The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer.
An American-Indian word, “Atchafalaya” (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (NHA) stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.
With a story around every bend in the river and music from every corner, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is an ever-changing landscape.
Atchafalaya Paddle Trails
Head out for a day of paddling under live oaks dripping with Spanish moss through cypress tree forests in the swamp. Watch graceful egrets take wing or glimpse an alligator slide into the water.
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Bayou Teche/Lower Atchafalaya River Paddling Trail: This trail offers up to 10 miles of paddling if you begin at the Calumet Cut. From there you’ll glide through Patterson to the mouth of the Bayou Teche at the Atchafalaya River.
Lake Fausse Pointe State Park & Canoe Trail: Located in the Atchafalaya Basin near St. Martinville, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers miles of canoeing and kayaking trails in a labyrinth of waterways. You’ll also find hiking trails, cabins and campsites, a boat launch, and a playground.
Grand Avoille Cove Paddling Trail: Lake Fausse Pointe and Grand Avoille Cove lie adjacent to the Atchafalaya Basin swamp. The Atchafalaya River runs through the basin, which extends north from Morgan City past Lafayette in a maze of bayous, lakes, ponds, and cypress swamps. The area is a great place for birding, as the cove is lined with cypress trees.
Atchafalaya Birding Trails
Enjoy some of the best birding in the country in the diverse parts of the Atchafalaya Heritage Area which are home to almost 400 bird species including waders like herons, egrets, ibises, and roseate spoonbills.
Iberia Parish Birding Trail: Louisiana’s coast in Iberia Parish has the perfect combination of wetlands and soil to welcome rare and beautiful birds into its shoreland. The warm temperatures and location within the southern migratory flyway make this an attractive destination for birds—more than 240 species have been documented here. Birding areas of interest include Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, Jungle Gardens/Avery Island, New Iberia City Park, Jefferson Island Rip’s Rookery, and Spanish Lake.
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Iberville Parish Birding Trail: Uniquely located between two major migratory routes, the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Flyways, Iberville offers an excellent opportunity to observe unique bird species including neotropical migratory songbirds, migratory hummingbirds, migratory wading birds, and raptors.
Atchafalaya Biking Trails
Cycling the back roads is a great way to get to know the Atchafalaya Heritage Area.
Atchafalaya Basin Wilderness Trail: The Atchafalaya Wilderness Trail is a remote gravel trail that runs on top of the levee for about 55 miles from Henderson (next to Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf) through three parishes to Franklin. It’s open for bike riders, walkers, and hikers to enjoy.
Old River Control Structure to Natchez Trace Link: You can begin this route at the Old River Lock which allows boats to enter the Atchafalaya River from the Mississippi River. The route from here travels alongside and sometimes on top of the levee bordering the Mississippi River. Several wildlife preserves along the way offer opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting, or exploring.
Simmesport, Marksville, Washington Loop: This is a pleasant ride that travels through small towns including Hamburg, Moreauville, Mansura, and Marksville. As you leave Moreauville, you will follow Bayou des Glaises northward through Mansura, a community settled by Frenchmen in the 1700s and now home to the popular Cochon de Lait Festival.
St. Martinville to Fausse Pointe Loop: This ride begins in historic St. Martinville and loops eastward past Lake Dauterieve to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, an area once home to the Chitimacha Indians. The park, at the edge of a beautiful water wilderness, is a perfect point from which to explore the natural and cultural heritage of South Louisiana. Combine your wilderness adventure with a tour of nearby historic areas such as the city of St. Martinville and Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site which interprets the history of French-speaking cultures along Bayou Teche by comparing life on an 1800s French Creole Plantation to typical Acadian farmsteads.
Franklin to Morgan City: Nature and history offer the main attractions and points of interest along this route which tracks Bayou Teche for much of the way. Keep an eye out for wildlife.
A stop at Brownell Memorial Park offers a view of the palmettos, elephant ears, cattails, and ferns that grow wild in the area.
Morgan City to White Castle: As you leave Morgan City, you’ll cycle along beautiful Lake Palourde, one of the largest natural lakes in Louisiana. Veer off and ride to the top of the levee occasionally for a look at one of the most beautiful swampland wilderness areas in the nation, the Atchafalaya Basin. In Pierre Part, stop for a photo of the bayou running through the main street—you might even see one of the locals paddling a pirogue.
National Wildlife Refuge Trails
The National Wildlife Refuges’ mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest are great places to fish, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.
Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge: The primary mission of this refuge in the lower part of the Atchafalaya Basin is to preserve and manage habitat for the threatened Louisiana black bear so there is potential for bear sightings along with the system of interconnected trails. Other wildlife you are likely to spot include wading birds, neotropical songbirds, waterfowl, and various reptiles and amphibians Within the refuge, you can take your pick of four trails: Wood Duck Trail (approximately 10 miles); Black Bear Trail (12 miles); Alligator Trail (10 miles); and Yellow Bayou Trail (6 miles).
Indian Bayou National Wildlife Refuge: The Indian Bayou area is a 28,000-acre paradise for hunters, fishermen, bird watchers, boaters, nature photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts located in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin. It is a haven for wading birds like the great blue heron and the great egret. Mallards and wood ducks are abundant as are reptiles and amphibians including the American alligator and western cottonmouth. Reflective white-on-blue directional signs mark the trails at major turning points allowing paddlers to navigate without a guide.
And for an added bonus: Check out the many outdoorsy and cultural stops along the Bayou Teche Byway. Immerse yourself in Acadian culture in cafés and dance halls that serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.
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