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Jonathan Stull | 03.10.2018

The heart and soul of Louisiana stirs in the bayou, where cypress rise over still waters and beneath a star-studded sky. Take yourself there: above the mirrored horizon rise stalwarts that are anchored to the river bottom. Under the overgrowth of Spanish moss, each paddle stroke brings you closer to the underworld, a river thick with stirred-up sediment, a place of alligators and an old mythos of supernatural forces. This is not Thoreau’s woods nor Muir’s mountains. But you will find here the same spirit of rugged self-reliance among the draped and decrepit bones of old cypress.

  1. Chicot State Park: Perhaps one of Louisiana’s gems, the Chicot Lake Paddle Trail is precisely the outdoor experience that you can enjoy only in Louisiana. Its 8 miles weave through cypress groves, and there are six backcountry campsites with ample privacy.
  2. Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours: Lake Martin swamps are full of wildlife, but without local knowledge there’s no guarantee of seeing it. Champagne’s swamp tours will change that. Ninety minutes on the water showcases cypress groves full of nutria, gators, birds, and the guides themselves—all of them fonts of local history and color.
  3. Tammany Trace: Imagine 31 miles of bike trail built over the old Illinois Central Railroad, and you’ll imagine Tammany Trace. The northern section of the path offers destinations and attractions near historic Covington, while the southern section offers the most uninterrupted portions of the trail. The scenery also changes from forest to bayou, with all the wildlife that goes with it.
  4. Creole Nature Trail + All-America Road Scenic Byway: This official scenic byway can occupy travelers for four hours or a few days, and its circuitous path through Louisiana’s Outback spans 180 miles of potential hikes, fishing spots, beaches, and small towns. Of note are the several wildlife refuges along the way, including Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and Peveto Woods, fantastic opportunities to view bayou wildlife.
  5. Cameron Prairie: Among the quieter wildlife refuges in Louisiana, Cameron Prairie is a birding hotspot with more than 200 species of birds and waterfowl. A destination on the Creole Nature Trail, the refuge boasts a visitor center with exhibits and a knowledgeable staff of rangers to answer questions.
  6. Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge: The largest swamp basin in the country is one of Louisiana’s most unique outdoor opportunities—this is the soulful, authentic Louisiana you are looking for. There are few roads, poor hiking trails, and the best access is by boat. The cabins here float, and cypress that measure several feet in diameter anchor themselves to the wetland bottom. There are scenic drives, but skip them and stick to the water. More than 270 species of birds and 85 fish species inhabit an area bigger than the Everglades.
  7. Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve: This is actually a conglomeration of six parks and preserves, each showcasing an element of Cajun and Acadian culture. Celebrating the French pirate Jean Lafitte, they include: the Barataria Preserve, offering a scenic trail network and wildlife; the Chalmette Battlefield, celebrating the Battle of New Orleans; the French Quarter in New Orleans; the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, highlighting Acadian origins and contemporary culture; the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, showcasing recreation and lifestyle of Acadian culture; and the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center.
  8. Lake Fausse Pointe State Park: Remote and waterlogged, Lake Fausse is a fantastic outdoor opportunity for those who seek a remote location, hiking opportunities, and waterborne adventures. Abutting the Atchafalaya River and its protected wetlands, Lake Fausse itself offers no fewer than 10 miles of waterway to explore.
  9. Sam Houston Jones State Park: Waterways characterize the heart and soul of Louisiana, but there is much more here. Sam Houston Jones State Park showcases the hardwood forest that coexists on higher ground alongside wetland refuges in the state’s southern reaches. Campsites and trail networks are more available here. Don’t miss the Riverwalk Trail.
  10. Bonnet Carre Spillway: A multi-use trail just outside of New Orleans, the Spillway is most attractive for mountain biking. It is full of plank bridges, berms, tree roots, and other hazards—up to and beyond hungry armadillo.


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