The words hiking and Louisiana don’t often go together. They certainly don’t conjure up images of rugged mountain trails past bubbling creeks. But if you know where to look, Louisiana offers a unique chance to get outdoors in a different way. Discover a boardwalk trail through a cypress swamp, a beautiful waterfall just over the state line or a taste of our “hill country.” Here are some of our favorite day hikes in Louisiana.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and Wetland Trace
Jean Lafitte (both the park and the town) is about a half hour drive south of New Orleans. At the Barataria Preserve of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, walk through giant palmettos to the water’s edge, where frogs and alligators hide beneath the surface and banana spiders loom overhead. Take in another view of the swamp down the road at the Town of Jean Lafitte’s Wetland Trace. A little known gem, the trail is located behind the town’s Barataria Museum. Learn about the area’s most famous pirate – Jean Lafitte – before entering this quiet and secluded boardwalk. Look for blooming wild irises, six-foot-long snakes moseying along the boardwalk, or alligators peering silently out of the water.
Kisatchie National Forest
Any road trip north to Natchitoches should include a stop by Kisatchie National Forest. Divided into five districts, the forest offers an array of recreational opportunities – from hiking or biking to horseback riding or fishing. Choose from numerous trails, such as the 27-mile Wild Azalea Trail in the Calcasieu District–the longest trail in Louisiana. A perfect option for kids, though, is to drive the 17-mile Longleaf Scenic Byway and stop at the Longleaf Vista Interpretive Trail. A short stroll through bottomland hardwoods to a sandstone outcropping, the walk offers a seldom seen view of Louisiana’s “hill country.”
Technically in Mississippi, Clark Creek Natural Area is just across the border from St. Francisville. The trail begins along an excellent fossil hunting area and makes it way down to Clark Creek. Steep bluffs form the backdrop for the area’s waterfalls – a rare site in this part of the country. Spend the day here splashing through the creek and eating a picnic lunch by the waterfall. Be sure to carve out some time for a walk through picturesque St. Francisville on your way out.
Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge
The Boy Scout Road trail at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge takes you off the beaten path along Lake Pontchartrain’s northshore. Begin in a pine savannah leading to a half-mile interpretive trail along a boardwalk over a fresh mash. The trail then turns down a 2-mile, one-way gravel road known as Boy Scout Road. Walk through a forest to the edge of Bayou Lacombe. Years ago, schooners would sail here to carry locally made bricks across the lake to New Orleans. Don’t miss the Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center in Lacombe, featuring wildlife exhibits and trails through camellia, azalea and butterfly gardens.
Louisiana State Arboretum
The 600-acre Arboretum came to fruition because of Louisiana naturalist Caroline Dormon. Located within Chicot State Park, the Arboretum features 6 miles of trails. The Walker Branch begins near Lake Chicot at the Nature Center. It ends near the Dormon Lodge, which has an exhibit to the noted naturalist. Several spur trails break off from the Walker Branch, leading to countless interpretive signs designating various species of trees. For the more adventurous, check out the 20-mile hiking trail around Lake Chicot.
This is actually just a tip of the list. Other hikes and walks we’ve discovered on our travels include the following:
- Couterie Forest in New Orleans
- Northlake Nature Center in Mandeville
- Audubon Louisiana Nature Center in New Orleans East
- Bogue Chitto State Park in Franklinton
- Tickfaw State Park in Springfield
- Grand Isle Beach walk
- Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles
- Afton Villa Gardens in St. Francisville
- Port Hudson State Historic SIte in Jackson
- Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in St. Martinsville
- North Toledo Bend in Zwolle
- Poverty Point World Heritage Site in Pioneer