How Louisiana At Large Does Mardi Gras

There are unique celebrations in every corner of the state

Common take me to the Mardi Gras
Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there’s music in the street
Both night and day.

—Paul Simon

Even if you consider yourself a New Orleans Mardi Gras expert, you haven’t seen anything yet! The celebrations outside of NOLA are as diverse as the state itself. Louisiana celebrates all of its roots: Native American, French, Spanish, African-American, Cajun, and Creole. Each city in each region of Louisiana has its own way of celebrating Mardi Gras.

Everyone loves Carnival Season—the weeks of parades, feasts, family fun, and revelry. It runs from Twelfth Night through Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 6th also known as Twelfth Night or the Epiphany is the day that the three kings (or wise men) visited Jesus in Bethlehem after following a bright star and presented their gifts to the baby Jesus of gold (to symbolize his royal birth), frankincense (to represent his divine birth), and myrrh (to recognize his mortality). The word Epiphany is from the Greek word to show. This is the day Mardi Gras season begins—hence king cake season.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras and king cakes go hand in hand. Carnival’s beginning, Twelfth Night, is a fixed date, but its ending at midnight on Mardi Gras is movable. This year Mardi Gras is February 21 which means the season will last a little more than six weeks—a month and a half of being exposed to king cakes. The cakes tend to show up most everywhere during the season. Once they were baked so dry and undistinguished that they were easy to ignore; now they are injected with various flavors of globby stuff that make a bust out of New Year’s diet resolutions but that are nevertheless tempting.

Want to join in? Explore the different regions, find a spot that speaks to you, and reserve a camping site. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Louisiana

At the top of the boot, north Louisiana offers its own unique and distinct take on Mardi Gras. From fishing and game hunting to cards and dice to antiques, wine and culture, you can truly choose your own adventure here. And that’s especially true during Carnival Season.

>> Read Next: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Those in east Texas or Arkansas can take a short drive to Shreveport for the festivities. One of their stand-out parades is the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux parade which features a royal court of pets. Past parade participants have included turtles, donkeys, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, and more. Bring the whole family over to Monroe for a kid’s parade, pet’s parade, a Mardi Gras 5K (complete with King Cake), and a traditional Mardi Gras parade with marching bands and colorful floats.

King cakes at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Central Louisiana

In central Louisiana all the wide variety of cultures in Louisiana come together. There’s incredible music to enjoy, Civil War history to witness, and visitors can even walk the same path taken by Solomon Northup during his 12 years as a slave.

The Alexandria Mardi Gras has been formally functioning since 1994. Locals celebrate with a variety of parades including the Pineville Light the Night Parade. The illuminated floats coming over the bridge linking the two cities are stunning.

The Town of Woodworth Parade welcomes any and all entries from go-karts and wagons to horses, tractors, or trikes. The Hixson Classic Cars and College Cheerleaders may be the area’s best-known event.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southwest Louisiana

As the home of Zydeco music, fantastic food, and fais-do-do dance parties locals of Lafayette, Houma, New Iberia, and beyond take having a good time pretty seriously. When it comes to Carnival season, the area is most famous for the Courir De Mardi Gras. Though medieval France is where it all began, capitaines of Mardi Gras can still be found leading a courir (French for run) to this day. Each community puts its own spin on the run but across central-southern Louisiana you’ll find hordes of participants all dressed up and running on foot, riding horses or trucks, going house to house, begging for ingredients to make a communal gumbo.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first recorded celebration of Lafayette Mardi Gras was on February 14, 1869 but the first citywide Mardi Gras observance wasn’t until 1897. All parades end at Cajun Field where the annual Festival de Mardi Gras (February 17-21, 2023) takes place with carnival rides, live music, and more. If you’re a master costume crafter, you may want to partake in the Grand Marais Mardi Gras Association’s annual ugly costume contest.

>> Read Next: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

King cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If king cake is your favorite part of the season, you’ll find the sweet treat across the state with plenty of delectable options in Houma. No matter where you get your cake, everyone digging in will keep an eye out for the small plastic baby baked in. If you find it in your piece, you’re responsible for buying the next cake—and quick! Along with your sweet treat, you’ll want to hang around for the extensive schedule of colorful parades rolling through the bayou region, both in Houma and nearby Thibodaux.

On the far west end of the state, you’ll find Lake Charles enjoying the carnival season. This family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration includes over 60 krewes participating in their Krewe of Krewes Parade on Fat Tuesday. In addition, be sure to check out how local restaurants and bakeries embrace the season.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeast Louisiana

You will find that this area of the state is rich in history. These days, the diversity of the region can be seen coming together over jambalaya, classic cocktails, and outdoor adventures. 

King cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the capital city, Spanish Town Parade is a vibrant staple of the Carnival season. Started in 1981 in Baton Rouge, Spanish Town residents partake in a long-time tradition of kidnapping one of the fake lake flamingo decorations and relocating it to their own yard. For locals, the flamingos are a vibrant kick-off to this festive season.

Northshore Mardi Gras celebrations are quirky, creative, and high-energy. Marching bands and ornate floats take to the streets. Fancifully decorated boats ride the waves and costumed pups walk their people.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1965, the 300-member Krewe of Olympia is the oldest in St. Tammany Parish. Keeping the identity of King Zeus a secret, members ride on floats, trucks, and horses interspersed with marching bands from across the Northshore. And yes—there is plenty of Abita Beer to be found. The next Krewe of Olympia parade rolls February 11, 2023 in Covington at 6 pm.

>> Read Next: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

A walking parade featuring man’s best friends and their families puts some bark into the Carnival scene. Founded in 1999, the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws features dogs sashaying in costume along the Mandeville lakefront.

No matter what your favorite part of Carnival is or your past experience, there’s something for everyone across greater Louisiana. Enjoy it like a local with great food and entertainment. Come experience the most authentic and diverse Mardi Gras you never knew existed.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Future Mardi Gras Dates

February 13, 2024

March 4, 2025

February 17, 2026

February 9, 2027

February 29, 2028

February 13, 2029

March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

Fat Tuesday, last day before Lent’s forty day fast;
Mardi Gras magic exudes from every pore,
Elaborately costumed krewes toss beads off floats,
Give rise to fanciful celebrations of the dead,
Historic carnival steeped in Catholic doctrine.

—Sterling Warner