Louisiana has a rich and unique historical tapestry that gives the state a feel like none other in the U.S. Combining Southern charm and natural ecology with French history and its strong influence on the Cajun culture, the state's unique feel is reflected on everything from food and music to its common lifestyle activities like fishing and boating.
Take a day and you can take advantage of the state's delta topography by canoeing or paddleboarding along one of the slow-moving bayous. Or find a spot and settle in for views of a few of the hundreds of species of neotropical birds that migrate through the region. Or you can visit historical battlefields and walk along boardwalks elevated over the southern swamps. It's even possible to rent bicycles and spend a day touring the numerous breweries or museums that have popped up along a former railroad line.
But if you are able to commit to a long weekend, it's possible to come up with an itinerary that allows you to fit in a good mix of activities. After all, with bicycle rides, swamp tours, river paddling, coastal beaches, hiking, and museums, even three days is really just dipping your toes into the variety of outdoor destinations the state has to offer.
For those looking to pack as much into a three-day trip throughout the state as time allows, here are our suggestions on how to make the most of those all-too-short extended weekends...
The northern portion of the state is easily the state's wildest, at least in terms of the nearest sizable cities being at least a couple of hours away. As such, the north is where travelers should come to spend a day fully immersing themselves in the Louisiana wilderness and a night camping out along one of the area's many lakes.
For those who enjoy heading out in the relative comfort of their cars, the Longleaf Scenic Byway is just the area. It is a 17-mile stretch of road through hilly terrain with easy access to the wilderness backcountry. The Caroline Dorman Trail, for instance, heads from the byway parking area over 10 miles through backcountry, and there are some primitive camp sites along the way.
Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge has another short scenic drive, though this area is ideal for the birders. With over 200 species of native and migratory birds in the region, visitors can enjoy the refuge from their car, by small boat, or on foot with views from the observation tower.
Water trails abound in this area of the state as well, where paddlers can put in and explore the extensive water trails and lakeshore at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge or the shorter and marked Water Trail inside the 3,000-acre Lake Bruin State Park. Both locations also have walking trails for those who prefer to stay on solid ground.
The southwestern portion of the state is all about variety! Using the stretch of I-10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette as a base, there are several directions you can go. Visitors can head to the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, which has been referred to as "the Grand Canyon of the South" due to its sheer scale and overwhelming natural splendor. Consider exploring the refuge with a Swamp Boat Tour to really go deeper into its interior.
For those more inclined to cover more ground and explore a variety of cultural, birding and family-friendly fishing and coastal areas, the Creole Nature Trail forms a loop from Lake Charles that passes birding sites, nature walks, gulf beaches, and family-friendly visitor centers. The trail also leads to the nature-watching and fishing sites at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.
Southeast Louisiana tends to be centered on a more urban influence, based around New Orleans. This means that many of the activities in the region benefit from offering ways to get outside during the day, with the comforts of having some breweries to head to after the sun goes down.
One can't-miss option is to bike the 31-mile long Tammany Trace, a former railroad line converted into a wide and paved cycling and walking path. Don't worry, bike rentals are available at a few locations along the path. Families can explore some of the playgrounds and museums along the path, while the older crowd may opt to turn the ride into a tour of hilariously strange museums and brew pubs.
The path passes through another spot worth visiting, Fontainebleau State Park, which combines hiking trails and wildlife viewing areas with waterplay features and historical sites, not to mention camping and glamping options in the plush lakeside rental cabins.
Finally, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is unique in that it is made of several different locations. One is the Battle of New Orleans battlefield and the adjacent memorial observation tower and visitor center, and another is the Barataria Preserve Wetlands Trails where visitors can walk across ADA-friendly wide plank boardwalks throughout the swamp, and under the right conditions, get a chance to see some of the alligators that nest and sun along the Bayou Coquille waterway.