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J Smilanic | 09.02.2019

The Creole Nature Trail near Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana is one of only 43 scenic byways designated as an all-American road in the United States. The Creole Nature Trail winds its way through what is known as the "Louisiana Outback," land that largely consists of marshes, prairies, rivers, lakes, bayous, and beaches—the underlying commonality being water. Lots of water! The wildlife in this area is abundant, ranging from migratory birds to the iconic American alligator.

 

To experience some of the Cajun culture found in southwest Louisiana, you can begin by hopping on the 180-mile scenic byway in the town of Sulphur, which is the western gateway of the trail. Your journey takes you south to the Gulf of Mexico and heads east along the shoreline before heading back up north toward Lake Charles.

 


Enjoy a sunset stroll with your partner in crime at Holly Beach. J Smilanic.

Beaches

The southern portion of the Creole Nature Trail will take you along miles and miles of undeveloped, beautiful coastline. Before you head south though, you may want to take a trip to North Beach & Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. North Beach sits on the north shore of Lake Charles that offers sweeping views of the city. It is boasted to be the "only white-sand beach between Florida and Texas." The visitor center is just a short stroll east of North Beach along the beachfront pathway. Here you can find lots of information on the Creole Nature Trail, as well as other information about the Lake Charles area.

There are two main beaches along the coastal portion of the nature trail: Holly Beach and Rutherford Beach. Holly Beach is about an hour south of Lake Charles. This small beach community is very quiet and peaceful. You won’t get stuck in traffic or lost in the crowds at Holly Beach. Visitors with well-equipped vehicles are welcome to drive right on the beach and park in the sand for comfortable views of the sunset or sunrise. Rutherford Beach, about an hour directly east of Holly Beach, offers free camping directly on the beach. This might be an ideal overnight stopping point if you plan to do the entirety of the Creole Nature Trail. Visitors to Rutherford Beach who decide to stay the night will be treated to great views of the night sky as you sit around the campfire, but don’t forget to bring your bug spray!

 


No big deal: Cast a line in the waters at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge amid a typical view like this. J Smilanic.

Fishing

With the Creole Nature Trail being largely surrounded by water, it makes the area one of the best places to fish in Louisiana. It’s evident that this is one of the favorite activities of the locals as dozens and dozens of people fill up the popular spots during the weekends. There are several wildlife refuges in southwest Louisiana, but there are a few that stand out as excellent fishing destinations.

  • Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is about 25 miles south of Lake Charles and features Bank Fishing Road, which provides an opportunity for fishing along the marsh. Visitors to Cameron Prairie can also cast their lines from the side of their boats as they navigate the lakes and channels of the refuge.
  • Due east of Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is an easily accessible spot for fishermen, mostly consisting of freshwater marsh and lakes that can be accessed by two different boat ramps.
  • Perhaps the most popular of these wildlife refuges to fish is Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. This could be due to the beautiful, pristine habitat or simply because the fishing is better here. It doesn’t take a serious hobbyist to reel in a few catches a day at Rockefeller. In addition to the fish here, there are also opportunities for catching crustaceans such as shrimp and crab.

 


Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours accesses 50,000 acres of privately held land, a highlight of which is a rookery of migratory birds, including egrets and roseate spoonbills. J Smilanic.

Wildlife Viewing

From birds and mammals to many types of reptiles, the Creole Nature Trail is essentially a zoo without cages. Spotting wildlife out here is easy. Much of the landscape is grassy marshes or prairies, which makes spotting wildlife a breeze.

Perhaps the surest way to see wildlife in the area is on a guided tour with Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours. Grosse Savanne manages tours on 50,000 acres of privately held land that is otherwise inaccessible for wildlife viewing, with habitat that ranges from forested rookeries to brackish marshland. Visitors can experience the wildlife from land or from the water, depending on preference.

If you’d rather not be guided and do your own thing, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge or the Blue Goose Nature Trail might be better options for seeing wildlife. Both are convenient stops along the Creole Nature Trail where visitors can catch a glimpse of the diverse animals that live in and visit southwest Louisiana.

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Visit Lake Charles

Alligators, Monarch butterflies, 400 species of birds, walking trails and natural, Gulf beaches - you can truly surround yourself in nature in Southwest Louisiana along the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. After experiencing the great outdoors, you can enjoy the food, culture, music and art that Louisiana is known for the world over – in just a short drive to Lake Charles, LA.

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