Louisiana is a state where you can spot gators in swamps, catch crawfish in bayous, and reel in speckled trout or redfish from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a state where you can hang out in a jungle garden, chill in houseboats that have their own hot tubs and wet bars, bicycle between breweries, go horseback riding in a national forest, search for shells on white sand beaches, and…wait for it…watch gator eggs hatch in the palm of your hand. Here’s just some of the awesome adventures you can have in the Louisiana outdoors.
1. Exploring the jungle on a pepper plantation salt dome
Fun fact: Every single drop of Tabasco sauce comes from Avery Island — a salt dome in Louisiana’s Iberia Parish. Farmed by the McIlhenny family since 1868, the island is home to pepper farms, an impressive salt mine, a production facility, and a museum.
The area is also a bird sanctuary covered with exotic flora from all over the world. To explore the Jungle Gardens, start at the Buddha before checking out the Cleveland Oak, the Survey Tree, the hedgerow, the wisteria arch, and the palm gardens. Edward Avery McIlhenny, aka “Mr. Ned,” was obsessed with plant diversity and put together his jungle to pay tribute to as many species as he could.
There’s a self-guided tour (which includes a combination of driving and walking), or you can make a reservation for a guided bird tour any day of the week. Look out for snowy white egrets, little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, and pintails.
2. Renting a houseboat
Like camping, but cooler — several companies up and down the Atchafalaya River Basin provide houseboats as a rental option. You can relax near the water, take part in activities like airboating and fishing, and get away from everything and everyone. How perfect is that? The boats vary in size and location, meaning you can enjoy a cozy floating night for two (houseboat-based romantic getaway, anyone?), or get a group of ten together for a big ol’ family reunion or bachelor party.
In Hendersonville, just a few minutes off I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, five houseboats (La Bon Temps Bateau, Henderson Lady, Midnight Sky, Atchafalaya Queen, and Allon Dancer Colinda) await at Houseboat Adventures at Cypress Cove Landing. These are the best kind of houseboats — think front stoops, porch swings, and full-size barbecues.
Head farther south down the basin to the Morgan City area for more options. The Summer Time is docked in the Avoca Island Cutoff and guarantees a hell of a party. It sleeps ten and has a covered upper deck with wet bar, hot tub, and Green Egg grill. Kayaks are included, making it easy to get to Gros’ Marina, which hosts live zydeco music every weekend. Also included are a couple of fishing poles that can be taken out in the kayaks or in the pontoon for rent, or just used to cast off the back of the boat.
Nearby are a couple of other houseboats at Cajun Houseboats. They’re being renovated right now, but should be back in business real soon.
3. Hatching a baby alligator…in your hand
The bayous and swamps of Louisiana are full of alligators, and there are various tours that bring people to see them. For something really intimate, book a time between mid-August and early September to hold a gator egg in the palm of your hand while it hatches. If there’s nothing hatching during your originally scheduled visit, Insta-Gator Ranch will either reschedule for another day or give you a full refund.
Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Insta-Gator Ranch also offers tours of its gator barns (where touching the residents is permitted, with supervision) and gives an overview of the history of the alligator industry. It’s a real circle-of-life type of thing: You can purchase gator leather wallets, belts, and other accessories here (something to keep in mind before bringing the kids).
4. Collecting shells at the beach
Louisiana isn’t as well-known for its beaches as some of its Gulf neighbors, but that’s to your advantage — the southwest corner of Louisiana has some beautifully quiet stretches of undeveloped sand on the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the area’s long-winding Creole Nature Trail, these are perfect for peaceful walks and seashell collecting. The beaches of Cameron Parish — about an hour’s drive from Lake Charles — are especially shell-fertile. For the highest chance of having some beach to yourself, head west in the parish.
From conch shells to cockles, the bounty of seashells left behind at low tide makes for a perfect activity for kids, or for a solitary mission for some sweet souvenirs. Pro tip: Picnicking on Holly and Rutherford Beaches is always a good time.
5. Biking and brewing
Beer is the ideal accompaniment to a relaxing bike ride on a sunny day (not too many, of course). Pedaling down the Tammany Trace Bike Trail makes for a great day, and the access it gives you to local beer spots provides the perfect trick for motivating people who may not be as excited about outdoor activities as you are.
The trail begins at the Covington Trailhead, right across the street from Covington Brewhouse and around the corner from Columbia St. Tap Room & Grill. From there, it runs behind the Abita Brewing Company brewery and into Abita Springs (where the Abita Brew Pub is, which has no affiliation with the brewery), then on to Mandeville, where it passes by Chafunkta Brewing and Old Rail Brewing. Old Rail is a great place to stop — in addition to local beer, it has a solid food menu and plenty of space to stretch out. (Wherever you stop, remember to drink lots of water along the way.)
For wine enthusiasts, Pontchartrain Vineyards is an 11-mile bike ride from the Abita Springs Trailhead Museum heading north on Highway 1082. This detour means you’ll have to get off the bike trail — but wine awaits, so it’s definitely worth your while.
6. Horseback riding through the woods
There are a lot of swamps, bayous, and other wetlands in the state, but there’s only one (totally awesome) national forest. That’d be Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana, where the 70+ miles of trails that crisscross the woods are perfect for horseback riding with Haze E. Daze Ranch. The ranch provides horses and guidance suitable for all experience levels — there are tons of riding paths, so it’s easy to find the most appropriate match for your or your group’s skills.
Beginners are welcome, and basic training is included in the price of the ride, though kids under eight aren’t allowed to ride on the forest trails (they can explore the ranch, instead).
7. Catching a fishing rodeo
No, this is not the “rodeo” you’re thinking of — no horses, no lassos, no cowboys. A “fishing rodeo” is an entirely different animal (so to speak), and a Louisiana coast tradition. It’s basically a competition to catch the biggest fish, but it’s also a community event, and often a fundraiser for local schools and nonprofits. Friends come together to cheer each other on, and perhaps a gentlemanly wager is placed here or there on the results.
You can’t swing a large, line-caught fish between April and October without finding a fishing rodeo somewhere on the Louisiana coast. There’s even one in New Orleans proper: the City Park Big Bass Fishing Rodeo, the oldest freshwater fish rodeo in the country (celebrating 71 years in 2018). Then there’s the Grand Isle International Tarpon Rodeo, one of the most celebrated fishing rodeos in the country.
It’s easy enough to register to compete, but well-wishers and community members have a sweet time of it too, with local music, food, awards, shopping, and games galore. Another awesome adventure in the Louisiana great outdoors you’ve mostly likely never heard of.