Explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

From upland forests, to Cypress/Tupelo swamps, to an active land-building river delta, the Atchafalaya has lots to see

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. 

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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).

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Read Next: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Worth Pondering…

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

‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Bayou Teche Byway stretches down through South Louisiana like a snake that can’t make up its wind which way to coil

Teche Country is off the beaten path and is a little wild with its lush vegetation and hauntingly beautiful moss-draped oaks. Bayou Teche Byway meanders alongside Bayou Teche, a stream that twists and turns for 125 miles through the semi-tropical land of southern Louisiana. This is a journey into the geographical heart of Acadiana.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once described as the “most richly storied of the interior waters and the most opulent,” this body of water was the center of a booming cypress industry in the early 1900s. Get a firsthand glimpse of giant oaks with 150-foot reach trailing moss sometimes a yard below the branches along the brown-watered stream. The opulent Greek Revival mansions scattered here and there along it appeared on the landscape as a result of the “sugar money” derived from the area’s most abundant crop, sugarcane. Stop in the small villages and towns along the bayou and you may hear the authentic and uncorrupted dialect of the Acadian people.

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Atchafalaya Basin National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting lovely towns that have well-preserved historic districts. Sample Acadian culture in cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée. Stately mansions along with the bayou exhibit the lifestyles of sugar barons from the past. The cuisine, customs, and architecture reflect the influences of Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, the Caribbean, and other peoples who settled the area. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find.

Atchafalaya Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya Basin National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Further 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.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

On the Bayou Teche © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Related: Creole Nature Trail: Bayous, Beaches & Birds

Worth Pondering…

I got swamp water runnin’ through my veins.

The Mississippi River can’t be tamed.

I pole my pirogue in the middle of the night.

I’m an uptown ruler, I can do it right.

—lyrics and recording by the Neville Brothers, 1975

6 Road Trips for the Holiday Season

Get ready for a RV excursion full of under-the-radar gems

Look alive folks! This diem isn’t gonna carpe itself! The only way out is through. If we’re gonna weather the uncertain waters of a kinda-maybe-sorta-post-pandemic winter, we’re gonna have to put in some hustle, we’re gonna have to do some gratitude journaling, and we’re gonna have to look out for each other, okay? Also, a sip of Kentucky bourbon helps.

Father Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t know, I don’t have any answers! I’m getting word that “going on a road trip” is another good way to cope, and I’m thinkin’ that’s an awesome idea as we head into the holiday season…

Between the stress and unpredictability of air travel, the holidays are an apt time for a good, old-fashioned road trip. Even better: A RV road trip venturing off the beaten path and discovering new sights, flavors, and activities. Sure, a classic, Americana-style trek along Route 66 is all well and good, but digging a little deeper—and making pit stops at under-the-radar destinations along the way—reaps rewards that you won’t forget. From an Arizona sunset and a tour of the Mighty Five to a Cajun Country Christmas, these are the best RV road trips to take this holiday season.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Arizona sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casinos, canyons, and cacti in the Southwest

You might end up on the naughty list for spending the holidays indulging in Sin City, but it’ll be worth it. Do some gaming at the new Resorts World Las Vegas (with more than 40 restaurants on-site, you won’t be lacking food options). For something more wholesome, stroll through the whimsical Holiday Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolates in suburban Henderson, hot cocoa in hand.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, buckle up for fun in the Arizona sun—and some epic selfie moments—with scenic stops at the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Don’t forget to stop by the least visited national park in the state, Petrified Forest National Park, where the easy Blue Mesa Trail wows with boulder-sized crystalized logs and badlands lit up in tints of purple and green.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Loopback to Phoenix and round out your Arizona adventure in Tucson where you can spend your day communing with cacti in Saguaro National Park (the west district of the park is far less visited and hikes like Wasson Peak are practically devoid of humans).

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas ’Round Bardstown

Where better to experience a fantastic Christmas season than the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America?” Bardstown, Kentucky is ready to welcome you for a month and a half of Christmas events! All your Christmas wishes can come true in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus. As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas, starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20’s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park-hopping in Utah

For one of the best road trips to take this holiday season, consider a national park. Home to five national parks, Utah is a quintessential state for nature enthusiasts looking to find serenity. After all, few sights are as amazing as seeing Delicate Arch aglow at sunrise or peering through Landscape Arch as the sun descends in Arches National Park or marveling at the snow-swept hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First off, drive to Moab for cozy vibes and comfort foods at restaurants like Sunset Grill where the prime rib is as picture-perfect as the sunset views. You’ll be properly fueled to hike in Arches National Park just down the street as well as nearby Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park before heading west to visit the wildly underrated Capitol Reef National Park, then cross-country skiing at Bryce Canyon.

Related: Photographic Proof That Utah Is Just One Big Epic National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out your Utah trip with the iconic Zion National Park. Though one of the most visited national parks, December through March is the slow season for Zion, which means you might get the popular Narrows trail to yourselves.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas past at LBJ state and national parks

Visit President Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City and a historic living farm in Stonewall to experience holiday traditions of the early 20th century.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the LBJ National Historical Park, the staff decks the halls of the home where Johnson grew up with cedar boughs and berries, a cedar tree, and homemade ornaments. In conjunction with Johnson City’s community celebration of “Lights Spectacular,” the LBJ Boyhood Home will be open for lamplight tours each Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on November 27 and December 4, 11, and 18. The home is located at 200 E. Elm St. in Johnson City.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LBJ State Park and Historic Site’s Sauer-Beckmann Farm, 501 Park Road 52 in Stonewall, is just a few miles away and depicts Christmas during the time of World War I. At the farm’s annual Deck the Halls event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, November 27, volunteers help decorate by stringing popcorn, icing Christmas cookies, and dipping candles during the event.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staff continues decorations in the following days until they are complete, around the time of the annual LBJ Tree Lighting, which is at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, December 19, at the park’s headquarters, 199 Park Road 52 in Stonewall.

The farm is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the last Tuesday of every month. The park itself is open until dark.

Related: Monumental Road Trips to Take This Winter

Johnson’s family moved from a farm in Stonewall much like the Sauer-Beckmann Farm into the Johnson City home when he was 5 years old. He lived there until his graduation from high school in 1924.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Johnson family farm is part of the LBJ National Historical Park which includes what became known as the Texas White House during Johnson’s presidency. The house itself is closed due to structural concerns but the LBJ driving tour is still available. The Hangar Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Park grounds in both Johnson City and Stonewall are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments. Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, every Christmas season, on the Mississippi River levees above Highways 44 and 18, dozens of log structures are built for an enormous display of bonfires. Though traditionally these log piles are built to resemble narrow pyramids, local residents who build them get creative—elaborate log cabins, trains, or swamp creatures. Fires are set on Christmas Eve in an absolutely breathtaking display.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for a holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

Related: End 2020 on a High Note with these Travel Ideas

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Worth Pondering…

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

―Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

10 Amazing Places to RV in December

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Lost Dutchman and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Stand at a cultural crossroads in Louisiana’s first state park

It’s not often that a poem can awaken the public to the history of an entire culture but Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie has done just that. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem tells of an Acadian woman named Evangeline who was separated from her beloved Gabriel during the Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia (circa 1755). The poem’s popularity taught Americans about the people known today as Cajuns who moved to Louisiana from eastern Canada over 260 years ago. In Louisiana, the story is also known through the poem’s local counterpart, Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline written by Judge Felix Voorhies in 1907.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) on the northern edge of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy sweeping views of the Bayou Teche and the surrounding landscape from the long veranda that stretches across the second floor of the big house. The blacksmith shop and visitor center which contains an outstanding museum are nearby and walking down the path towards the bayou you’ll find the Acadian farmstead that includes a kitchen and barn. All are open for group tours that can be arranged at the visitor center.

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, a blend of history and legend has drawn visitors to this meeting place of incredible natural beauty and unique historical background. In legend—the area was the meeting place of the ill-fated lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel. In history—it was the meeting place of exiled French aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution and of Acadians of Nova Scotia seeking refuge after the British expulsion. In nature—it is the meeting place of the swamp and the prairie.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color, all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language and it remains very strong in the region today.

An Acadian Cabin vividly illustrates how different the lives of the Acadians and Creoles were. Prior to the arrival of the Acadians, or Cajuns, in 1764, the Bayou Teche area had already begun to be settled by the French. Many of these settlers were descendants of the first wave of French settlers in Louisiana. They are sometimes called “Creoles,” meaning native since they were born in colonial Louisiana.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once part of the hunting grounds of the Attakapas Indians, this site became part of a royal French land grant first used as a vacherie or cattle ranch. When the grant was sold and subdivided, this section was developed as an indigo plantation. In the early 1800s, Pierre Olivier Duclozel de Vezin, a wealthy Creole, acquired this property to raise cotton, cattle, and eventually, sugarcane.

He built the Maison Olivier, the circa 1815 plantation house which is the central feature of Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site. His son, Charles DuClozel Olivier, inherited the property and made improvements to the home in the 1840s. Under his management as a sugar planter, the plantation attained its greatest prosperity.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The structure is an excellent example of a Raised Creole Cottage, a simple and distinctive architectural form that shows a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influences. The ground floor walls, 14 inches thick, are made of brick from the clays of the adjacent Bayou Teche. The upper floor walls consist of a mud and moss mixture called “bousillage” which is placed between cypress uprights.

The house is furnished with a variety of pieces dating to the mid-19th century. The landscape surrounding the home includes native and exotic fruit, nut, and shade trees. Near the Maison Olivier is a barn constructed in the 1820s near Grande Cote. The pasture is home for horses typical of a type common in this area in the 19th century.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1934, the property became the first park of the Louisiana State Parks system. In 1974, Maison Olivier was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There are numerous more ways you can get up close to Cajun culture in St. Martinville. The city itself is historical being the third-oldest in Louisiana. Evangeline Oak Park centers on an ancient live oak tree on the Bayou Teche that has been the most visited spot in St. Martinville since the late nineteenth century. The tree is named for the heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline. Take a stroll along the Boardwalk where you can observe local flora and fauna including an ancient cypress tree and an occasional alligator.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to Evangeline Oak Park, the Acadian Memorial and the Cultural Heritage Center houses the African-American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Listen to the story of Evangeline under the Oak, visit St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, and the Maison Duchamp to learn about St. Martinville’s history and development. The Historic District boasts of 50 historic landmarks/sites and registered historic buildings in downtown St. Martinville. Many of the sites continue to host local businesses such as gift shops and cafes.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related: Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Another town worth visiting is New Iberia, where you’ll see the Bayou Teche meandering through its picturesque downtown and plenty more historical homes. Avery Island, home to the TABASCO hot sauce factory and the nature preserve known as Jungle Gardens are other attractions worth seeing in southern-central Louisiana. And, Lafayette, the capital of the region known as Acadiana whose wide selection of restaurants will guarantee you won’t go home hungry.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Admission/Entrance Fees: $4 per person; free for seniors (62 and older)

Location: Southern Louisiana, 16 miles southeast of Lafayette

Worth Pondering…

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

I’m going to Cajun Country!

Most travelers come to southern Louisiana expecting to find gumbo, accordions, and maybe a few gators. But the mix is far richer.

The southwestern region of Louisiana is officially called Acadiana but most people find themselves saying, “I’m going to Cajun country.” I was drawn to the region’s heritage and hoped to eat Cajun food, listen to zydeco, and maybe head out on the bayou. What I didn’t expect: soul-stirring natural beauty and a unique community with a layered history that continues to thrive and adapt.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I set off for Lafayette Parish which welcomes roughly 3 million people each year. Here, in the center of Acadiana which showcases the region’s fiddle-and-accordion-driven music and cultural events like the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles (October 8-10, 2021).

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the “Happiest City in America” has numerous family-friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that makeup Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canadians make up the largest group of international visitors which makes sense. The word Cajun is an Anglicization of Acadien, the French Catholic ethnic group that in the 18th century was expelled from eastern Canada (largely Nova Scotia) by the British in what became known as Le Grand Dérangement, or the Great Upheaval. Thousands ended up on the bayous of Catholic, French-speaking Louisiana.

Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail (What is boudin? Rice, pork, and spices in a smoked sausage casing, served in links or in boudin balls which are deep-fried cousins of the iconic Cajun delicacy). Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My first stop was Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, nine miles east of Lafayette, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an even better place to camp at a local RV park (see below) and stay awhile.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks; strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

Cafe Des Amis at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May (May 6-8, 2022) where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Atchafalaya Basin Natural Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plants and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and wading birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Tabasco factory and museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting Acadiana. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant, a casual eatery serving spicy, authentic Cajun favorites and other classic favorites seasoned with TABASCO Sauce. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to a 900-year-old Buddha, a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds. Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Where to Stay

Cajun Palms RV Resort

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

New in 2009 with paved streets, Cajun Palms offers long pull-through sites that range in length from 55 to 75 feet. Not to be ignored are the back-ins to the lake in the 55-60 foot range. Pull through and back-in sites have 20 feet of space between each concrete pad. Easy-on, easy-off Interstate 10 (Exit 115) at Henderson (near Breaux Bridge).

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge

Poche’s RV Park is a pleasant and unique location with excellent fishing and birding. RV sites are located on several sides of a pond overlooking the water. Sites are concrete and level and separated by grass. Picnic tables are located at every site with fire rings at every other site. During our last visit, the interior road was in rough driving condition. Top tip: The owners also have a great little Cajun market with a really good restaurant a mile or so away on the road to Breaux Bridge. 

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frog City RV Park, Duson

Frog City RV Park opened in 2006. The park is located just off I-10 in Duson, a small town 10 miles west of Lafayette and deep in the beautiful Cajun countryside. With 62 spacious RV sites, Frog City offers Wi-Fi, cable TV, pull-through sites, a swimming pool, coin-operated laundry, and private hot showers that are sparkling clean. Guests receive a unique welcome package upon arrival.

Worth Pondering…

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

Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time when life was less hectic

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, three hours east of Houston and two hours west of New Orleans, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks, and strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

The origins of this charming town date back to 1771 when Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux bought land in the present-day city of Breaux Bridge and in 1799 built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for family and neighbors. Area residents and visitors soon knew of the bridge and began calling it “Breaux’s bridge”, later adopted as the city’s name.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux drew up a plan called Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux. The Catholic Church parish was created in 1847 and Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated in 1859. Back in 2009 Breaux Bridge celebrated its 150th birthday.

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home of the world famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May, where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is the town’s largest attraction. Taking place each year on the first weekend of May (April 30-May 2, in 2021, this down-home festival is an ode to the humble mudbug, one of the area’s major exports and a favorite for Cajun food lovers.

With three stages featuring the most popular Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the region, dozens of food vendors cooking crawfish (and other Cajun favorites) in every way you can imagine, a midway with rides and games, and more activities like crawfish races and crawfish eating contests, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth a trip.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smaller events take place in town several times a year. The Tour du Teche, a large paddling race that takes place over three days each October and stretches the entire length of the Bayou Teche, passes through town. The annual Breaux Bridge Cajun Christmas Parade takes place the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and rings in the Christmas season with a Louisiana flair.

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plant and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and water birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Cafe des Amis, Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic byways through this part of the state offer visitors a unique experience of the Cajun and Creole lifestyle. They are selected for their recreational, scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, and natural resources. Your senses are inundated with sights, sounds, and tastes that could only come from south Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is part of Bayou Teche Scenic Byway which winds through south Louisiana’s lush swamps and moss-draped bayous.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is a hotbed for Cajun and Zydeco music, and it’s easy to find in town. The famous Cafe des Amis (140 East Bridge Street) features Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning which pairs decadent brunch items with live zydeco music. You’ll also find live acoustic music here several nights a week.
Pont Breauz’s Cajun Restaurant (325 West Mills Avenue), formerly known as Mulate’s, is a legendary Cajun food and music venue that offers live traditional Cajun music every night of the week, alongside a tempting menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joie de Vivre Cafe (107 North Main Street) is a coffee shop and ad hoc community center that features Cajun music jam sessions on weekend mornings, as well as evening concerts, poetry and literature readings, and other cozy cultural events.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

What we admire—and secretly covet—is their love of good food combined with a zest for life that they proudly call joie de vivre.

—Linda Carman

Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

The rich cultural history, the tasty culinary scene, and the distinctive Cajun and Zydeco music are all part of the cultural legacy created by the diverse people who settled here

As you leave New Orleans and head west, the changes start out subtle: The Crystal Hot Sauce is replaced by Tabasco, the bright colors of Mardi Gras beads and Spanish-influenced houses are replaced by Spanish moss. With the 24-hour-a-day touristy chaos of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter behind you, you’ll find only friendly locals.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10 toward Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles means shedding the tourist trappings and easing into one of America’s most exciting food and music scenes.

For many visitors, a trip to Louisiana means Bourbon Street and sweet drinks in novelty plastic cups, Mardi Gras parades, and near-daily Brass Band Parades second lines (those who follow the band to enjoy the music) marching through the streets. But west of New Orleans is another side of the state—one where the tomatoes disappear from dishes as the food transitions from Creole to Cajun, and the music becomes more accessible.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The swamps of Bayou country are but a stone’s throw away, and suddenly, instead of a city where you could go a week without having a real conversation with a local, you end up in a place where you’ll get their life story before you’ve even ordered your plate of boudin.

Baton Rouge is about an hour and a half from New Orleans, and Lafayette another hour, and Lake Charles another hour beyond that, making them a good change of pace from NOLA. On the surface, the things you’ll do in Louisiana’s less-famous cities don’t differ from what you’d do in New Orleans—listen to music, eat incredible food, and soak up the local culture—but how you enjoy them is entirely different.

Bayou Teche at Breauz Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gus Rezende, founder of Social Entertainment, a hospitality company “that fuses lifestyle and culture through social experience” frames the difference: “New Orleans created a musician-driven culture which means that cover charges are high and you’ll pay for what you watch. Lafayette is more community-driven with a lot of free concerts.”

Cajun food from Don’s in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Baton Rouge’s Live After 5 held on Friday nights) singers belt out Southern rock, “Swamp pop,” and Zydeco in the center of town as the Mississippi River lazes its way by. Other nights of the week, the music is still everywhere.

In Lafayette, you can drive around to visit the historic houses and old mansions during the day, but at night, you’ll look for the music: You’ll find it in every corner of a club, even old school music halls, of which there are still a few.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are planning to hit one of the outdoor concerts, be warned. If there’s one thing that’s bad about Lafayette, it’s how hot it gets in summer. Plan to visit in spring or fall.

Spring is festival season, and in March and April, any given weekend you can wake to a food festival. You won’t want to miss the Acadiana Po’ Boy Festival in historic downtown Lafayette the first Saturday of April and Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, celebrate culture through music, food, and art at the Festival International de Louisiane—Lafayette’s biggest festival and one of the largest in the country—kicks off in April, celebrating the connection of this part of the US to the Francophone world. The nearby town of Rayne is known as the Frog Capital of Louisiana, home to one of the state’s best fests (the Rayne Frog Festival in early May).

But for Baton Rouge, the best time to visit is the fall, aka tailgate season.

Ambrosie Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many ways to enjoy local sounds and delicacies in Lake Charles. Dubbed the Festival Capital of Louisiana, it has more than 75 festivals and special events each year, including Mardi Gras, the Louisiana Pirate Festival (early May), the Black Heritage Festival (early March), the Cajun French Music & Food Festival (mid-July), and the Calcasieu-Cameron Fair in October. Savor delicious food at one of their culinary festivals or catch a live concert just about every weekend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After indulging your Cajun food kick, relish in the chance to see one of the best benefits of getting the heck out of New Orleans: the wildlife. Explore the Creole Nature Trail, filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish. Visitors will view roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, red-winged blackbirds, and, of course, alligators—not to mention, Gulf beaches with excellent shelling and relaxation.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re looking for gators, crawdads, or characters, getting out of New Orleans and heading to Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles brings you face-to-face with the local culture.

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Immerse yourself in Acadian culture

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Evangeline Memorial along the Bayou Teche in St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bayou Tech at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Mural in Acadian Memorial Museum, St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tabasco factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Worth Pondering…

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

Rôder with Family

How about y’all? Do you like to rôder?

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination to pack up the RV and rôder.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the Happiest City in America has plenty of family friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go rôder!

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things to do and experience? There’s no shortage of ways to experience the Happiest City in America and its nearby communities. Here are some of my favorites for first-time visitors and those already in love with all things Cajun.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat, or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene, including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that make up Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region. Here are some smaller towns that are a short drive from Lafayette and are well worth the trip.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott – 5 miles; 13 minutes from Lafayette

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge – 9 miles; 10 minutes from Lafayette

Breaux Bridge was given its name from an early Acadian family who built a bridge over the Bayou Teche, a main waterway used during the Acadian’s arrival in the 1700s. The bridge over the Teche now celebrates the town’s other title, given to it by the Louisiana Legislature in 1959. Yes, without argument, Breaux Bridge is “The Crawfish Capital of the World”.  Its downtown district is the perfect day trip destinations for a main street walk and bite to eat. Take note, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is held annually in May. Breaux Bridge’s downtown district is worth a visit during any season for shopping, dining, and live music. Check out venues like La Poussiere, Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, and Tante Marie’s Kitchen for a weekly live music schedule.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinville – 16.3 miles; 26 minutes from Lafayette

St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish. It lies on Bayou Teche and is the third oldest town in Louisiana with many buildings and homes with historic architecture. The historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church and La Maison Duchamp on Main Street are part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. St. Martinville is also the site of the “Evangeline Oak”, featured in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Acadian expulsion. It is also the site of an African American Museum and is included as a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail which was established in 2008.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia – 20.5 miles; 32 minutes from Lafayette

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting New Iberia. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to Buddha (a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds). Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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