The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway received the prestigious designation of National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration on February 16, 2021.
Located along the Bayou Teche National Water and Paddle Trail in the heart of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, the byway is home to an incredibly beautiful natural landscape and winds through four parishes—Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, and St. Mary.
To receive a national designation, a road must possess intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant. The road, the attractions, and the amenities along the route must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.
Bayou Teche Byway stretches down through South Louisiana like a snake that can’t make up its wind which way to coil. Native Chitimacha believed a giant snake carved out the waterway creating the zigzag path now popular with paddlers. Historian Harnett T. Kane once said the bayou is “past in Louisiana,” a witness to historic events and the varied people who called the Teche home: Creoles, Cajuns, Native Americans, and Africans, among others.
The unique natural beauty and history of Bayou Teche Byway is why a 125-mile route through three parishes—St. Mary, Iberia, and St. Martin—has been designated a Scenic Byway. Here you’ll find breathtaking scenic views of live oak trees draping moss over the placid waters and unique wildlife and migratory birds visiting through the Mississippi Flyway.
The bayou attracts thousands each year for its fall Tour du Teche annual race for canoes, kayaks, and pirogues (the traditional Cajun canoe) along with many other paddle races. The Brownell Memorial Park and Carillon Tower in Morgan City and the 9,000-acre Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge are musts for nature lovers. Brownell offers cabins for rent and tent camping and RV spots and the refuge features four hiking trails in addition to canoe launches.
Along the Bayou Teche Byway’s banks are numerous historic towns from the predominantly French towns along the upper Teche such as Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville to the more Anglo-Saxon culture of Franklin with its more than 100 historic properties many on the National Register of Historic Properties and several open for tours.
Museums include the Chitimacha Museum and the Charenton Heritage Museum in Charenton providing history on the bayou and its native inhabitants, the Jeanerette Museum offering 200 years of the sugarcane industry and other history, and the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City.
Morgan City to Franklin
Stroll Morgan City’s historic district where you can browse antique shops or view the Atchafalaya River from a wharf-side pavilion. For a closer look at the Great Atchafalaya Basin (and maybe a ’gator or two), take a guided swamp tour in nearby Patterson. There you’ll also find a branch of the Louisiana State Museum noted for its displays on aviation and the cypress industry. Next stop: Franklin, whose more than 400 historic properties include the Grevemberg House Museum, a gracious antebellum townhouse filled with Civil War artifacts and antique toys. Pause for a hamburger or po-boy at Iberia Cash Groceries then visit Charenton where the Chitimacha Museum reveals the history of Bayou Teche’s early inhabitants.
Franklin to New Iberia
In the town of Jeanerette, be sure to sample the French bread and ginger cakes at LeJeune’s Bakery whose owners still use the bakery’s original 19th-century recipes. Farther along the byway in New Iberia stands Shadows-on-the-Teche. The antebellum home built by a wealthy sugar planter now is a museum surrounded by graceful live oaks. Near New Iberia, tour the Avery Island factory where world-famous Tabasco pepper sauce is made. The plant’s founder also created a 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary here. Stroll through azaleas and camellias, glimpse a deer in the garden, and step onto a boardwalk for a view of resident alligators.
New Iberia to Arnaudville
As you make your way toward Arnaudville, stop in St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in St. Martinville recalls the chilling expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia as told by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “Evangeline.”
In Breaux Bridge, visit Café des Amis, where the menu includes beignets, couche-couche (battered cornmeal cooked in a hot skillet and topped with milk or syrup), andouille or cheese grits, and crawfish étouffée—and that’s just for breakfast. About 10 minutes from here is Lafayette, considered the unofficial capital of Cajun country.
A trip along Bayou Teche is a good way to sample Louisiana hospitality, hear toe-tapping music, and as the locals say “pass a good time.”
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou
—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954