Louisiana Bayou Byway
Bayous, birds, and beignets
|Mileage||172 miles (277 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||3 hours, 40 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Interstate 10, and Louisiana Highways 182, 3083, 31, 352, 86, and 90|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||New Orleans, LA▼, Lafayette, LA▼, Broussard, LA▼, West Lafayette, LA▼, and Gray, LA▼|
2.7 average from 196 votes
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Rich history and unique natural beauty reign along this drive. A complex mix of Native American, African, Spanish, Caribbean and French people has created a colorful, vibrant culture that reveals its “joie de vivre” through its open-hearted people, savory cuisine and spirited music.
Our scenic drive begins in Lafayette and travels to Lafitte, near New Orleans, but of course can be done in either direction.
Lafayette is the 4th largest city in Louisiana. Before heading out on this scenic drive, learn about Acadian, Cajun, Creole and Native American culture at Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park (M3). Step back in time at this Acadian settlement by touring original structures from 1765-1890, and reproductions such as La Chapelle des Attakapas, a schoolhouse, and more. Artisans in period costume demonstrate and host workshops on spinning, weaving, soap making, woodworking, boat building, and music. Explore rotating exhibits that examine the history and culture of Louisiana. Stroll through the Healers Garden surrounding La Maison Acadienne to see medicinal plants commonly used in Southern Louisiana. Get your feet two-stepping and tapping every Sunday afternoon, as the Vermilionville Performance Center hosts a dance featuring live Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music. Spring and summer boat tours on Bayou Vermilion are offered in conjunction with the national park service at Jean Lafitte Acadian Cultural Center. Advance reservations required. There is an entrance fee and a separate fee for the boat tour.
Six sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve are dispersed through southern Louisiana. Located nearby is the Acadian Cultural Center (A5). Museum exhibits, artifacts, films and ranger-led programs tell the story of the Acadians who came to Louisiana primarily from Eastern Canada — and became the Cajuns. Admission is free.
To say that Louisiana is lively is an understatement. Warm people, warm weather and a deep spirit flow through this region. Many festivals are celebrated throughout the year. A sampling are the Lafayette Mardi Gras in February, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival the first weekend in May, and Festivals Acadiens et Créoles the second weekend in October.
Approximately 20 minutes east of Lafayette is Cypress Island Preserve (H6), a year-round birders paradise. In late January, observe thousands of great egrets, little blue herons, white ibis and roseate spoonbills that arrive for nesting season in the rookery. Spring and summer bring barred and great horned owls, and rusty blackbirds fly here in winter. Take the 2.5-mile walking trail that skirts one side of Lake Martin to observe birds, alligators and amphibians amid their cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat. The trail is closed between June and October for alligator nesting season, but there are other trails such as the Boardwalk Loop. Rookery Road travels around the opposite side of the lake, and a slow drive offers many wildlife sighting opportunities. Take LA-353/Prairie Highway to get there.
In Martinville, visit the Longfellow Evangeline State Historic Site (A3) to learn more about the Acadians and Creole that settled along Bayou Teche. Tour the interpretive center, Maison Oliver, an original Creole plantation built in 1850, and a reconstruction of an Acadian farmstead replete with home furnishings, artifacts and tools, including those needed to harvest and process moss. Get a sense of daily life in the past through costumed-interpreters and guided tours, stroll the walking paths and look for wildlife. The park is named for renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his epic poem, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. Written in 1847, the poem speaks of the expulsion of the Acadian people from Canada in 1755 and their arrival in Louisiana. There is a small entrance fee. Longfellow fans will also want to make a pilgrimage to the Evangeline Monument (A2) which features a sculpture of Evangeline near the Church of St. Martin de Tours.
Located on Jefferson Island is Rip Van Winkle Gardens (A4). The pastoral landscape explodes with the color of iris, magnolia, and hibiscus blossoms, in contrast with verdant live oaks and cypress trees. Take a guided tour or stroll the meandering paths on your own. On the property is the Joseph Jefferson Mansion which was built in 1870 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Joseph Jefferson was an American actor known for his role as Rip Van Winkle. Explore heirlooms, art and American and French Empire furniture. There is a fee to enter valid for both attractions.
Along with the marshes, bayous, and extraordinary wildlife, Avery Island (A7) is the home of the McIlhenny Company — creator of the famed Tabasco Sauce. Delve into the history of the family-owned company, tour the factory to see how the sauce is made, view the pepper fields and more. The tour is free but there is a $1 fee to access the island which supports coastal restoration. While here, visit Jungle Gardens and Bird City (A1) developed by Mr. Ned, son of the Tabasco sauce inventor, Edmund McIlhenny. More than 170-acres are filled with lush, exotic, botanical species from around the world. Within the property, Bird City offers opportunities to observe alligators, waterfowl, herons, and approximately 250 pairs of snowy egrets nest that here in the spring. There is an admission fee that includes both attractions. Take exit LA-14, exit and turn left. At LA-329 junction, turn right. Stay on LA-329 until you reach Avery Island.
Stretching from Lafayette to New Orleans, the Atchafalaya Basin (H7) is America’s largest river swamp containing almost one million acres. The Atchafalaya Basin (pronounced ah-CHA-fa-lie-ah) is divided into 5 regions, and this drive passes the Coastal Zone region. Exploration is best done by water — embark on a canoe or kayak trip or take one of the many guided swamp tours. There are outfitters in Franklin, Patterson and Morgan City or head out on your own. Explore the hauntingly beautiful scenery of live oaks, cascades of Spanish moss, bottomland hardwoods, swamps, bayous, and backwater lakes offering the chance to glimpse beaver, mink, bobcat or alligators. The habitat supports a thriving community of birds — almost 400 species including spoonbills, whooping cranes, waterfowl, and eagles. Ecologists rank the basin as one of the most productive wildlife areas in North America. Almost 22 million pounds of crawfish are commercially harvested here annually.
Cypremort Point State Park (H8) on Vermilion Bay is the perfect place relax on the man-made beach, or enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating. Canoe and kayak rentals are available on-site. Snag one of the 6 rental cabins and spend the evening watching dramatic sunsets. An entrance fee is charged for all Louisiana State parks.
Lake Fausse Pointe State Park (H5) boasts abundant wildlife and interesting flora. Three main trails allow for exploration. Take the short Armadillo Ridge Trail to observe bottomland hardwood forest swamp, the 1.6-mile Cardinal Run which travels along the edge of Lake Fausse Pointe to cypress swamp, or the 3.3 mile Barred Owl Trek. Park amenities include tent camping, waterfront cabin rentals, a canoe accessible campsite and onsite boat rentals. There are miles of waterways for canoeing and kayaking allowing you to get close up and personal with the extraordinary cypress trees. The Interpretive Center offers information, education programs and activities. Depending on the season, be prepared for a lot of mosquitoes.
The Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge (H4) protects the habitat of the threatened American alligator and Louisiana black bear. It also is an important stop for migratory birds. Enjoy wildlife observation and photography, hiking and boardwalk trails, fishing, and boating, including the peaceful 3-mile water trail for non-motorized boats.
In Patterson, visit the Louisiana State Museum (M2). Preserving history through art, memorabilia, and interactive exhibits, this museum focuses on the legacy of Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams and the important cypress sawmill industry. Rotating exhibits highlight other aspects of Louisiana’s culture and history. Admission is free. Closed Mondays.
Cross the bridge into Morgan City, midpoint of the drive. At Brownell Memorial Park and Carillon Tower (H3), relax with a picnic, enjoy the bird sanctuary along Lake Palourde and listen to bells. The 106-foot tower contains 61 bronze bells which play every 30 minutes. If you’re here Labor Day weekend, don’t miss the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. Live music, tons of shrimp and other regional delicacies, arts and crafts, car show and more at this fun-filled family festival.
If time allows, consider a side trip to explore the bayous more deeply. Take SR-315 (Bayou Dularge Road) south to the end of the road then return to Houma along LA-57 passing the area known a Shrimper’s Row. Nearby is the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge (H2) which is best explored with a boat tour, but there is a walking trail and observation deck near the refuge office offering a chance to spot cranes, egrets, bald eagles, and alligators. Lake De Cade is popular for fishing. Plan to arrive at lunch or dinner, as authentic Cajun restaurants await in Dulac, along Shrimper’s Row — serving fresh off-the-boat seafood.
Houma is the location of the History Channel’s “Swamp People” and here you’ll find outfitters ready to take you into this unique moss-draped landscape. Southern Louisiana is also a world-class fishing destination and there are many chartered tours offering the chance to catch trout, redfish, black drum, flounder, and bass. In the historic downtown, dine on Cajun delicacies and kick back with Cajun music.
Learn the importance of the sugar industry and plantation life at the Southdown Plantation House (M1). Guided tours explore the beautiful 1859 Greek Revival home, and the second floor added in 1893 with Victorian details. Examine original 19th-century furnishings, the library, art, a gallery with changing exhibits and more. There is an entrance fee. Nearby is Veterans Park, a memorial dedicated to fallen veterans of Terrebonne Parish.
Continue on LA-90 East. Another section of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is the Barataria Preserve (H1). Like many areas along this drive, this 23,000-acre wetland can be explored on foot or by boat along the lush waterways of Lake Cataouatche. Choose from a myriad of trails like the Barataria Loop which follows the path used by Pirate Jean Lafitte to sell his bounty, or accessible pathways such as the Palmetto and Bayou Coquille Trails, all the while keeping an eye out for American alligators, nutrias, tree frogs, water snakes and over 200 species of birds. The Visitor Center offers trail information, exhibits on how the Mississippi River created Louisiana’s wetlands, and educational programs. The Barataria Preserve is free.
The town of Lafitte is the stomping grounds of Pirate Jean Lafitte. The Barataria Museum (M4) reveals the history and lore of this notorious pirate, as well as the story of this fishing village, both past and present. Explore cypress swamp, bayou, and marsh habitats along the Wetland Trace, a 1-mile boardwalk trail.
The drive officially ends here. You can continue to New Orleans or head down to Venice on LA-23 for one more adventure to the beautiful and vulnerable coastline. Just 30 minutes from New Orleans, Venice is located where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. This stretch of road is actually a section of the Great River Road Scenic Byway which follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana. While here, take a fishing charter, swamp tour, or just watch the shrimp boats come in. Then dine on gumbo, Po’ Boys and other Cajun and Creole specialties. If you’re visiting in December, don’t miss the Plaquemines Parish Fair and Orange Festival, which celebrates the local citrus crop. Held at Fort Jackson (A6), the fort itself is open year-round for visits despite being damaged in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Built between 1822-132, observe artifacts and exhibits, the powder magazine, explore the arched brick cannon casemates, the inner moat, drawbridge and stellar views of Plaquemines Bend.