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Shaun Hunter | 03.06.2018

Mention Louisiana and many think of New Orleans and the state's incredible food, music, and festivals. However, these traditions are only part of a rich cultural and historical tapestry that encompasses many other locations in the state. Get away from the city and you'll find that Louisiana is a state of slow-moving bayous and abundant wildlife, of timberland forests filled with hiking trails up north and cypress groves on the waters down south.

One of the best ways to experience this diversity is through Louisiana's State Parks. Situated throughout the state, the 21 state parks epitomize Louisiana's beauty and recreational potential, and they are a popular resource for everyone from locals looking for a weekend escape to snowbirds soaking up southern sunshine. While each has its own unique character and recreational options, all tend to offer amenities such as ADA-friendly boardwalks and facilities, picnicking pavilions, boat launches, campgrounds, and hiking trails that are created to suit a variety of abilities and preferences.

Often you'll find scenic boardwalks over expansive lakes sharing the grounds with visitor centers containing informative displays, or canoe and boat rental facilities just a quick walk away from playgrounds and summertime water features. If tracking down turtles and egrets is appealing, you can head into the wild or grab a bench beside the bayou while other friends or family play the 18-hole disc golf course. You can go fishing or hiking during the day and camp in your tent on the beach or your fully-furnished rental cabin at night!

Looking to head off onto the state's quiet roads and even quieter bayous? Want to find a spot where you can spend the day bicycling around forested roads and the night in the RV or the tent? Here are a few of our favorite Louisiana State Parks.

Fontainebleau State Park

While this may be the nearest state park to New Orleans (lying just about an hour outside of the Crescent City), it packs one of the biggest punches. Built on the grounds of a historical former sugar plantation, Fontainebleau has several hiking trails and wildlife viewing areas, along with a large campground and lakefront area tht is ideal for wading. Cycling trails, wetlands boardwalks, seasonal water features, and other recreational choices abound throughout the park's 2,800 acres.

Grand Isle State Park

One of the only state parks on the Gulf Coast, Grand Isle has much more of an ocean vibe. It has a fishing pier and rock barriers to keep the surf calm for wading, and campers can opt to pitch their tent on the sandy shore and sleep to the sound of the surf. A protected area of land adjacent to the park provides habitat for a population of nesting and migratory birds that often find their way over to the wetlands located along the short hiking trail.

Lake D'Arbonne State Park

Getting away from the city, but not looking to take the complete plunge into forest life? This park in the northern part of the state has tennis courts and a disc golf course along with 7 miles of trails and a fishing dock where you can fish for bass, crappie and catfish. If you can catch a stunning sunset here, you won't forget it.

Chemin-A-Haut State Park

This park is for those looking to get out on the trail, whether on foot, by horseback or by kayak (you can rent kayaks at the park!). If you're looking for more relaxation, the playgrounds and swimming pool can keep the kids busy while you hang out at the fireplace inside the picnic pavilion.

Poverty Point Reservoir State Park

Not too far from the Mississippi River, Poverty Point attracts wildlife ranging from an abundance of migratory birds to bears. You can hike on the park's marked trails into the surrounding woods or stick to the boardwalk trail over the reservoir. Either way, Poverty Point Reservoir is definitely a nature lover's destination.

South Toledo Bend State Park

A nesting ground for the bald eagle that may be seen feeding from Toledo Bend Reservoir, this park has a spacious visitor center with nature displays as well as a boardwalk trail heading out over the water. Among the more beautiful state parks, the fishing here is also a huge draw.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

Variety is the main attraction here! From boat access to the Calcasieu River, boardwalks perched over cypress wetlands and sunning alligators, this is a great park for enjoying waterways. If you'd prefer to stay inland, the park is also home to a disc golf course that meanders throughout the forest and a large network of trails that is surrounded by diverse wildlife. Even the long circular roads here make for popular circuits for road cyclists. Just north of the city of Lake Charles, this park provides a great escape without having to travel too far to find it.

Whether it's for a quick day trip, or a long weekend camping adventure, Louisiana's diverse state parks ensure that you'll be able to find an environment and activity that suits your search. The state park system maintains ADA-accessibility as well as boating access, and picnicking, recreational facilities, and hiking trails of varying distances are available. Plus, the parks are often large enough to get away from the crowd and find your own wildlife watching perch or swimming area.

Head out and find your own favorites!

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