Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin is the largest river swamp in the entire country. Travelers along I-10 may know it only as the really long bridge—the interstate is elevated for nearly 20 miles to cross the swamp and its rivers—but this huge and diverse ecosystem deserves more than a fleeting glimpse from above. To really experience the swamp, you have to get in it. There are ways to access many of the Basin's various regions, but one of the simplest is at the boat ramp in Henderson. The body of water here, known as Henderson Lake or Henderson Swamp, is but one pocket of Atchafalaya's vast network of waterways. This is the same vicinity as many of the famous swamp tours near Breaux Bridge, so it's a proven hotspot for wildife spotting and fishing.
Kern's Landing is the ramp to begin from. It is privately owned, so be sure to pay the $2 canoe launch fee. You will first paddle out on a dredged arm of the lake lined with shrubby vegetation and hardwood trees, but the scenery doesn't take long to get really good. As you go farther, water and cypress groves take over. To your left, you will soon be staring into a seemingly endless forest of pure cypress. Straight ahead are the open waters of Henderson Lake. The mixed density of the cypress forest makes a patchwork of dark groves and sunny clearings, so you can choose to paddle among lots of trees near the shore or fewer trees out in the lake. These are nice alternatives to have because you can seek shade on hot days, sun on chilly days, and retreat from choppy water on windy days. The swamp is filled for much of the year, but when it's not you'll have slightly fewer options. At low water levels you'll be restricted to the lake's edge and lagoons, but the scenery is no less impressive, and your chances at seeing wildlife may actually be better with less water. You might spot any of the basin's more than 250 bird species, many kinds of turtles, fish, and maybe an alligator.
You will pass dilapitated old house boats in the swamp. Most of them appear to be abandoned, possibly after hurricane damage or simply years of disrepair. You will also see the I-10 bridge to the north as it begins its long aerial traverse of the basin. These manmade features detract from the natural setting somewhat, but they are all part of the long and continuing history of humans' interaction with the environment in Atchafalaya, which is a designated National Heritage Area as well as a National Wildlife Refuge.
This paddle adventure was equipped by and published in collaboration with Bote Boards.