It's no secret that Louisiana is a magnet for travelers. With the state's historical influence, festivals known across the globe, and diverse cultural past, the state sees visitors of all stripes exploring its cultural and natural destinations spread throughout its geography.
From state parks with features geared toward families to campgrounds with full hookups for large RVs, there is no shortage of options for the aspiring outdoor recreationist.
However, for those who seek out a little more of a hands-on experience, those who want to get a little bit closer to wildlife, to break a sweat on the hiking trails, or to head a little further from the pavement and deeper into the forests and bayous, Louisiana also has an abundance of options. A rich tapestry of bayous, backcountry hiking trails, long and uninterrupted cycling paths, and wildlife lookouts set deep in the forests awaits. For the adventurous travelers looking to get just a little bit deeper into the state's wild regions, here are a few of our favorite spots...
- Caroline Dorman Trail: A 10.5-mile trail through the state's northern hill country, the Caroline Dorman Trail can be explored by the ambitious day hiker, or it can be made into a multi-day backpacking hike using backcountry campsites along the route.
- Barataria Preserve Wetlands Trails: Lying just outside of the New Orleans area, the Barataria Preserve makes up a part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. Its boardwalk trails head into the cypress-lined bayous and palmetto-fringed wetlands, and alligator-viewing opportunities abound in the right conditions.
- Poverty Point Reservoir State Park: Set in the northeastern corner of the state, Poverty Point features several trails extending throughout the 2,700 acres surrounding the reservoir.
- Lake D'Arbonne State Park: Tucked high into the northern area of the state, Lake D'Arbonne State Park has the usual state park amenities for anglers and campers, but it also has 7 miles of trails for hikers and cyclists who are looking to get a little deeper into the forests.
- Bonnet Carré Spillway: At less than 5 miles in length, this loop trail is a flood spillway just a little bit west of New Orleans. Berms, bridges, and planks are just a few of the obstacles throughout its course. The mostly flat area had been transformed into a trail that mountain bikers can find challenging, and it is a great example of what can be done with local topography with a little community effort.
- Tammany Trace: A rail trail made up of a 31-mile stretch of former Illinois Central Railroad bed just north of New Orleans, this paved path ventures near breweries and museums, but it also opens up into long, uninterrupted portions of forest-lined cycling path.
- Riverwalk Trail: This 2-mile trail inside Sam Houston Jones State Park is open to hikers and cyclists, and though short, its elevation-changes and riverside wetlands path make it varied and technical enough for all ages.
- Champagne's Cajun Swamp Tours: A kitschy, tourist-friendly swamp boat tour through Lake Martin in the central southern area of the state, Champagne's is a great family-friendly way to get onto a swamp boat and head into the Spanish-moss draped cypress groves. Guides are friendly and know how to spot and identify the area's wildlife.
- Atchafalaya Swamp Boat Tours: Another option to get into the state's outback is to charter a private swamp boat tour. This allows visitors to get off the beaten path and head to more targeted destinations; at over 1.5 million acres, the Atchafalaya Basin has no shortage of destinations to explore.
- Henderson Swamp: Another immersive option is to bring or rent your own personal watercraft and head into the wetlands. Kayaks or stand-up paddleboards can be a great way to explore the state's still waterways at your own pace.
- Sam Houston Jones State Park: With 7 miles of varied trails, this state park packs a punch within a relatively small area. Inside Sam Houston Jones, hikers and boaters can venture into its marsh wetlands, cypress grove swamps, and meandering riverway.
- Chicot State Park: Over its 6,400 acres, Chicot State Park has over 20 miles of trails for day hikers and overnight backpackers along with an 8-mile water trail for paddlers wanting to head into its cypress groves. Watercraft rentals are available, making this an ideal spot for adventurous travelers to add to their destination list.
- Lake Bruin State Park: This park in Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta is great for those wanting to get out on the water, whether in a motorized boat or on a human-powered watercraft. A 2-mile water trail passes through cypress groves and habitat for eagles and osprey, which may be visible in the canopy above.
- Fontainebleau State Park: While this park is a great example of family-friendly outdoor recreation near the Crescent City, it also has several hiking trails leading into the forested bayous. And photographers and wildlife lovers shouldn't miss the piers in the wetlands at the fringes of Lake Pontchartrain.
- Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge: Definitely among the prime examples of Louisiana's most wild areas, the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge covers 44,000 acres within the much larger river basin. It has a dizzying abundance of wildlife, from birds to fish to flora. And though the wide area has relatively limited access, a little research may turn up swamp boat tours, hiking trails, and secluded dirt roads leading to some breathtaking wildlife areas.
- Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge: At the edge of the Mississippi River Delta in the state's northern region, over 200 native and migrating birds have been observed in Catahoula. A scenic 9-mile drive leads to a selection of wildlife viewing opportunities and elevated viewing areas.
- Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge: This refuge possesses both quality and quantity, with neotropical migrating birds passing through this refuge in large numbers - over 160,000 wintering birds according to estimates. And while the refuge only has a couple points where access is open to the public, its isolated location near the state's western Gulf Coast makes it ideal for bird enthusiasts. It also lies on the Creole Nature Trail drive, which provides access to a few other significant wildlife areas.
- Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve: Though Louisiana has an array of birds, bears and fish, it is the alligator that many associate with bayous and waterways of the state. One option for seeing alligators in the wild near New Orleans is at the Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve. The preserve is located just a 30-minute drive south of the city, and a hike along a boardwalk trail here leads to the Kenta Canal, where sunny afternoons may bring out quite a few sunning alligators.