find your own favorite pockets and secret spots.
Bayou Teche is the principal waterway through the area. It flows through Franklin and is the namesake of the nearby wildlife refuge. The primary purpose of the refuge is to conserve habitat for the federally threatened Louisiana black bear, but it provides habitat for all other wildlife as well as convenient recreation for humans. Canals in the refuge are designated paddle trails by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and they are open year round to nonmotorized craft (motorized watercraft are allowed April through August only). Other waterways connect Bayou Teche with canals inside the refuge, and some are designated paddle trails by the town of Franklin, though they stay open to motorboats as well. A map details the layout of these trails and access points.
The most common place to launch is the public ramp at the end of Willow Street beneath US-90 on the west side of town. This puts you on the Franklin Canal Trail, which goes southwest to intersect with others. This is a fairly wide, straight-dregded canal lined with a forest of live oaks, palmettos, and a high variety of other coastal species. It is fresh water, but it eventually flows into the Intracoastal Waterway and then the Gulf of Mexico. Current is nearly imperceptible, so you can easily paddle an out and back. You will pass a few houses and a flood control structure in the first quarter mile, but the scenery soon gets more natural and the wildlife refuge borders on both sides. You are likely to see lots of wading birds, turtles, and maybe eagles, ospreys, or alligators. The black bears are rarely seen, but they do live here.
After about 2.5 miles on Franklin Canal you will reach an intersection of canals. Straight ahead, Franklin Canal continues toward the ICW. Left is Hanson Canal, which loops back toward Bayou Teche and the town of Franklin. Right is a gated canal that enters the wildlife refuge. The gate is to stop motorboats during the closed season, but it is always open to small nonmotorized craft. Paddling this narrower, quieter waterway grants even better chances at spotting wildlife and perhaps catching fish. In a little over a mile this canal branches into three, and you have a choice of which to explore. These are named Alligator Trail, Black Bear Trail, and Wood Duck Trail. They are labeled on the map at the boat ramp. It is roughly a 10-mile round trip to see all of one of these trails and return to the starting point on Franklin Canal.
If you go left at the intersection on Franklin Canal you will enter Hanson Canal, which is another designated paddle trail and labeled on maps. This one leads east then northeast to connect with the natural waterway of Bayou Teche. Along the way it passes another natural waterway, Bayou Portage. This bayou meanders roughly parallel to Franklin Canal and eventually joins it to the west, closer to the ICW. Hanson Canal can be used to link the Franklin waterfront on Bayou Teche with the wildife refuge trails and Franklin canal for a full day of paddling, but a vehicle shuttle would be required between bayou access in downtown Franklin and the ramp on Franklin Canal beneath US-90.
This paddle adventure was equipped by and published in collaboration with Bote Boards.