Great Spots for Birding in Louisiana

Louisiana’s subtropical climate, forests, and position within the corridor of a major North American migratory flyway make the state a haven for a huge variety of birds and RVers who want to see them in their natural habitat

There’s no city in the United States like New Orleans and there’s no culture more distinctive than that of the Cajuns of southern Louisiana. For an RVing bird-watching enthusiast those rewards add to the appeal of a state full of productive national wildlife refuges, pinewoods, barrier islands, and wetlands. Who doesn’t enjoy great food and music after a day of birding?

Many of Louisiana’s best birding sites are within 50 miles or so of the Gulf Coast—and some are on the coast such as famed spring fallout spots Grand Isle and Peveto Woods. Wildlife refuges in the southwestern part of the state including Lacassine and Cameron Prairie provide at least some dry-land access to Louisiana’s truly vast expanse of wetlands. (Some estimates assert that Louisiana’s wetlands comprise 40 percent of those of the entire continental United States.)

Birds that could be considered target species in Louisiana would include Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Yellow Rail (there’s an annual festival in the town of Jennings dedicated to this elusive species), Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Painted Bunting.

Anhinga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana birding hotspots

Grand Isle

On Louisiana’s southern coast lies a barrier island about seven miles long that holds a legendary place in the minds of the state’s birders. The woodlands here comprise one of the best fallout sites for spring migration where northbound birds that have crossed the Gulf of Mexico stop to rest and feed. Add that to the long list of vagrant birds that end up here and to the shorebirds and seabirds found along the coast and you have a species list that tops 300.

The peak for spring migration occurs around mid-April and it’s then that it seems every tree has a birder peering up into its branches. He or she may be looking at a limb loaded with Gray Catbirds Scarlet Tanagers or mixed warblers. The list of possible birds at Grand Isle in spring is essentially the list of all the migrant land birds of eastern North America and a substantial number of sea- and shorebirds.

Hardcore birders also know Grand Isle as a place where seeing a rarity is hardly rare. A Fork-tailed Flycatcher or Black-whiskered Vireo or Varied Thrush might appear anywhere. (While spring is the top time at Grand Isle, many rarities show up during fall migration.) Of course, Grand Isle is also a fine place to see shorebirds along the beaches and mudflats and wading birds in the marshes, and these birds aren’t so seasonal-dependent.

Various nature organizations have purchased land around the island as bird sanctuaries and a state park occupies the eastern end. As is usual with fallout sites, the day after bad weather is usually the best time to be out birding.

Black-bellied whistling ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge

Although this expansive refuge suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it still offers excellent birding near New Orleans. In total, more than 270 species have been observed here from waterbirds to migrant songbirds. Much of the refuge is wetland that’s not accessible to the public, but the Ridge Trail allows excellent wildlife viewing.

Parking for the Ridge Trail is on the north side of Highway 90 about four miles east of I-510. From here, a boardwalk leads through wetlands and scrub. The levee here can also be walked for additional viewpoints.

Another access area is located on the south side of Highway 90 just east of the Ridge Trail. More marsh viewing is possible by taking Highway 11 north from Highway 90 and stopping carefully along the roadside.

Some of the notable species seen often at Bayou Sauvage include Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Gull-billed Tern (spring through summer), Black Skimmer (most common in late summer), and Painted Bunting (spring through summer).

Fulvous whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park / Barataria Preserve

A wonderful natural area just a short drive south of downtown New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve tract of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park protects around 23,000 acres of woods and wetlands. It’s not known for any particular rarity but for a rewarding day of birding in beautiful surroundings, it can hardly be topped.

Since it’s a unit of the National Park Service, Barataria Preserve has a fine visitor center on Highway 45 where you can get trail maps, a bird list, and advice. Many miles of trails wind through the preserve accessing live-oak woods, bald-cypress swamp, and marsh.

The woodland vistas here are truly sublime with the spreading limbs of live oaks covered in Spanish moss and dwarf palmettos in the understory. Some of the bald cypresses here are hundreds of years old. The Bayou Coquille Trail is a favorite of local birders. Parts of some preserve trails are wheelchair-accessible.

The preserve’s list of more than 200 species includes breeding birds such as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting. Spring songbird migration can be good, too, although the birds aren’t as concentrated in this expansive forest as they are in small coastal woodlands.

Yellow-crowned night heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

New Orleans, on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, gets all the publicity but the north shore is home to several appealing communities as well as worthwhile destinations for birders. One such site is Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

A tour here might start with the refuge visitor center in Lacombe, for maps and local advice. From there it’s only about three miles to the boardwalk trail and hiking paths on Boy Scout Road. Other primitive roads are located off Paquet Road to the east.

The main attraction at Big Branch Marsh is a small population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, an endangered species that depends on old-growth pinewoods. This refuge is one of many around the southeastern United States with a program to restore the species’s population. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can be hard to locate so it helps to know their raspy call.

The refuge is also home to two other species associated with pinewoods: Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow. Once again, it’s important to know the squeaky call of the nuthatch and the whistled song of the sparrow. Other species nesting around the refuge include Mottled Duck, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, and Blue Grosbeak.

On Lake Pontchartrain just five miles west of Lacombe, Fontainebleau State Park boasts a bird list of more than 220 species and makes a good birding destination (though it can be crowded on weekends). Waterfowl, wading birds, and Bald Eagle can be seen from shore and Brown-headed Nuthatch is sometimes seen in pines here.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin

Located just east of the city of Lafayette, Lake Martin and the associated Cypress Island Preserve host one of Louisiana’s greatest bird spectacles in breeding season.

Hundreds of wading birds—herons, egrets, night herons, ibises, and Roseate Spoonbills—nest here, easily visible from boardwalks, a road the hugs the eastern shore of the lake and a walking trail around the north end of the lake.

Peak season is about March through May although there’s always something to see at Lake Martin. The Nature Conservancy operates a visitor center on Highway 353 (open seasonally) where first-time visitors can get advice.

With a large protected area of bald-cypress and tupelo swamp as well as bottomland hardwood forest, Lake Martin hosts much more than wading birds. Some of the other species found here include Black-bellied whistling duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered hawks, and Common Gallinule in wetlands. Land birds include Barred Owl, abundant woodpeckers, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge

Southwestern Louisiana is home to vast areas of marsh and other wetlands but access to most of the region is difficult without a boat and local knowledge. Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge offers an easy way to enjoy typical wetland birds. With a list of more than 250 species, it’s one of the birding hotspots of southern Louisiana.

The refuge is reached from Highway 14. Once inside the area, the usual strategy is simply to drive the several miles of gravel roads stopping wherever the birds are to scan the open water and vegetation. An elevated viewing platform on the loop drive allows slightly wider coverage.

Possible birds here comprise practically every regional species of waterfowl and wader. A few notable species found year-round are Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, many waders including Roseate Spoonbill, Common Gallinule, Forster’s Tern, and Marsh Wren. Present in nesting season are Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, and Painted Bunting. In winter, many thousands of geese and ducks are present at Lacasssine.

Although the waters of the refuge are the main focus be sure to stop at patches of willows and other shrubs and vegetation for songbirds in migration and take time to quietly stand and watch marshy areas for shy species such as bitterns and rails.

Pintail Wildlife Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge

Located on Highway 27 just north of the Intracoastal Waterway, Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge provides birders with a great way to experience Louisiana wetlands on its 3-mile Pintail Wildlife Drive loop.

Before beginning the route, stop at the visitor center on the highway to see exhibits and pick up a map and bird list. Then drive south two miles to the entrance to the wildlife drive on the east side of the highway. It can be tempting to stop along Highway 27 to enjoy birds in roadside wetlands but there are very few safe places to pull over.

More than 230 species have been observed on the Pintail Wildlife Drive with (as is usual in southern Louisiana) waterfowl and wading birds the most conspicuous. The drive passes more than wetlands. Especially in migration, take time to scan grassy areas and search roadside trees and shrubs. There’s a boardwalk path along the drive allowing a closer inspection of the marsh habitat.

Both species of whistling-duck breed in the area and in winter Ross’s Goose is regular among the masses of Snow Geese. The shallow water means mostly dabbling ducks here with relatively fewer divers. Roseate Spoonbill is one of many common species of long-legged waders. Purple Gallinule nests here and Black-necked Stilt and Marsh Wren are present year-round.

In recent years, Crested Caracara has boomed in numbers in southwestern Louisiana and is seen regularly at Cameron Prairie. Note that this area is one of many places now where both Boat-tailed Grackle and Great-tailed Grackle are found in proximity as the latter continues its range expansion.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

Not much of the expansive Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is easily accessible to the public but one exception is found on Highway 27 about seven miles north of the coastal community of Holly Beach or about 14 miles south of Hackberry.

The refuge’s Wetland Walkway is simply an elevated path through a marshy area west of the highway, adjacent to a canal. Yet more than 200 species have been observed in this immediate area, testimony both to the richness of wetlands habitats and to the ability of the scattered trees and shrubs here to attract migrant songbirds, especially in spring.

The 1.5-mile path is handicapped-accessible and has an elevated viewing platform. Insects, heat, and humidity make a mid-summer visit inadvisable but the walkway is a delightful stroll in other seasons. The third week of April is the peak time for spotting migrant vireos, warblers, and other songbirds.
This is a good spot to look for Least Bittern in spring, among the many more-conspicuous waders. Roseate Spoonbill is present often.

While you’re in the area, it can be productive (from late summer through spring) to drive southeast to the town of Cameron. Though it’s less than 20 miles, you must cross the Calcasieu River on a ferry, which adds to the time. In town, turn south on Davis Road and drive about 2.5 miles to the end of the road. When the tide is right, very large numbers of waders, shorebirds, gulls, and terns can be present here.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peveto Woods Sanctuary

Like Grand Isle 200 miles to the east, Peveto Woods Sanctuary is a famed fallout site during spring migration where northbound birds that have crossed the Gulf of Mexico stop to rest and feed. This 40-acre woodland of live oak and hackberry trees on the Gulf Coast was saved from development and has long been a favorite birding location with more than 300 species recorded.

The spring rush begins about mid-March increasing to a peak in late April with some songbird migration continuing through May. The ideal time to visit is just after a front has moved through with north winds that tire trans-Gulf migrants and cause them to flock to the first coastal woods they see. At times a tree can be a temporary home to a half-dozen Cerulean Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, or Orchard Orioles.

Some birders wander through the sanctuary’s trails looking for flocks of birds in the trees. Others prefer to pick a spot and let the birds come to them. Often there’s a small pond in the center of the sanctuary with a water drip and nearby seating and spending time here is a favorite birding technique for some visitors.
Although dawn can be a good time for birding, the timing of waves of cross-Gulf migrants varies with conditions so it’s not unusual for a section of woods to come alive with recent arrivals in midday or mid-afternoon.

Fall doesn’t have the thrills of spring at Peveto but many rarities have shown up at that season such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Townsend’s Warbler.

Roseate spoonbills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge

In north-central Louisiana, Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent all-around birding destination with more than 210 species on its list. Although a major focus of the refuge is water management to attract wintering waterfowl it’s also managed to provide habitat for migrant shorebirds in late summe, and its habitats include extensive bottomland hardwood forest.

The most common way to explore Catahoula is to drive its 9-mile Duck Lake Wildlife route which encircles an impoundment where waterfowl hunting is not allowed. It’s easy to stop along this road and bird open water or woodland. The route also provides access to an observation tower and hiking trails. It’s a good idea to stop at the refuge headquarters just off Highway 84 to get a map and ask about trail conditions. Brochures are available if the office is closed. Keep in mind that hunting for deer and other species is allowed on the refuge seasonally.

Catahoula is a fine place to enjoy songbird migration in spring and its nesting species include Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting. August may be the peak time for shorebird-watching with 15 or more species present. In late summer, too, look for Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill among the many herons, egrets, and ibises.

Winter is the time for waterfowl at Catahoula, when common species include Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Ring-necked Duck. Wood Ducks is common year-round.

Birding trail

Wetland Birding Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s Wetland Birding Trail, Louisiana  

Louisiana’s Gulf Coast region forms a generous jambalaya of all the ways that water and land can meet: lakes and rivers, cypress swamps, gum and tupelo bayous, flooded rice fields, freshwater marshes, salt marshes, mudflats, and sandy beaches. When locals say this birding trail crosses America’s wetland it’s no idle boast. But don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself by visiting any of the 115 sites along the trail’s 12 loops.

On the outer coast, brown pelicans have recovered from their population crash of decades past, and passing flocks can be seen constantly. Shallow lakes and swamps support a wealth of waders including snowy egrets, little blue herons, and tricolored herons. Elusive marsh birds are easier to see here than practically anywhere else, and you may get your best looks ever at buffy little least bitterns, rusty-red king rails, and other skulkers.

Easier to spot are the flocks of ducks and geese that arrive for the winter including major populations of greater white-fronted geese and snow geese. If you can tear yourself away from the water, the trail also offers concentrations of warblers, vireos, thrushes, and other migrating songbirds during spring and fall. 

Whether you are interested in spotting rare species or simply immersing yourself in the tranquil world of birds, Louisiana has something to offer for every birdwatching enthusiast.

Birding along the Gulf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

FAQs:

Q: When is the best time to go birdwatching in Louisiana?

A: The best time for birdwatching in Louisiana is during the spring and fall migration seasons when a wide variety of bird species pass through the state. However, Louisiana’s mild climate makes birdwatching possible year-round, with different species present in each season.

Q: Do I need any special equipment for birdwatching in Louisiana?

A: While not necessary, a pair of binoculars and a field guide can greatly enhance your birdwatching experience. These tools allow you to observe birds from a distance and identify different species based on their physical characteristics and behaviors.

Q: Are there any birdwatching tours or guides available in Louisiana?

A: Yes, several birdwatching tours and guides operate in Louisiana, offering expert knowledge and guidance to enhance your birdwatching experience. These tours can take you to the best birding spots and help you identify various species.

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

10 Amazing Places to RV in January 2024

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

I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.

—Susan Sontag

For many people, New Year’s Day is a time to set a goal or resolution for the coming year. But for writer, filmmaker, and activist Susan Sontag, a prayer was a more fitting mantra for January 1.

This poignant quote, published in As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, a collection of Sontag’s journals and diaries written between 1964 and 1980, captures a sense of yearning for courage to face the unknown. It’s an honest and vulnerable feeling anyone can relate to seeking the bravery and strength to press on.

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

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Best sea breeze

The stately branches of the Big Tree, one of the largest live oaks on the globe, have stood watch over Goose Island State Park, near Rockport, Texas for more than a thousand years. Generations of Texas kids have learned to fish from the pier here which stretches over the water for more than 1,600 feet. Whooping cranes snack on crabs and berries nearby in the winter and the sound of waves crashing on the shore will lull you to sleep in the beachside campground.

Related:

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. A desert oasis

About a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, a charming desert city enjoys warm winter temperatures and is home to golf courses, spas, casinos, and nearby hot springs. Trendy restaurants, boutique hotels, resorts, and elegant shops offer something for everyone—and there are options if you prefer outdoor pursuits, too.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway provides spectacular views en route to the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains, while Joshua Tree National Park (located about an hour away) boasts extraordinary rock formations, cacti, and starry night skies.

Related:

Sarasota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Where the water is warm and the seafood is fresh

Thousands of snowbirds flock to Sarasota every winter and with temperatures in the 70s, white-sand beaches, and a thriving cultural scene it’s easy to see why. Travelers of any age will relish the chance to gather seashells or splash in the warm Gulf waters, while, in town, a wide array of shops and galleries offer hours of browsing. Other highlights include the city’s extensive collection of midcentury modern architecture and The Ringling complex which boasts an impressive art museum and a museum of circus history, among other attractions.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. So memorable. So Padre.

With temperatures in the 60s, winter is a pleasant season on this small barrier island off the southern Texas coast. The area is a haven for nature lovers with outdoor attractions like the Laguna Madre Nature Trail and the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary which includes a five-story viewing tower. 

The Original Dolphin Watch and Breakaway Cruises offer dolphin tours while Sea Turtle Inc. runs a turtle rescue and rehab center where visitors can get up close to the critters year-round. Boating, fishing, and kiteboarding are popular activities as well and you’ll find plenty of fresh local seafood including oysters, red snapper, and flounder.

Related: Barrier Islands Hopping

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park sits just east of Apache Junction within a stunning Sonoran Desert setting at the base of the Superstition Mountains. As the closest state park to the Phoenix metro area, Lost Dutchman is the perfect destination for anyone interested in a quick, relaxing escape from the bustling city. A short drive from anywhere in Phoenix will place you on the doorstep of an epic desert adventure…just outside of town!

The saguaro-studded landscape and the trails that traverse it offer limitless opportunities for hiking and exploring this park and adjacent Tonto National Forest. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a relaxing stroll through the foothills or a physically demanding trek into the Superstitions in search of a breathtaking view, you’ll find what you’re looking for amid this extensive trail network.

Need more time to explore? Visitors can enjoy an extended stay in a cozy cabin or the spacious tent and RV campgrounds—both of which include picturesque views, quick access to trails, and great potential to encounter native birds and wildlife.

A variety of educational and interpretive events are available for anyone who wants to take their love and understanding of Arizona’s outdoor spaces to the next level. Go on a guided bird walk, enjoy a musical performance, or discover the park at night on a guided Full Moon hike or Star Party.

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Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Secret Coast

Boasting a population of about 11,200, Bay St.Louis sits just 51 miles from New Orleans on a stretch of beauty called Mississippi’s Secret Coast. To kickstart your day, probably with something scrumptious, Mockingbird Cafe has outdoor seating where one can enjoy full-flavored coffee amid ocean breezes and fantastic ambiance. After this energy boost, one will want to head to South Beach Boulevard, the site of the town’s dog-friendly beaches.

For avid anglers, however, Jimmy Rutherford Fishing Pier is known for excellent all-season trout fishing and is a beautiful spot to cast a line. If you want to stay in a place that overlooks the marina and where you can enjoy sunrise on the porch, Bay Town Inn might be your best bet.

Related: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Port A

Boasting a population of just about 3,400 residents, Port Aransas is a sleepy fishing village that has served as a nostalgic winter getaway for decades. Port A, as locals call this Texas charmer hosts the non-profit Amos Rehabilitation Keep—whose mission is to rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured birds, turtles, and tortoises found along the South Texas coast before returning them to their native habitat. A visit here may reward you with the sight of the Kemp’s Ridley, the rarest and most endangered sea turtle in the world.

Minutes from town, Mustang Island State Park features beautiful dunes and a large array of wildlife, including deer, sea turtles, and 400 different bird species. For staying, one may opt for Cinnamon Shore, a welcoming beach community where families plot adventures and make long-lasting memories.

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Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wettest desert

Deserts are normally known for being extremely dry but the Sonoran Desert in Arizona holds the record for the world’s wettest desert. The Sonoran Desert reaches daytime temperatures over 104 degrees Fahrenheit but the heat is mitigated to some degree by its 4.7 to 11.8 inches of annual rainfall.

This desert has two distinct wet seasons, one from December to March and another from July to September. The former season usually features light rainfall fueled by storms coming from the northern Pacific Ocean whereas the latter wet season is known for its more violent and localized thunderstorms. Given its lusher than normal desert terrain, the Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the saguaro cactus grows in the wild.

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Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Landscape of sacred symbols

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans and the descendants of the early Spanish settlers.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings (rock paintings are called pictographs) made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed creating the petroglyph. Archaeologists have estimated there may be over 25,000 petroglyph images along the 17 miles of escarpment within the monument boundary.

Related: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Lake Martin

Located in the heart of Acadian Louisiana, Lake Martin (formerly known as Lake la Pointe) is a naturally occurring open body of water within a cypress-tupelo swamp. Historically, each fall and winter this low area would fill with rainwater and backwater from the Vermilion River and Bayou Teche. It would drain gradually through the spring and become essentially dry in summer.

In the early 1950s, private landowners and a local agency agreed to construct a five-mile levee around the lake and forested areas to hold water throughout the year. The impounded area within the levee was designated as a fish and game preserve open for public recreation.

Today Lake Martin is approximately 765 acres with about 200 acres of open water and the rest a permanently-flooded cypress-tupelo swamp.

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Worth Pondering…

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.

—Brad Paisley

10 Amazing Places to RV in November 2023

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

The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

—C.S. Lewis

Though best known for his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was also an accomplished poet and literary scholar. During the Second World War, he hosted a series of radio talks for the BBC including a sermon aimed especially at young wartime scholars trying to find their paths (from which this quote comes). His words ring just as true now as they did in that fraught time: If we worry too much about the future, we might miss the opportunities waiting for us right here in the present moment.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2022 and December 2022.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Oyster Lovers Experience

An evolution of Urbanna Days that began in 1957, the Urbanna Oyster Festival (67th annual, November 3-4, 2023) as we know it today hosts over 50,000 people in the square mile town over two days. Visitors flock from all over to celebrate the oyster!

In 1988 it was designated as the “official” oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia and maintains that title today.

Come by BOAT or come by LAND! The charming Town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything OYSTER! It’s foodie heaven with over 50 food vendors and every kind of OYSTER! Raw, steamed, roasted, Rockefeller, fried, stewed, oysters in a pot pie and festival food fare like BBQ and crab bisque.

Arts and crafts, antique auto shows, children’s activities, and live bands are spread throughout the town.  The town marina offers historical boats and exhibits on the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, and the oyster industry.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Wonderland of Rocks

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. The National Park Service manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. However national parks are created through congressional legislation, and many considerations include available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Chiricahua National Monument stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

 It’s easy to see why the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache Nation is often called a Wonderland of Rocks. The monument is a labyrinth of towering stone spires (hoodoos) and eye-popping balanced rock formations. Arizona’s representatives in Congress have already introduced a bipartisan national park re-designation bill and advocates see the creation of such a park as an opportunity to establish a long-term working relationship between the NPS and tribes with ancestral roots in national park lands.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Chihuahuan Desert landscape

Gleaming gypsum crystal dunes roll as far as the eye can see at White Sands National Park. With waves towering up to 60 feet tall, the composition of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert landscape is constantly changing due to wind and weather patterns. Hardy plants like yuccas, grasses, and shrubs have evolved to survive in the shifting sands, adding texture to the spectacle of shapes and shadows that define the scenery.

This remarkable landscape is fit to be appreciated on camera, by foot, on Dunes Drive by bike (or car), and famously on saucer sleds down the dunes. Like many national parks in the country, White Sands is remotely located and can require around an hour or more of travel time from your accommodation. The journey is well worth it!

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lake Martin

Tucked into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country and part of The Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Preserve, Lake Martin is part of a larger cypress-tupelo swamp. Popular for fishing and general outdoor recreation, Lake Martin is a great place for spotting wildlife. It’s also a nesting spot for waterbirds including herons, egrets, neotropic cormorants, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, and anhingas. Check out the visitor center and adjacent boardwalk for a quick tour, or stroll the 2.5-mile levee walking trail.

Arizona 89A from Prescott to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Outdoor activities and wine in small-town Arizona

Halfway between Prescott and Sedona, you’ll pass through the community of Cottonwood in the heart of the Verde Valley. Cottonwood makes a fantastic base camp to lace up your hiking boots and explore the outdoors. On the banks of the Verde River just outside of town, you can camp, swim, fish, and hike at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Just a short distance from there, discover American Indian history among ancient hilltop pueblos at Tuzigoot National Monument.

The Verde Valley is one of Arizona’s three nationally recognized viticultural (wine-growing) areas. Save some time to stop and sample the local wines in any of the tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood.

The above towns and attractions are just a glimpse of what you’ll find in North Central Arizona’s wild canyons and valleys.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Hit the road, Texas-style

Akoozie in the gift shop at the Spoetzl Brewery demands, Eat Meat. Drink Beer. That pretty much sums up any good day trip to Shiner, a small town that’s home to roughly 2,000 souls and the famed brewery that produces iconic Shiner beers.

For the meat, options abound along the route to Shiner. For lunch, consider a stop in Lockhart for some of Central Texas’s best barbecue. There’s Smitty’s Market where the line starts right next to the open pit and the ’cue is served on sheets of paper, old-school style like all the best Texas barbecue. Other celebrated Lockhart options include Black’s Barbecue and Kreuz Market.

There’s also City Market and Luling BBQ literally across the street from each other in the town of Luling.

The beer part of this adventure, naturally, happens most deliciously in Shiner. Czech and German immigrants founded a brewery here in 1909 after discovering artesian water. Bavarian Kosmos Spoetzel bought the operation, named it for himself, and continued using traditional methods as its brewmaster from 1914 to 1950. Today, Spoetzel is one of the largest independent craft brewers in the country selling beers in all 50 states and Mexico, every drop of it brewed here.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

If you love outer space, this visitor center is a must-see. It’s one of the most highly-rated destinations in the country and almost everybody reports that they loved their experience. You could easily spend an entire day here learning about the history and the future of space travel.

Guests have access to a variety of activities and learning experiences. You can touch a real moon rock, speak to astronauts, and get up close and personal with a rocket.

Tons of tours, videos, and exhibits are suitable for all kinds of people. The only downside of this experience is the price point. It’s a bit discouraging to see that entrance fee, especially if you have younger kids who might not get their money’s worth. Overall, this place is worth a visit though!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Why I LOVE Utah

If you have never been to Utah, make sure and put it on your list of places to visit! We fell in LOVE with Utah for so many reasons. Number one is all of the National Parks in the state like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. But also so many state parks and the beautiful Scenic Byway 12. The scenery is constantly changing and each place has its unique beauty. From high in the mountains with aspens and cooler temps to down in the canyons or red or white rock faces and warmer temps. Utah is an adventurers’ paradise!

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Spending a perfect day in Tombstone

Start the perfect day in Tombstone with a hearty breakfast at O K Café Tombstone then visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park where the history of the Wild West comes alive.

Afterward, take a trip to Boothill Graveyard for a unique, albeit somber, experience, as it’s the final resting place for many of Tombstone’s early residents.

Have lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for a taste of authentic Western cuisine in a setting that’s straight out of the 1880s. After the meal continue the day’s excitement with a stagecoach tour around Tombstone offering a different perspective of this historic town.

The evening’s entertainment is a performance at the Bird Cage Theater, a haunted landmark that once served as a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. Finally, end the day with dinner and a nightcap at Crystal Palace Saloon.

Celebrating pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Louisiana Pecan Festival

This celebration of one of the South’s top crops offers a unique autumn attraction for up to 75,000 attendees each year in Colfax, Louisiana. Held on the first full weekend in November (November 3-5, 2023), the Louisiana Pecan Festival typically kicks off on Friday with Children’s Day which features a petting zoo, rock walls, games, and other free family-friendly activities. Festival attendees will enjoy a parade, live music, arts and crafts booths, a cooking contest, carnival rides, and fireworks throughout the weekend.

Visitors can sample and purchase pecan specialties including pies, pralines, jams, and candies as well as catch numerous live performances by the Louisiana Pecanettes dance team composed of local high schoolers. This event is also a great place to gobble goodies like funnel cakes, fried chicken, and alligator on a stick from vendors.

Worth Pondering…

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

—James Whitcomb Riley

The Best Stops for a Fall Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas BBQ, Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier, Vermont

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Related article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. Harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Mexican Hat, Utah

Drive the 17-mile dirt road through Valley of the Gods and you’re left wondering why its more famous neighbor, Monument Valley, attracts visitors in almost infinitely greater numbers. Valley of the Gods features spectacular mesas, buttes, and spires, but none of the crowds; it’s possible you won’t see another vehicle as you make your way past rock formations such as Lady In A Tub, Setting Hen Butte, and Seven Sailors.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west entrance is situated on Utah Hwy 261, 10 miles north of Mexican Hat; the east entrance begins on US Hwy 163 about 7 miles east of Mexican Hat. The road through the park is level-graded dirt; a high clearance vehicle is generally recommended.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde as their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late 1200s, they left their homes and moved away in the span of a generation or two. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

It’s no surprise that Bardstown has been named one of the most beautiful small towns in America more than once. With several well-known bourbon distilleries, wineries, and historic sites, Kentucky’s second-oldest town has a lot to offer the traveler.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’re here for the bourbon, right? Start your tours with a trip to the oldest fully functioning distillery in Bardstown, Barton 1792 Distillery, famous for its signature 1792 Bourbon. Visitors can tour the property’s 196 acres, which showcase more than 25 barrel-aging warehouses, a picturesque stillhouse, and an award-winning distillery. Tours are complimentary and so are the tastings at this local distillery.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo, Georgia

Located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, this remote park offers access to the breathtaking wealth of flora and fauna of America’s largest black water swamp. Reserve a place on one of the guided pontoon boat tours and enter a primeval world of moss-draped trees, ibis, storks, turtles, and of course the American Alligator, an estimated 12,000 of which live within the refuge. A boardwalk trail next to the boat dock makes it easy to explore a small area of the swamp on foot.

Related article: Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Stephen C. Foster State Park is a certified dark sky park allowing guests to experience some of the darkest skies in the southeast. Nine cottages are available to rent, and there’s a campsite for tents, trailers, and motorhomes.

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado, Arizona

Famously known as the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Nation (it’s been here since 1876), Hubbell Trading Post is a part historic site, part museum/gallery, and part thriving retail operation specializing in authentic Navajo rugs, jewelry, and pottery. A visit to the adjacent Hubbell family home with an impressive collection of Southwestern art and Native American arts and crafts is recommended.

Mission Concepcion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, Texas

A functioning Catholic church intermittently since 1731, Mission Concepcion is a picturesque historic structure that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, only a short distance from San Antonio’s most famous mission, The Alamo. It’s worth dropping by for a look and some photos. In particular, keep an eye out for the remnants of the frescoes that were painted on the building when it was constructed, but have badly faded over time.

Jamestown Settlement © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown Settlement, Virginia

Near the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, established in 1607, Jamestown Settlement preserves and recreates life at the time. There are four components to the complex. As you enter, there are museum exhibits featuring artifacts and interpretations of the lives of the colonists, the natives, and the Africans who were forcibly brought along.

Jamestown Settlement © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing outside, you come to a recreated Powhatan village; farther down the path, you come to a recreated colonial fort; then on down to the water, you’ll see, and be able to board, replicas of the three ships that brought the settlers. In each of these outdoor locations, there are interpreters attired in appropriate garb to answer your questions and demonstrate period skills, from cooking to preparing an animal hide to firing a rifle.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin Swamp Tours, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Swamp tours are a must-do for anyone visiting Louisiana and Lake Martin is home to one of the state’s most impressive collections of wildlife. No one can make guarantees where nature’s concerned but a trip out onto this beautiful, man-made lake is likely to bring close-up views of birds including egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and eagles as well as the ‘gators for which the region is famous. Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours offer trips out into the cypress swamps every day. Their guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and full of character.

Related article: Stunning Fall Drives across America

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Bridge, Page, Arizona

The two beautiful Navajo Bridges that span the Colorado River’s Marble Canyon may look identical but they were built more than 65 years apart. The first bridge opened to traffic in 1929 and was, at the time, the highest steel arch bridge in the world. However, it was not designed to carry modern day traffic and its replacement more than twice as wide opened in 1995. Rather than dismantling the original bridge, they left it in place to allow pedestrians to enjoy the spectacular view of the river 467 feet below. Take time to visit the interpretive center on the west side of the bridge.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilson Arch, Monticello, Utah

One of the pleasures of driving this part of Utah (in particular the section of US Route 191 running north from Bluff through Blanding, Monticello, and Moab) is happening upon the incredible rock formations that seem to appear around every corner. This one, Wilson Arch, was named after Joe Wilson, a local pioneer who had a cabin nearby in Dry Valley. It’s an easy hike up to the arch and makes for great photos.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

Step back in time to learn about Fredericksburg’s German heritage at Pioneer Museum. The 3.5-acre site gives a glimpse into the lives of the early German settlers in the frontier town of Fredericksburg from the 1840s to the 1920s. Visit the National Museum of Pacific War, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater during World War II. With interactive exhibits and endless galleries and stunning grounds, the museum will inspire all generations.

National Museum of Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy Fredericksburg’s diverse culinary scene. From German food to burgers to fine dining, Fredericksburg has something for everyone’s taste. Sip wine at any of the more than 50 wineries in the Fredericksburg area, enjoy a self-guided trip down Wine Road 290 on your own or opt for a wine tour with any of our local wine tour companies. 

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge Bridge, New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

At 3,030-feet this is the world’s third longest single arch bridge. At 876 feet above the river, it is also one of the tallest. The visitor center has picnic areas and hiking trails with spectacular views of bridge and gorge. White water rafting and hiking are popular in summer.

Bridge Day, on the third Saturday in October (October 15, 2022), features B.A.S.E. jumpers and rappellers in a festival atmosphere. New River Gorge Bridge is located on U.S. Highway 19 between Summersville and Beckley.

Historic Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Oatman, Arizona

Once a thriving mining town, then a virtual ghost town when Route 66 was bypassed, Oatman has been reborn as a popular tourist destination for its Old West flavor. Many of its historic buildings still stand including the Oatman Hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent a night of their honeymoon and where the lobby is covered by thousands of dollar bills that tourists have attached to the walls and ceilings.

Related article: 10 of the Best Small Towns to Visit this Fall

Historic Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are cowboy shootouts and gift shops galore. But above all, there are the burros, descendants of animals released in the hills by miners. They function today as the semi-official stop lights wandering the narrow streets and poking their heads into car windows looking for handouts.

Hurricane © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hurricane, Utah

Despite its name, you’re likely to find beautiful weather in Hurricane. And that’s a good thing when you consider the outdoor adventures available just a stone’s throw from the small town. Take advantage of the proximity to Sand Hollow Reservoir and Sand Hollow State Park. Of course, Hurricane is also a home base for many travelers to Zion National Park, so you’ll want to bring your hiking boots for the park’s most notable trails, like Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

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

Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin is a wildlife preserve and home to a few trails as well as many different kinds of animals such as herons, egrets, ibis, bullfrogs, cottonmouths, alligators, and nutria

The Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin, just outside of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the surrounding area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The approximately 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy who also maintain a visitor’s center and a boardwalk over the swamp at the South end of the lake.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of wild shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year. Beginning in late January, thousands of great egrets, followed by little blue herons, black-crowned night heron, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, and roseate spoonbills make their nests and rear their young in the rookery. Great blue herons, neotropic and double-crested cormorants, anhingas, and osprey may be seen in the distant tree tops. Expect a spectacular rookery view from March through June. The 2.5-mile walking levee trail is open from the fall to the spring and is suitable for children.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking trail starting along the levee is closed during alligator nesting season, June through October. The rookery area in the southern end of Lake Martin is closed to all boat entry from February 1 through July 31 for breeding bird season. You may drive along Rookery Road all year round.

Alligator at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is also home to a substantial nesting population of alligators, which can typically be spotted from Rookery Road, which runs along the edge of the lake. They are naturally camouflaged, but it doesn’t take long to get good at gator-spotting; you can usually find them by looking for stopped cars and folks with cameras and binoculars.

Alligators are not typically aggressive, but some of the hiking trails along the back side of the lake are closed off during nesting season, as nesting females can be the exception to this rule. Feeding alligators is illegal, as is throwing things at them. Be a responsible visitor and observe from afar.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other reptiles and amphibians, including a variety of snakes, turtles, lizards, and frogs, are also common in the lake and the surrounding brush, so be on the lookout. Again, none of these animals are aggressive, but snakes in particular are best viewed from far away.

The Cypress Island Preserve Visitor Center with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are located where Rookery Road meets LA Hwy 353. The Visitor Center is generally open from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rookery Road, a dirt and gravel road, runs around a good portion of the lake, and a slow drive along the edge can yield good wildlife-spotting results. If you prefer to explore on foot, though, you can park your car alongside the edge of the road at any point, or at parking lots at both ends of Rookery Road and at the junction of Lake Martin Road and Rookery Road, near the boat launch.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experienced paddlers can rent a kayak or a canoe from the boat launch at the end of Lake Martin Road and take a solo spin around the lake. If you prefer to paddle with a guided group, check the schedule at the local outdoor store, Pack and Paddle, who often host paddling excursions here and elsewhere.

Great egret at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cypress Island Preserve is located approximately halfway between the town of Breaux Bridge and the city of Lafayette. Lake Martin, the preserve’s main visitor attraction, is approached by two paved roads, Highway 353 from Lafayette and Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking is available at the Visitor Center located at 1264 Prairie Hwy where Rookery Road meets Prairie Highway (LA 353). A small parking area is also located at the southwest end of Lake Martin, where the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate. Another parking area is located at the northern end of the lake from Rookery Road, where the north end of the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate.

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

Where to Stay: Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge; Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs