History, culture and alligators are on display at the six sites scattered across southern Louisiana that comprise Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. You can walk the grounds of the Battle of New Orleans — the last battle of the War of 1812 — just east of the famed French Quarter, disappear into the swamp just southwest of New Orleans and learn to dance a Cajun dance in Eunice, well west of Baton Rouge.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve was established in November 1978, absorbing Chalmette National Historical Park*, which was established in 1907. It was named after a famous French pirate and privateer.
Things to do:
You’ll find most the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve acreage — and all of it is wild — at Barataria Preserve* outside Marrero, about 15 miles from the French Quarter. Trails and waterways allow you to explore the preserve’s 23,000 acres of swamps, bayous and bottomland forests. From the visitor’s center, you can put together a hike of about four miles roundtrip by linking several paved and boardwalk trails. You’ll walk beneath the shade of live oaks, past swamps with bald cypress to a platform overlooking a marsh that is home to waterfowl, nutria and alligators. (*Some areas are temporarily closed because of Hurricane Isaac. Check the NPS website for the latest updates.)
The paddlewheeler Creole Queen makes daily trips from New Orleans' French Quarter to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
At the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, it’s all about music — making it and moving to it. Accordion, fiddle, guitar and dance lessons are often offered at the center. Check the park website for the schedule.
Boat tours of Bayou Lafourche leave the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux during the fall and spring offering a river view of plantation homes.
Why you’ll want to come back:
There are six sites. You’re sure to miss one the first time around.
Flora and fauna:
The Barataria Preserve is home to strange-looking armadillos and prehistoric-looking alligators. Visitors may also spot white-tailed deer, possums, nutria, river otter, muskrats and raccoons. Armadillos and nutria are also spotted at the Chalmette Battlefield of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for snakes, too. Most snakes you’ll see are harmless. The cottonmouth is the most frequently encountered venomous snake in the preserve.
- Website: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
- Park size: 23,664 acres or 37 square miles
- 2011 visitation: 420,366
- Funky fact: Jan. 8 used to be a national holiday to celebrate the Battle of New Orleans on that date in 1815.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States.