Get away from the typical “beach” by visiting the Gulf Coast of the Pelican State.
By James and Dorothy Richardson
Interstate 10 crosses the southern section of Louisiana from east to west. Its popularity with motorhomers is obvious when one considers the number of units that travel that route. But how many RVers realize what awaits them off the interstate? Coastal Louisiana is a special place, one definitely worth the diversion.
This part of the state offers a variety of opportunities for the outdoors person “” wildlife watching, fishing, hunting, boating, crabbing, hiking, and beach activities. They are joined by attractions for history lovers and culture seekers, as Cajun and Creole heritage permeates most areas of coastal Louisiana. And the food “” Cajun and Creole cuisine and seafood of all flavors “” tops off the experience, providing an extra special reward for leaving the beaten trail.
The coast of Louisiana takes on a different appearance than what usually comes to mind. It’s made up of salt marshes and an occasional beach, and swamps lie just to the north. The swamps have an appeal that is difficult to describe “” slow-moving water and Spanish moss-draped cypress trees hovering above it; a heron scouting for a meal; an alligator lying almost motionless along the bank. Those picturesque mental images become very real in coastal Louisiana. They are part of the experience.
I-10 is the likely avenue of approach if you are coming from Texas or Florida. Interstate 55 is the route from the north approaching New Orleans. Interstate 49 cuts diagonally across the state, originating in Shreveport at Interstate 20. I-49 is not completed any farther south than Lafayette, but U.S. 90 continues to the southeast. U.S. 90 also bears signs of “Proposed I-49” and is the best route across coastal Louisiana.
Let’s explore several spots along the Louisiana coast that are especially worth a visit.
Grand Isle State Park
From New Orleans, follow U.S. 90 southwest and take State Route 1 south toward the coast. Passing through small towns such as Lockport, Larose, Cut Off, and Golden Meadow, the road follows Bayou La Fourche almost the entire route to the ocean. This watery thoroughfare runs from the Mississippi River at Darrow, Louisiana, to the Gulf of Mexico. With an average depth of 16 feet, it provides a commercial passageway for large and small boats alike. Picturesque shrimp boats are a common sight along the bayou.
State Route 1 ends at the southernmost state park in Louisiana, Grand Isle, situated on an 8-mile-long barrier island. It boasts a mile-long beach and a 400-foot fishing pier. Surf fishermen can expect catches of speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. Fishing charters into the Gulf from here take tarpon, red snapper, grouper, and tuna.
Good crabbing, excellent wildlife watching, swimming, shelling, and bird-watching are popular also, with the latter activity revealing gulls, terns, and other shorebirds. Picnic sites and a nature trail further enhance the outdoor experience.
A campground at the park offers 95 sites with water and electrical hookups, and 100 no-hookup sites. As of October 2004, the price was $12 per night for sites with hookups. If the idea of “getting away from it all” is appealing, this is one place to do so. For more information, call (888) 787-2559 or (504) 787-2559.
There’s No Place Like Houma
Backtrack to Houma via State Route 1 and explore one of the larger cities near the coast of Louisiana. Houma has all the major restaurants and name-brand stores. While there, you also can take in a fishing charter or a swamp tour from one of the many operators in the area. A swamp tour provides an intriguing way to experience the distinct character of coastal Louisiana.
Different types of swamp tours enable you to pick the right one for you. For example, a pontoon boat tour can take many visitors into the swamp. Some tour operators use pontoons large enough to have rest rooms. The obvious disadvantage of pontoon boats is their lack of accessibility to many areas. Other tour guides make the trip into the swamp in smaller craft, such as johnboats. Usually, these tours are more personalized and provide access to more remote areas of the swamp. Most tour guides are natives of the area and can give insights into its flora and fauna. They most likely can relate the living conditions and life experiences of people whose lives are centered on the swamp. A third option, airboat swamp tours, also can reach deeper areas and can do it quickly.
For more information about Houma and its attractions, visit www.houmatourism.com or call (800) 688-2732.
Not far from Houma (14 miles) is a spot that combines boat tours with on-foot nature exploration. Take State Route 182 west of Houma to Wildlife Gardens, near Gibson. This 30-acre refuge contains many species of animals, including alligators and white-tailed deer. Wildlife Gardens also has a cafe and a museum, housed in a restored trapper’s cabin. Guided walking tours and boat tours are offered. Reservations are required for the boat tours; call (985) 575-3676 or send an e-mail to email@example.com for more information. Walking tours are not available on Sundays, Mondays, or major holidays.
Cypremort Point State Park
Continue west on U.S. 90 to its intersection with State Route 83. From there, travel south and turn right onto State Route 319. Cypremort Point State Park juts out into Vermilion Bay and is a popular area in which to enjoy all water activities. It is one of Louisiana’s best places for sailing, offering a sandy launch area that was designed especially for catamarans and sailboards. A half-mile stretch of man-made beach provides a great place to relax, picnic, and enjoy the water while colorful sailboats play. It also is a good place to fish for flounder and redfish. A boat launch is located near the park’s entrance, and a 100-foot pier is situated on the bay.
Rest rooms, picnic tables, and grills are provided, but overnight camping is not available. So, make this a day trip to fish, sail, relax, and observe nature. Although Cypremort encompasses only 185 acres, it offers abundant wildlife, from alligators to nutrias to waterfowl. Call (888) 867-4510 or (337) 867-4510 for more information.
Hot, Hot Avery Island
Just a bit north of Cypremort Point is the famous home of Tabasco pepper sauce “” Avery Island. But to get there, you must drive back north toward New Iberia, then take State Route 329 south to its terminus. Plan at least a half-day to take a free tour of the factory where the flaming hot sauce “” and related delights “” are made. You can see the sauce aging in white oak barrels and admire the ingenuity of the McIlhenny family in creating what has become an American mainstay. You can view a film about the history of the famous sauce, see the bottling and packaging operations, and check out the Tabasco Country Store. The Tabasco factory is open for tours seven days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; closed on major holidays.
Be sure to also take a drive through 200-acre Jungle Gardens, a delight filled with flowering plants and critters such as alligators, nutrias, and even bears “” and a giant, centuries-old Buddha statue donated to E.A. McIlhenny, son of the Tabasco sauce inventor, in 1937. E.A. McIlhenny also is credited with helping to save the snowy egret from extinction, and he built nesting structures for them in a pond on the premises. An admission fee is charged to visit Jungle Gardens.
A 50-cent toll is charged to enter Avery Island. For more information, call (337) 365-8173 or visit www.tabasco.com/html/historian_averyvisit.html.
Long Ago in Lafayette
Lafayette, another sizable southern Louisiana city, offers plenty of activities to fill the day. And two attractions in particular give a glimpse into the culture and history of coastal Louisiana.
One is the Acadian Cultural Center, a unit of the National Park Service located in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, near the Lafayette Regional Airport. The center depicts the story of the Acadians, who settled the prairies, bayous, and marshes of southern Louisiana in the 1700s after being forced from their Nova Scotia home by the British. A 40-minute film called The Cajun Way: Echoes of Acadia is shown hourly at the center. Artifacts and exhibits can be perused, and a bookstore offers CDs of Cajun music, as well as children’s books and craft items.
The Acadian Cultural Center is located at 501 Fisher Road and is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; admission is free. Call (337) 232-0789 for more information or visit www.nps.gov.
The second attraction of note is located on the very same road. Vermilionville, a 23-acre park, relates the Cajun and Creole heritage through arts and crafts amid 18 village structures. Craftspeople give demonstrations, musicians entertain, and guides dressed in period fashions tell of life in early-day Lafayette, which was first called Vermilionville. The village includes a full-service restaurant, a bakery, an art gallery, and a gift shop. Cooking demonstrations are offered three times a day.
Vermilionville is located at 300 Fisher Road. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; admission is $8 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5 for students ages 6 to 18, and free for children under 6. Call (866) 992-2968 or (337) 233-4077 for more information, or visit www.vermilionville.org.
Back to the Cajun Riviera
From Lafayette, travel west on Interstate 10 to Lake Charles. Continue through Lake Charles to Sulphur, and take State Route 27 south toward the coast again. This scenic route is part of the Creole Nature Trail, a designated All-American Road worthy of its title. The trail offers probably the best bird-watching in the state. Salt marshes and bayous make excellent habitat for many species of songbirds, as well as waterfowl, along their migration routes. Spring brings the warblers and hummingbirds, and fall and winter welcome plenty of waterfowl. To learn more, stop at the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge visitors center along State Route 27; then, farther down the road, take the refuge walking trail.
Crabbing and fishing are excellent in the bayous along the Creole Nature Trail. You’ll find many opportunities to pull off the well-maintained two-lane road to catch a mess of crabs for dinner. How? Tie a piece of raw chicken to a string … and wait.
To obtain a free map of the Creole Nature Trail, visit www.creolenaturetrail.org or call the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 456-7952.
At the town of Holly Beach, you can turn west, drive another 35 miles or so, and enter Texas. Port Arthur and Beaumont are not far across the state line. Several access points provide easy entry onto the beach, even for large motorhomes. This would be an excellent way “” and location “” to spend a day or more.
This is certainly not all to Louisiana’s coast, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll agree it’s a different sort of destination “” there is none like it anywhere. The Cajun and Creole culture and cuisine add to its appeal. Vive la difference!
Louisiana Office of Tourism
P.O. Box 94291
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9291