Photo: Ken Lund/flickr
When people think of Louisiana, the first things that usually pop into their heads is New Orleans and Mardi Gras. From the French Quarter's rich history to Bourbon Street's no-holds-barred nightlife, this city has an ambience that is incomparable to anything else in the world.
That said, you'd be doing a great disservice to yourself by not exploring beyond the city limits. So, after you've (responsibly) consumed your weight in Hurricanes and finished wrapping yourself in 300 strings of Mardi Gras beads, sober up and check out a few of Louisiana's natural wonders:
Photo: Mark Gstohl/Flickr
If you're visiting New Orleans, consider taking a day trip to the 23,000-acre Barataria Preserve. Located only a half hour away from the Big Easy, this preserve filled with bottomland hardwood forests, swamps and marshes is one of the most important natural and cultural places in the state. Whether you decide to explore on foot or by canoe, keep your eyes open for the area's most popular residents: alligators and nutria.
Did you know this beautiful preserve is actually a park within a park? Barataria Preserve is one of six distinct locations that make up the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Named after the famous French-American pirate, this national park was established in 1907 to protect the natural and cultural legacy of Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta region. The other five sites are the French Quarter, the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, and three separate Acadian-Cajun cultural centers located throughout southern Louisiana.
Photo: Greg Thompson/USFWS
Breton Wildlife Refuge
Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Breton Island is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country (second only to Florida's Pelican Island). Roosevelt was prompted to take this action after learning of the ongoing destruction of the island's birds, nests and eggs.
More than 100 years later, the island has transformed into a thriving, low-impact bird watching and fishing destination. The NWR has worked hard to rehabilitate the ecosystem's threatened and endangered species, such as the pipin plover and the brown pelican, though if the damage of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is any indication, there is still much work to do.
Kisatchie National Forest
This may be the only national forest in Louisiana, but rest assured, Kisatchie really packs a punch amidst the state's vast stretches of swampland. Designated in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover, this beautiful 604,000-acre stretch of woodlands is filled with a combination of longleaf pines and bottomland hardwoods.
The forest is home for many animals, the rarest of which include the Louisiana black bear, the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Louisiana pine snake. If you consider yourself an outdoorsy person, then you'll be delighted to learn about the variety of recreational activities, which include camping, horseback riding, boating, fishing, mountain biking, swimming and more.
Photo: j.c. winkler/Flickr
Cypress Island Preserve
Known for its thriving rookery, this preserve protects 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest just outside the city of Lafayette. While hiking the preserve's levee and boardwalk trails, it's not uncommon to encounter a variety of wading birds, including blue herons, roseate spoonbills, cormorants and a variety of egret species. Although the preserve is open year-round, plan to visit the rookery between March and June, which is the peak gathering season for these magnificent avians.
Named for the indigenous Ouachita tribe, humans have traversed the waters and banks of this river for thousands of years. Originating in Arkansas and running 605 miles south into Louisiana, this is the 25th longest river in the country.
Today, it is mainly utilized for commercial purposes, though certain parts of the river are popular hunting and fishing areas. One area through which the Ouachita runs is Louisiana's Boeuf Wildlife Management Area, which was set up to preserve the forest and help control deer populations.
Photo: Lauren Sullivan/Flickr
Accessible only by a 10-mile boat ride, Pass-a-Loutre is a 66,000-acre wetland that is located just outside of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish. With its scenic marshlands, manmade canals, natural bayous and channels, it is an exceptionally scenic place for all kind of activities, including both freshwater and saltwater fishing, crabbing, camping and even houseboating. As a wildlife management area, the hunting of migratory game birds, waterfowl, rabbits and deer is permitted.
Photo: Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Atchafalaya River Basin
Meet the country's largest wetland and swamp. That's right. Squeezed roughly between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, this sweeping wetland ecosystem in south-central Louisiana is comprised of a whopping 260,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamps, bayous, marshland and open water.
To experience this remarkable place, visit the Atchafalaya Wildlife Refuge, which is located smack dab in the middle of the basin between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. To get to the refuge, you must travel across the second-longest bridge in the country — the 18.2-mile-long Atchafalaya Basin Bridge.
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