10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2024

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

April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

—William Shakespeare

From time immemorial, spring’s awakening has signaled to humanity the promise of new beginnings. In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, a love poem published in 1609, the prolific poet and playwright personifies the glorious month of April as the herald of youth, vitality, and hope. For the Bard, the coming of spring—the twittering birds, ambrosial flowers, and long-awaited sunny skies—brought with it all the delights of a fresh start.

We have made it to the fourth month of the year, the one we kick off by fooling acquaintances with sport. A warning to my readers: Watch out for tricksters in the RV travel realm.

April is a time of change. With the vernal equinox in the recent rearview mirror in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is slowly stirring from its months-long slumber preparing to soon be in full bloom. April also has outsized importance compared to other months: The ancient Romans tied the month to the goddess Venus because of its beautiful and life-affirming effects and for thousands of years the month was seen as the true beginning of the year.

Today, April is full of moments of mischief, reverence, and a budding excitement for the warmer times ahead. These six facts explore the history of the month and why it’s sometimes considered one of the best times of the year.

When it comes to the names of months, April is a bit of an outlier. Other months are either intimately tied to Roman history and culture—whether named after Roman gods (January, March, June, etc.), rituals (February), or leaders (July and August)—or are related to Latin numbers (September to December). April, however, is simply derived from the Latin aperire which means “to open.” This is likely a reference to the beginning of spring when flowers open as the weather warms.

Although April’s name isn’t etymologically tied to Roman culture, April (or Aprilis, as the Romans called it) was a month dedicated to the goddess Venus known as Aphrodite in the ancient Greek pantheon. On the first day of April, Romans celebrated a festival known as Veneralia in honor of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. This has led some scholars to wonder if the month’s name was actually Aphrilis about the goddess.

One of the most important holidays in April (and occasionally March) is the celebration of Easter which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus. Much like Christmas, this holiday has pagan origins and its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term for the month, Ēosturmōnaþ. That name literally meant Ēostre’s month, a reference to the West Germanic spring goddess of the same name.

The only known historical text mentioning Ēostre comes from the Venerable Bede, a Christian monk who lived in the eighth century and who mentions the goddess (and the festivals dedicated in her name) in his work The Reckoning of Time. Because so little evidence of Ēostre exists some wonder if the goddess was a complete invention of Bede’s and whether she was real or not. Ēostre remains the namesake of April’s holiest days for Christians.

One of the oddest annual traditions on the modern calendar falls on the first day of April otherwise known as April Fools’ Day. Once a day reserved for harmless pranks pulled on friends and family, April Fools’ Day now reaches into the furthest depths of the internet with multimillion-dollar brands and corporations getting in on the fun.

Although the tradition is certainly an oddity, it’s strange still that no one is exactly sure where April Fools’ Day comes from. Some historians think when France moved to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, those who still celebrated the New Year in April (having not gotten the memo, wilfully or otherwise, about the calendar change) were labeled April fools.

Others have tied the tradition to an ancient Roman festival called Hilaria which took place in late March, along with many more theories. A more modern version of April Fools’ Day took root in 18th-century Britain before evolving into the mischief holiday we know today.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also, check out my recommendations from April 2023 and May 2023.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Visit Yuma

As the weather warms up and the paloverde explodes into bloom, there’s no better time to visit Yuma, Arizona for a unique outdoor adventure. Soak up every minute in Yuma the way you’ve always wanted to—without regrets. Kick off an adventurous stay at full throttle with high-speed boating. Find solace in the sunset from a pontoon, a paddleboard, or one of Yuma’s three national wildlife refuges. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or just starting, add Yuma to your bucket list.

Yuma is home to a variety of unique attractions that you won’t find anywhere else. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is a must-see destination for history buffs while Colorado River State Historic Park provides a glimpse into the military history of the area. The Yuma Art Center features rotating art exhibits and cultural events and you can find beautiful, colorful murals scattered all around town.

Visit one of the date farms and enjoy a date milkshake in the shade of a Medjool date palm tree then explore some of the more offbeat destinations such as Lauren Pratt’s Little Chapel, the McPhaul Suspension Bridge (also known as the Bridge to Nowhere), the Center of the World, or the Museum of History in Granite.

Here are some helpful resources:

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Texas Hill Country

This year, all eyes are turned to the Texas Hill Country since it falls smack-dab in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8. As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, the day will turn to night. North America saw a total eclipse in 2017 but the last time the land now known as Texas experienced one was back in 1397.

Visibility will depend on two things: location (the Hill Country will get close to four and a half minutes of totality out of a possible seven and a half) and weather (Central Texas’s annual average of 300 sunny days bodes well).

Plan your next trip in the Texas Hill Country with these resources:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Forget Napa, Temecula is the underrated wine region to visit in 2024

For as great as they are, Napa and Sonoma wine regions are missing a rustic, casual wine-tasting trip with some great juice in its own right—Temecula wine country is the underrated wine region to visit this year.

There have only been commercial wineries in the Temecula Valley since the mid-’60s but in the intervening 55 years the industry has grown immensely and there are now almost 50 active wineries. It’s an officially recognized AVA with hot afternoons and cooler nights thanks to the breeze off of the Pacific Ocean which gives the area the right growing conditions for lots of different grapes, particularly Mediterranean varieties.

With all those wineries to explore (and lots of other things to do in Temecula), it makes a fantastic day trip from most anywhere in Southern California.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Appalachia’s spectacular mountain road 

Discover the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains as you wind your way along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile-long route passes through charming towns, dense forests, and stunning mountain vistas. With ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, camping, and wildlife spotting, it’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The parkway’s famous Linn Cove Viaduct is a must-see engineering marvel. Rest up at cozy lodges like Peaks of Otter Lodge or Pisgah Inn for a true mountain getaway experience. 

Check this out to learn more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Springtime in the Smokies

This stunning national park is a great spot to visit any time of the year—which is probably why it’s the most popular one in America.

But come springtime, the Smokies are extra special: all covered over in a flood of newly-bloomed wildflowers from rhododendrons to black-eyed Susans and lots of others in between. In fact, over 1,500 types of flowering plants call the park their home, which naturalists celebrate by hosting the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage at the end of April and beginning of May (74th annual; May 1-4, 2024). Just make sure you reserve your campsite early! As with all national parks, sites have a tendency to fill up fast when the weather’s lovely.

Here are some helpful resources:

6. Festival International de Louisiane

For the Festival International de Louisiane (April 24-28, 2024), downtown Lafayette is turned into an international music hub, complete with live performances, street musicians, arts and crafts boutiques and more. Multiple countries are represented at this fest, making Festival International one of Louisiana’s premier multicultural events. All of the events, including cultural workshops, are free.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Triassic World

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy several breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Anything rock is found here. You can see trees dating more than 200 million years—turned to stone. And flora and fauna fossils as well as petroglyphs! Start at the Painted Desert Visitor Center and learn about all the stops and sights that are RV-friendly around the park. You can easily spot petrified wood near some of the parking areas and lots of wildlife.

Here are some articles to help:

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The amazing Badlands

There are not too many hills and curves in this part of South Dakota and its big-rig friendly too, so the Badlands can make nice spring RV trips. Spring makes for a cool drive through the paint-colored hills. You can see bighorn sheep, buffalo, and prairie dogs that haven’t been scared off by crowds. There are several designated areas where you can pull over and enjoy the rock formations, or take a hike.

The park is very RV-friendly. You can park along the roadways and most of the roads are paved. If you have time, check out Mount Rushmore and the famous Black Hills. Finding open RV parks this time of year is a little challenging. Basic hookups are at the nearby 24 Express RV Campground. Or, if you book now, the national park’s Cedar Pass Campground is open on April 19.

Here are some helpful resources:

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Jekyll Island

Part of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island provides a plethora of biking trails, beach access, wooded exploration, and a fun water park. Quiet and spacious, this island is big on downtime and memory-making. For even more island time, spend a day at the neighboring St. Simons Island. This chain of islands provides one of the most unique spring destinations.

Jekyll Island Campground provides everything you need for a great vacation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park moving to spring schedule

The possibility of a snowstorm after April 1 can’t be ruled out at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah but the park just the same will be transitioning to its spring season schedule on April 5.

No reservations are required to enter Bryce Canyon but planning ahead will help park visitors to enjoy a predictable visit even on the busiest days. 

Starting April 5, the Bryce Canyon Shuttle will be available to help ease traffic congestion at popular viewpoints and trailheads. Unlimited use of the shuttle is included with your park admission. Shuttle service will run until October 20 and begin every day at 8 a.m. In spring and fall, the last bus will depart the park at 6:15 p.m. Final bus times will extend to 8:10 p.m. from May 10 to September 22.  

Visitors riding the shuttle are encouraged to take advantage of free parking at the shuttle station in Bryce Canyon City. As in years past, vehicles 23 feet and longer are restricted from parking at Bryce Amphitheater viewpoints during shuttle operating hours. 

North Campground remains open all winter for first-come, first-served camping and will transition to reservation-based camping from May 18 through October 7. Reservations are available on a 6-month rolling basis. 

Sunset Campground is closed each winter and will open for first-come, first-served camping April 15 through May 17. Reservation-based camping on a 14-day rolling basis is available May 18 through October 14. Sunset Campground returns to first-come, first-served camping on October 15 before closing for the winter season on November 1. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Bryce Canyon:

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

How Rayne became Frog Capital

Frogs everywhere in Rayne

Rayne loves frogs. Murals depicting the little amphibians are scattered throughout town from the interstate to the south side. Frogs grace the city’s official stationary and hang stylistically from the street lamps. Several businesses bear Frog City in their official names and little green figurines adorn coffee tables and bookshelves throughout the town. There is even an annually celebrated Frog Festival (51st annual; May 11-13, 2023).

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why does this love affair with the slimy, swamp-dwelling denizens exist? The answer surprises many people, even some of those born and raised in the town: Rayne sold and shipped hundreds of thousands of the little wetland beasts throughout its history.

That bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana in scientific terms and ouaouaron in Cajun terms) inhabit the area around Rayne is no surprise since the amphibians thrive in bayous, rice fields, swamps, and ponds. What is surprising is that the Louisiana town was once famous worldwide for supplying frogs to gourmet restaurants across the United States and even to the European continent.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems natural that this bullfrog trade was initiated by Frenchmen and carried on by Acadians, two groups noted for their fondness for the tasty frog legs.

Shortly after Rayne’s birth in the 1880s, there came to the prairie town a French-born saloon keeper named Donat Pucheu. Since the town had a direct link to New Orleans and Houston by way of the transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad, a ready market for perishable produce like eggs, cabbage or tomatoes, quickly developed.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barkeep Pucheu had connections with some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants and began shipping freshly killed ducks, quail, and snipe to them (which was legal to do in those days). These restaurants also served frog legs and Pucheu invented the Rayne frog shipping business.

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

For some reason, Donat Pucheu got out of the frog trade but his place in Rayne history was quickly taken over by a fellow countryman.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacques Maurice Weil, a Parisian by birth, was to make his name forever associated with Rayne and frogs. He arrived in America sometime in the late 1890s, first trying Jackson, Mississippi, before making the Frog City his home. His first business venture here was to manage the general store of Boudreaux, Leger and Weil.

Like every other general mercantile firm in Rayne, Boudreaux, Leger and Weil accepted produce in exchange for their wares. These items, such as eggs, live chickens, vegetables or butter were either sold in the store or shipped aboard the next train to larger cities like New Orleans.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Somehow, Weil’s store came to specialize in the exchange of wilder commodities like pecans, furs, and bullfrogs. While he didn’t invent the Rayne frog trade, Weil did perfect and promote it to the point where Rayne frogs were served on restaurant tables in St. Louis, Los Angeles, and even in Paris.

Behind his store, Weil built a large chicken-wire cage. This frog aquarium held up to 15,000 ouaouarons and kept a five-man cleaning crew busy. Bright lights above the cage attracted insects at night and fed the condemned amphibians their final meal before their fateful rendezvous with the skinning knife.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacques Weil did not believe in waste. Legend has it that when Weil’s skinners arrived at work and found that some of the caged frogs had suffocated overnight their employer urged them to “Kill the dead ones first!”

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

All across Acadia Parish, the springtime nights belonged to the intrepid lantern-toting men and boys searching the prairie darkness for the elusive Rana catesbeiana. The next morning, their full sacks were deposited at Jacques Weil’s in exchange for some necessary groceries or for some even more necessary bouré money.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne became famous for its frogs. Not only were restaurants begging for the delectable amphibians’ legs but even the frog skins were sold to tanneries and converted into leather goods.

Jacques Weil was joined by his brothers Edmond and Gontran and his business empire grew. The J & E. Weil Operating Company owned cotton gins, a rice mill and a theater besides the frog shipping business and general store.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When World War I ended, war-driven high agricultural prices dropped precipitously ruining many investors and farm products brokers. One such loser was the J. & E. Weil Operating Company. The Hibernia Bank of New Orleans purchased the bankrupt Weil brothers’ assets—the frog business included—and operated them under the name of Rayne Farm Products, Inc. and under the direction of A. J. Carriere.

Jacques Weil jumped back into the frog business and competed directly with Rayne Farm Products until the latter firm folded during the Great Depression. Other shippers fought for a share of the frog trade including Jake Laughlin and Leon Meche of Rayne, John P. Hoyt of Estherwood, Ben Johnson of Redlich, and E. D. Fruge of Mermentau. In 1906, C. LeBlanc even attempted to farm frogs commercially in Estherwood. But these small shippers were only a slight business nuisance to the legendary Jacques Weil.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far more worrisome was the Louisiana Frog Company established by Lionel Babineaux and Louis Baer in Mermentau and moved to Rayne in 1933. Lionel’s brothers David “Pete” and Desire joined the firm and after Baer’s death in 1941, the company became a Babineaux family enterprise.

>> Related article: Discover Lafayette in the Heart of Cajun Country

Louisiana Frog eventually grew even larger than the Jacques Weil company. At one time they sold canned Frog a la Sauce Piquante under the brand name of Kajin.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The frog business was by then approaching its zenith. No longer could the rice fields around Rayne supply the demand.

Both Weil and Louisiana Frog trucked in unlucky ouaouarons from the Atchafalaya Basin, the swamps near New Orleans, the Sabine River bottoms, and even from as far away as Mississippi and Arkansas. Thousands of condemned bullfrogs left the now-famous Frog City every year to grace the gourmet tables of the world. Some even went to NASA for space experiments.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1951, a nationally syndicated cartoon called Strange As It Seems stated the following: “Didja know—Rayne, Louisiana—The Frog Center of the World—is the only U. S. city with a (train) carload rate on frogs?”

But all good things come to an end and the Rayne frog business’ days were numbered. Jacques Weil passed away in 1948 though his frog firm continued for years under the direction of W. J. Chatelain and Lionel Babineaux died in 1967.

>> Related article: 6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

By the 1970s, the frog shipping industry was doomed, killed by cheap frogs from overseas and habitat degradation at home. The once massive trade to restaurants around the world was replaced by a small time supplying of biology labs and schools with dissection specimens. Weil and Louisiana Frog became a part of history.

Frogs everywhere in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At about the same time that Rayne was in danger of losing its title as the Frog Capital of the World, the town embraced and forever enshrined the dying industry by establishing its first Frog Festival in 1973. And while fewer people will remember the thriving frog trade as time goes by, Rayne will forever be associated with the ouaouaron.

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

Discover Lafayette in the Heart of Cajun Country

Find some joie de vivre here and po’ boys

Select a town or small city in America for a road trip and you’ll likely get a lot of the same. Perhaps a cute main drag, a church or two, an old-school diner. Don’t get me wrong, small-town America can be great—but there’s no place quite like Lafayette, Louisiana.

Called the happiest city in America year after year plus the tastiest Southern town and music mecca, this New Orleans-alternative and geographic heart of the Bayou State is oozing with joie de vivre. That’s mostly thanks to the resident Creoles (French speakers born outside of France) and Cajuns (descendants of the Acadians expelled from the Canadian Maritimes in the 18th Century) who get what it means to have a good time.

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

Sure, there are Mardi Gras traditions unique to Creole and Cajun country like chicken chases but Lafayette which is also known as Hub City because of the many towns that surround it has so much more to offer. You’ll find arguably more festivals than any other US city of its size, parties every night at dancehall honky tonks, and some of the best cuisine in the country. Think New Orleans’ best cuisine and here is where most of those dishes originated.

And Lafayette is only getting better. Over the last few years, creative locals have revitalized downtown Lafayette with shops and restaurants you won’t see anywhere else.

So if you find yourself, like Paul Simon, “standing on the corner of Lafayette, state of Louisiana, wondering where a city boy could go to get a little conversation, drink a little red wine, catch a little bit of those Cajun girls dancing to zydeco,” here’s your guide.

Boudin balls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette knows how to party

Mardi Gras is done very differently here and absolutely needs to go on your bucket list even if you’ve experienced carnival season in New Orleans. On Fat Tuesday in Lafayette, locals dress up in colorful masks with big noses (like a more colorful big bird), get wasted, and eat thousands of crawfish.

But Lafayette doesn’t stop all year ‘round. In March, there’s Festivals Acadiens et Créoles for Cajun fiddle and washboard zydeco music. In April you’ve got Festival International (April 26-39, 2023) which attracts hundreds of thousands to the city every year and a festival for boudin.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott for boudin and other Cajun food © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boudin is deeply ingrained in Cajun culture and the nearby community of Scott celebrates and shares it. You can find all kinds of mouth-watering boudin at the 9th annual Scott Boudin Festival, April 14-16, 2023. This regional authentic Cajun food is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Boudin is a delicious combination of rice, ground pork, and flavorful seasonings stuffed into sausage casings. Boudin remains one of the most unique American sausages and regional specialties of Louisiana’s Cajun culture.

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rest of the year, there are festivals for everything from po’ boy sandwiches to frogs (Rayne Frog Festival) to sweet dough pie. In September, the Acadiana Po-boy & Plate Lunch Festival combines two of Lafayette’s favorite culinary gems, the po’boy and the plate lunch.

Sweet Dough Pie Festival celebrates the history of Grand Coteau (15 miles north of Lafayette off I-49) and a traditional Louisiana treat called a sweet dough pie. Every year on the fourth Saturday of October this charming town draws thousands of hungry visitors in search of their favorite traditional filling―sweet potato, fig, blackberry, or lemon!

Crawfish float in Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any time of the year, party while you eat during the world-famous zydeco breakfasts at Buck & Johnny’s (Saturdays, 8-11 am) or Cajun jams (Saturdays and Sundays, 11 am-1 pm) at Tante Marie in Breaux Bridge. Essentially, they’re exactly what they sound like: you eat a decadent brunch while listening to traditional music and everyone is encouraged to get up and boogie. Just know that you’ll never master the slick moves of the octagenarians (one who is between the ages of 80 and 89) you’re bound to see cutting up the dance floor.

Last but certainly not least, go dancing at Blue Moon Saloon Saloon & Guest House and Artmosphere. These two dancehalls encapsulate Lafayette’s love of life more than any place else.

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get that Cajun and Creole grub

Cajun and Creole food are celebrated the world over and Lafayette is where it all began. There are literally 50 places to eat boudin (Cajun Boudin Trail) so many crawfish boils during the season, gumbo (a meat stew made with dark roux in Acadiana as opposed to tomato-based roux in New Orleans), and shrimp étoufée (seafood stew over rice).

Cracklin, a Cajun food specialty © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You really can’t go wrong with food in Lafayette but if you want a guide to give you a sampling of the most traditional dishes, you can do a Cajun Food Tour which offers history tours and culinary tours all rolled into one. Their tours take you into the heart of Cajun Country, off the eaten path.

After you’ve tried the classics, downtown Lafayette has some exciting new restaurants that are definitely worth checking out. The finest is Vestal (555 Jefferson Street) where Chef Ryan Trahan—a.k.a. The King of Louisiana Seafood—is doing something special with live fire cooking techniques. Otherwise, try Pop’s Poboys (740 Jefferson Street) or Pamplona Tapas Bar & Restaurant (631 Jefferson Street).

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

Drink bookstore wine or drive-thru daiquiris

Beausoleil Books & Whisper Room (302A Jefferson Street) is the kind of place that proves Lafayette is on the up and up. The bookstore is the only place that has a collection of French books for sale in Lafayette these days and it duals as a bar and event space—yes, you can even take your drink with you as you peruse.

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

Wild Child Wines (210 E. Vermilion Street) has the city’s best selection of natural and traditional wine which can be sipped in-shop. If craft beer’s what you’re after, Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville is worth the 20-mile drive for its big selection of intriguing flavors (king cake beer during carnival season!) and does a mean pizza. If you’re daring, try their Boudin Bomb (a cajun stout with bourbon and “Gatorbite” coffee liquor).

Just make sure you don’t leave Lafayette without getting a drive-thru daiquiri at a place like Frankie’s because where else in the world can you say you did that?

Alligator on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gander at the ‘gators and get (hot) sauced

Humans and alligators have a complicated relationship. They scare us but they’re nothing to be afraid of. Well, as long as you’re not a tiny, bite-sized human or swimming right next to them. From a lovely, floating, safe boat, they’re pretty neat to watch. The best way to do that is with McGee’s Swamp and Airboat tours which are also a good way to gain an appreciation for Louisiana wetlands.

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another fun thing to do is to drive down to Avery Island, the home of the Tabasco hot sauce factory. You can also sample every sauce flavor available here along with super delicious Tabasco Ice Cream. More than a worthwhile museum experience, Avery Island has jungle gardens with exotic wildlife including hundreds of egrets that nest on the island each spring on specially built, pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.”

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

Where to stay in Lafayette

Campgrounds and RV Parks in the Lafayette area include:

  • Cajun Palms RV Resort, 15 miles west in Henderson (I-10, Exit 115)
  • Lafayette KOA Holiday, 8 miles east in Scott (1-10, Exit 97)
  • Frog City RV Park, 12 miles east in Duson (I-10, Exit 92)
  • Poche’s RV Park and Fish-N-Camp, 12 northwest in Breaux Bridge (1-10; Exit 104; check directions locally)

Worth Pondering…

Well, I’m standing on the corner of Lafayette
State of Louisiana
Wondering where a city boy could go
To get a little conversation
Drink a little red wine
Catch a little bit of those Cajun girls
Dancing to Zydeco.

―Paul Simon, “That Was Your Mother”, Track 10 on Graceland (1986)

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

Schulenburg: Dance Halls, Painted Churches & Good Eats

Settlers immigrated to Schulenburg in the 1800s and brought with them culture, food, and faith which you can experience today in rural Texas

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884. With 2,852 residents in 2018, the town is still rich with the German/Czech culture.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. You can take the tour through the Chamber of Commerce or take a self-guided tour which is what we did. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Four of the fifteen historical churches can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. Potter Country Store has been operating since 2001 when they had a small store about 6 miles south of Schulenburg on Highway 77. They soon outgrew that store and opened a new location in 2007 at I-10 and Highway 77 in Schulenburg.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They provide fresh in-shell, cracked, and shelled pecans that come from their own Potter Pecan Orchards. They also have a variety of gourmet roasted pecans that are made in-house using their own recipes. A few of their favorites include Cinnamon Sugar, Carmel, Red Velvet, Sweet Heat, Salted, Blackberry, Hot Chili Spice, and Chocolate dipped. Other popular treats are their homemade pecan pies, pecan Roca, and fudge. They also carry unique gifts and personal items such as jewelry, purses, home décor, boutique clothing, and lots more.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. The Polka Museum highlights the history of this area’s unique German and Czech-style polka music. You can learn about the music that immigrants brought to the area in the 1880s and how it inspired later generations of country artists and even rock and roll music. If your feet aren’t tapping by the time you leave, then “Czech” your pulse.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is dedicated to local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Victor Stanzel started carving balsa wood into model airplanes in 1929. Joined by his brother Joe, the brothers turned the hobby turned into a thriving business. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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