Visiting Hollywood South: Louisiana’s Film Trail

Locations tied to Louisiana-filmed movies and TV shows are numerous

Louisiana’s official state nickname is Sportsman’s Paradise thanks to rich and abundant natural resources and the fish and wild game that call it home. Related nicknames for the state include The Pelican State, about the state bird, and Bayou State, thanks to the slow-moving streams.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s another nickname for Louisiana that is not all about the flora and fauna—Hollywood South. Thanks to its diverse settings for movies (Louisiana has everything including bustling cities, antebellum mansions, and lush wilderness areas), generous state tax incentives for film producers, and numerous production support businesses, Louisiana is a global player in a movie and TV filming location. And, like other visitors to the state, movie and TV stars rave about enjoying the food, music, and joie de vivre away from the sets.

A comprehensive list of major movies and TV shows made in Louisiana in recent years would be too long to list here but here are a few ideas for mixing some of Louisiana’s more notable filming sites with your travels throughout the state.

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

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Scene: Filmed in Natchitoches, a good part of the film takes place in M’Lynn Eatenton’s (Sally Field) fictional 1830s home in the fictionally named Chinquapin Parish. It’s the site of memorable quotes such as one during the annual Christmas party when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacClain) turns to M’Lynn and quips, “M’Lynn, what’s wrong with you these days? You got a reindeer up your butt?”

Crawley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Laugh through tears (Truvy’s [Dolly Parton] “favorite emotion”) as you enjoy a weekend staying in the actual 1830s, six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath Steel Magnolia House. The bed and breakfast is where much of the movie was filmed.

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

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

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Scene: Louis (Brad Pitt), an unwilling vampire, decides he’s had enough of his so-called life and takes a torch to his sprawling manor setting the curtains ablaze which ticks off the aristocratic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) who was rather fond of the place.

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Louis’ homeplace was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Take a tour and see the restored antebellum Greek Revival mansion—sans flames—plus spots where the graveyard scenes were filmed. Decide for yourself if it’s a fitting estate for a vampire.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Scene: On a break from their iconic, cross-country road trip, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) along with a couple of bleary-eyed prostitutes, drop acid in an ancient cemetery prompting them to get dazed, philosophical, and naked.  

Above-ground cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Don’t drop acid or get naked but do get philosophical while wandering around the famous, above-ground St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans where the scene took place. Specifically, seek out the massive, queen-like sculpture set into the “Italia” gravesite where, like Wyatt, you can imagine yourself talking to dead relatives. Several tour companies offer cemetery tours.

Louisiana sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Scene: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) wakes up his father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), drives him out to a lake, and then carries him on his shoulders to the pier where he sets him on a chair and they watch the sunrise. During the three-minute scene, a beautiful song, Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain, is playing in the background.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Start early and park yourself on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans where the song takes its name. Watch a real sunrise while listening to the music and chances are you’ll end up teary-eyed at the beauty of both. Afterward, take a ride by the Nolan House at 2707 Coliseum Street, a spectacular Garden District mansion where the bulk of the film took place.

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

Along the Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Duck Dynasty (2012-2017)

Scene: The Robertson boys deck themselves out with camo gear, shotguns, and their famous, handmade duck calls, then cruise on an airboat through the North Louisiana marsh, gather ’round the duck blind, and proceed to gleefully blast down one quacker after another.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: If that sounds like your idea of happiness then order a few of the Robertsons’ custom duck calls from the Duck Commander company website and head to one of the prime duck hunting areas in North America: Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. On the Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish, it’s where you can fire away at gadwalls, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks, and white-fronted geese. 

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tremé (2010-2013)

Scene: This Emmy Award-winning HBO drama (2010-2013) is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Co-created by David Simon—best known for blockbuster television drama The Wire—Wendell Pierce (a native New Orleanian) and a cast of costars work on rebuilding their lives in the wake of one of the nation’s most significant natural disasters. The series name refers to a New Orleans neighborhood that is the historical heart of the city’s African American community through Tremé was filmed throughout the Crescent City.

Experience: All over New Orleans including numerous bars and restaurants (Vaughn’s Lounge, Liuzza’s By the Track), the French Quarter, and historical shotgun-style homes central to New Orleans’ architectural distinctiveness.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swamp People (2010–present)

Scene: This reality show based in south Louisiana focuses on the lives of alligator hunters in the Atchafalaya Basin swamps and depicts life (and wildlife) in the bayous. At times intense—alligator hunting is not for the squeamish, after all—Swamp People is a testimony to the resilience of the men and women who call the region home. 

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Throughout rural central and south Louisiana. Pierre Part, a village a few miles due south of Baton Rouge, is among the primary filming locations. Others include Houma, Hammond, Bayou Sorrel, Thibodaux, and Zwolle. An airboat swamp tour with RJ Molinere, star of Swamp People, is about as close as you can get to the real thing you see on the show.

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

NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021)

Scene: A spinoff of the enormously successful CBS network show, NCIS. NCIS: New Orleans stars Scott Bakula as Special Agent Dwayne Pride whose investigations into crimes involving military personnel have made for captivating, edge-of-your-seat viewing since it premiered in 2014. While NCIS: New Orleans shows off the talent of Golden Globe winner Bakula and an extensive roster of actors, the real star may be New Orleans itself with each episode showcasing the city’s unique architecture and unconventional characters.

Experience: Iconic locations throughout New Orleans. Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong Park, Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, Plaza Tower, and New Orleans Motorsports Park (in Avondale) make appearances.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More stops along the Louisiana Film Trail

Louisiana’s antebellum plantations on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge remain a magnet for blockbuster films. In recent years, 12 Years a Slave was filmed at Felicity Plantation. For the classics enthusiast, the tours at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens explain the mansion’s role in making Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Plantations along the Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Baton Rouge, visit Louisiana’s State Capitol to see where All the King’s Men, a story based on Huey P. Long, was filmed. Just a few blocks away sits the USS KIDD, a WWII-era battleship where Tom Hanks’ Greyhound was filmed.

Read Next: 6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

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

10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people, it means different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, a piece of history, a state holiday, or a million parades, and countless memories. Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state and beyond has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is Mardi Gras? Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or where to get one-of-a-kind beads? Here are 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnival the best!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carnival is a Season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and ushers in 40 days of best behavior during Lent, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2022 falls on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The official start of Carnival Season is Twelfth Night, January 6.

A krewe (pronounced the same way as “crew”) is an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season.

Bonus Fun Fact: Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been since 1875 when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your Dog Will Love Mardi Gras

Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore, and more locations! These animal-dedicated parades show off the fun and revelry from our furriest of friends and do they look cute.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes.

Related Article: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Start planning your dog’s costume for the celebration.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mardi Gras Is for Families

There are many activities and Mardi Gras parades that are family-friendly. In New Orleans, there are a few favorite family parade-watching spots which include St. Charles and Napoleon Streets. As you explore the state, you’ll find that many Louisiana cities host huge Mardi Gras celebrations with brightly colored floats and marching bands that are perfectly appropriate for the whole family.

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. The Best Ways to Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious

Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. You never know what they’ll Throw

Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders including the King’s Throne (a giant toilet) float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Shreveport, you’ll love the Krewe of Highland who throw a new surprise each Carnival season. The first of Krewe’s famously unusual throws began with candy canes in its founding year. Over the years, throws have included recycled beads, rubber chickens, Beanie Babies, and food, from spaghetti and meatballs in Ziploc bags to pickles, hot dogs, Capri Suns pouches, Ramen Noodles, MoonPies, and even coined money. The throws are as exciting as the floats from which they’re thrown; every year brings a new surprise to parade go-ers, screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!”

Anyone can come home with beads. Only those “in the know” get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily the Biggest

You can’t get any smaller than ’tit Rex, New Orleans first and only MicroKrewe. A group of artists, business people, teachers, workers, and bon vivants founded ‘tit Rəx in 2009 in a response to the super krewes constantly setting records for floats, throws, and extravagance.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘tit Rəx takes an opposite approach focusing instead of on massive floats that take up entire blocks, the ‘tit Rəx floats are made from shoeboxes and found objects that look like full-size floats. Carnival throws are handed out by krewe members rather than tossed, since—in keeping with the theme of the parade—they are so tiny.

Related Article: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used as a prefix before the name of the smaller or younger of two people who share a first name.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Why They Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a man dressed as Santa Claus received such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing as, before that, krewes threw any manner of items including food and dirt. Today, krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands which are rare and seemed to have phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Weight of Revelry

Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats. In fact, locals like to visit the Arc of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year. It is a 67-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the independence and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Royalty is Often Top Secret

Ever see the term “Mystic Krewe” and wonder what that means? Many Mardi Gras Krewes use “mystique” or “mystic” in their titles, meaning krewes will not reveal the identities of their royalty until they’re presented at the royal ball. King, Queens, and Maids are often sworn to secrecy all year until they’re able to make their grand debut.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Mardi Gras is More Than New Orleans

When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you only think of New Orleans? Think again. Mardi Gras is celebrated around the state! Cajun Mardi Gras (yes, there is a Cajun spin on Mardi Gras) can be found in the Lafayette and Eunice area. In Baton Rouge, parades roll many weekends before and during Mardi Gras. Plan to experience some family-friendly Mardi Gras fun in Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, and many other locations throughout the state.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to explore the small cities and towns of South Louisiana such as Houma and Thibodaux as every region has its own way of celebrating the carnival season.

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

And don’t forget where it all began in America. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras, 15 years before New Orleans was established.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that you are well versed in Carnival knowledge, it’s time to plan your trip to visit the Bayou State and “let the good times roll.”

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

Explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

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

The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for­—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer. 

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

An American-Indian word, “Atchafalaya” (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (NHA) stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.

With a story around every bend in the river and music from every corner, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is an ever-changing landscape.

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

Atchafalaya Paddle Trails

Head out for a day of paddling under live oaks dripping with Spanish moss through cypress tree forests in the swamp. Watch graceful egrets take wing or glimpse an alligator slide into the water.

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

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

Bayou Teche/Lower Atchafalaya River Paddling Trail: This trail offers up to 10 miles of paddling if you begin at the Calumet Cut. From there you’ll glide through Patterson to the mouth of the Bayou Teche at the Atchafalaya River. 

Lake Fausse Pointe State Park & Canoe Trail: Located in the Atchafalaya Basin near St. Martinville, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers miles of canoeing and kayaking trails in a labyrinth of waterways. You’ll also find hiking trails, cabins and campsites, a boat launch, and a playground. 

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

Grand Avoille Cove Paddling Trail: Lake Fausse Pointe and Grand Avoille Cove lie adjacent to the Atchafalaya Basin swamp. The Atchafalaya River runs through the basin, which extends north from Morgan City past Lafayette in a maze of bayous, lakes, ponds, and cypress swamps. The area is a great place for birding, as the cove is lined with cypress trees.

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

Atchafalaya Birding Trails

Enjoy some of the best birding in the country in the diverse parts of the Atchafalaya Heritage Area which are home to almost 400 bird species including waders like herons, egrets, ibises, and roseate spoonbills.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iberia Parish Birding Trail: Louisiana’s coast in Iberia Parish has the perfect combination of wetlands and soil to welcome rare and beautiful birds into its shoreland. The warm temperatures and location within the southern migratory flyway make this an attractive destination for birds—more than 240 species have been documented here. Birding areas of interest include Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, Jungle Gardens/Avery Island, New Iberia City Park, Jefferson Island Rip’s Rookery, and Spanish Lake.

Related Article: I’m going to Cajun Country!

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

Iberville Parish Birding Trail: Uniquely located between two major migratory routes, the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Flyways, Iberville offers an excellent opportunity to observe unique bird species including neotropical migratory songbirds, migratory hummingbirds, migratory wading birds, and raptors.

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

Atchafalaya Biking Trails

Cycling the back roads is a great way to get to know the Atchafalaya Heritage Area.

Atchafalaya Basin Wilderness Trail: The Atchafalaya Wilderness Trail is a remote gravel trail that runs on top of the levee for about 55 miles from Henderson (next to Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf) through three parishes to Franklin. It’s open for bike riders, walkers, and hikers to enjoy.

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

Old River Control Structure to Natchez Trace Link: You can begin this route at the Old River Lock which allows boats to enter the Atchafalaya River from the Mississippi River. The route from here travels alongside and sometimes on top of the levee bordering the Mississippi River. Several wildlife preserves along the way offer opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting, or exploring.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Simmesport, Marksville, Washington Loop: This is a pleasant ride that travels through small towns including Hamburg, Moreauville, Mansura, and Marksville. As you leave Moreauville, you will follow Bayou des Glaises northward through Mansura, a community settled by Frenchmen in the 1700s and now home to the popular Cochon de Lait Festival.

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

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

St. Martinville to Fausse Pointe Loop: This ride begins in historic St. Martinville and loops eastward past Lake Dauterieve to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, an area once home to the Chitimacha Indians. The park, at the edge of a beautiful water wilderness, is a perfect point from which to explore the natural and cultural heritage of South Louisiana. Combine your wilderness adventure with a tour of nearby historic areas such as the city of St. Martinville and Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site which interprets the history of French-speaking cultures along Bayou Teche by comparing life on an 1800s French Creole Plantation to typical Acadian farmsteads.

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

Franklin to Morgan City: Nature and history offer the main attractions and points of interest along this route which tracks Bayou Teche for much of the way. Keep an eye out for wildlife.

A stop at Brownell Memorial Park offers a view of the palmettos, elephant ears, cattails, and ferns that grow wild in the area.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morgan City to White Castle: As you leave Morgan City, you’ll cycle along beautiful Lake Palourde, one of the largest natural lakes in Louisiana. Veer off and ride to the top of the levee occasionally for a look at one of the most beautiful swampland wilderness areas in the nation, the Atchafalaya Basin. In Pierre Part, stop for a photo of the bayou running through the main street—you might even see one of the locals paddling a pirogue.

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

National Wildlife Refuge Trails

The National Wildlife Refuges’ mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest are great places to fish, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge: The primary mission of this refuge in the lower part of the Atchafalaya Basin is to preserve and manage habitat for the threatened Louisiana black bear so there is potential for bear sightings along with the system of interconnected trails. Other wildlife you are likely to spot include wading birds, neotropical songbirds, waterfowl, and various reptiles and amphibians Within the refuge, you can take your pick of four trails: Wood Duck Trail (approximately 10 miles); Black Bear Trail (12 miles); Alligator Trail (10 miles); and Yellow Bayou Trail (6 miles).

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

Indian Bayou National Wildlife Refuge: The Indian Bayou area is a 28,000-acre paradise for hunters, fishermen, bird watchers, boaters, nature photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts located in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin. It is a haven for wading birds like the great blue heron and the great egret. Mallards and wood ducks are abundant as are reptiles and amphibians including the American alligator and western cottonmouth. Reflective white-on-blue directional signs mark the trails at major turning points allowing paddlers to navigate without a guide.

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

And for an added bonus: Check out the many outdoorsy and cultural stops along the Bayou Teche Byway. Immerse yourself in Acadian culture in cafés and dance halls that serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

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

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

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

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

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

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

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

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

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

Atchafalaya Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morgan City to Franklin

Stroll Morgan City’s historic district where you can browse antique shops or view the Atchafalaya River from a wharf-side pavilion. For a closer look at the Great Atchafalaya Basin (and maybe a ’gator or two), take a guided swamp tour in nearby Patterson. There you’ll also find a branch of the Louisiana State Museum noted for its displays on aviation and the cypress industry. Next stop: Franklin, whose more than 400 historic properties include the Grevemberg House Museum, a gracious antebellum townhouse filled with Civil War artifacts and antique toys. Pause for a hamburger or po-boy at Iberia Cash Groceries then visit Charenton where the Chitimacha Museum reveals the history of Bayou Teche’s early inhabitants.

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

Franklin to New Iberia

In the town of Jeanerette, be sure to sample the French bread and ginger cakes at LeJeune’s Bakery whose owners still use the bakery’s original 19th-century recipes. Further along the byway in New Iberia stands Shadows-on-the-Teche. The antebellum home built by a wealthy sugar planter now is a museum surrounded by graceful live oaks.

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

On the Bayou Teche © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near New Iberia, tour the Avery Island factory where world-famous Tabasco pepper sauce is made. The plant’s founder also created a 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary here. Stroll through azaleas and camellias, glimpse a deer in the garden, and step onto a boardwalk for a view of resident alligators.

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

New Iberia to Arnaudville

As you make your way toward Arnaudville, stop in St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in St. Martinville recalls the chilling expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia as told by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “Evangeline.”

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

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

In Breaux Bridge visit Café des Amis where the menu includes beignets, couche-couche (battered cornmeal cooked in a hot skillet and topped with milk or syrup), andouille or cheese grits, and crawfish étouffée—and that’s just for breakfast. About 10 minutes from here is Lafayette, considered the unofficial capital of Cajun country.

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

A trip along Bayou Teche is a good way to sample Louisiana hospitality, hear toe-tapping music, and as the locals say “pass a good time.”

Related: Creole Nature Trail: Bayous, Beaches & Birds

Worth Pondering…

I got swamp water runnin’ through my veins.

The Mississippi River can’t be tamed.

I pole my pirogue in the middle of the night.

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

—lyrics and recording by the Neville Brothers, 1975

Tabasco Hot Pepper Sauce is Produced on Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce

Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce, has been owned for over 180 years by the interrelated Marsh, Avery, and McIlhenny families. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago. Fossils suggest that early inhabitants shared the land with mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and three-toed horses.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A salt production industry dates back to about 1000 AD, judging from recovered basket fragments, polished stone implements, and shards of pottery left by American Indians. Although these early dwellers remained on the Island at least as late as the 1600s, they had mysteriously disappeared by the time white settlers first discovered the briny springs at the end of the next century.

Related Article: The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his in-laws’ garden on Avery Island; he delighted in the peppers’ piquant flavor which added excitement to the monotonous food of the Reconstruction-era South.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors. After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes” proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868. The next year he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar per bottle wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. The public responded positively and soon McIlhenny had introduced Tabasco sauce to consumers in major markets across the United States. By the end of the 1870s, McIlhenny was exporting Tabasco sauce to Europe. So began the fiery condiment that is now a global cultural and culinary icon.

Related Article: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the history and production of the world-famous hot sauce during your visit to Avery Island. The Avery Island Fan Experience includes a self-guided tour of the TABASCO Museum, Pepper Greenhouse, Barrel Warehouse, Avery Island Conservation, Salt Mine diorama, TABASCO Country Store, TABASCO Restaurant 1868! and the 170-acre natural beauty of Jungle Gardens. Admission is $12.50 with a 10 percent seniors and veterans discount.

The Buddha, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens

E.A. McIlhenny created a 170-acre garden, in 1935 he opened it to the public to enjoy his collection of camellias, azaleas, and other imported plants. You may see wildlife such as alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife as you walk or drive along man-made lagoons that trail Bayou Petit Anse. The over 900-year-old Buddha sits in the Temple he created. And visit “Bird City”, home to thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds!

Related Article: History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Bird City, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions

US 90 Exit 128A on LA 14 toward New Iberia approximately three-quarter-mile then right on LA 329, 7 miles to Avery Island

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

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

10 Amazing Places to RV in January 2022

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

2022 wishes for you:

  • Good health
  • Good roads
  • Good campsites
  • Spectacular sites
  • Short lines
  • Memorable times with friends

Be grateful for every day we get to spend in an RV

Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the most beloved lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is this bit of wisdom, imparted from the wizard Gandalf to the young hobbit Frodo. In the first book, 1954’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo inherits a cursed ring and realizes he must take a frightening journey to destroy it. After confiding to Gandalf that he wishes the task had fallen to someone else, the wizard reminds Frodo that no one gets to dictate what challenges they face. Rather than lamenting unavoidable hardships, time is better spent focusing on the choices within our control and making our time on Earth (or Middle-Earth) meaningful.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love this quote because it reminds us that our life is really only a collection of decisions and life is also limited only by time. Our decisions make us who we are and dictate what we experience.  We are free to choose and indeed many have successfully argued that this FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is truly the only thing we really own. 

Where will you choose to RV in January? This list features familiar names as well as a few lesser-known but equally fascinating locations to visit in January.

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 and February 2021.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock, Red Sand, and Warm, Blue Water

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Utah, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is a popular park because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular event seeing increased growth and interest has been the annual Winter 4×4 Jamboree hosted by the DesertRATS (Desert Roads and Trails Society). A premier off-road event that attracts close to 400 vehicles, the jamboree encourages all who enjoy the OHV lifestyle to join in taking advantage of the unique and stellar Utah landscape. The Winter 4×4 Jamboree is a non-competitive trail run event for high clearance 4×4 vehicles. Drivers can choose between over 20 trails, featuring rock climbing obstacles, petroglyph sites, and sand dunes.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groups of participants are led on rated trails by experienced trail leaders and helpers. Trails are rated on a 10-point scale where a rating of 1 would be for graded roads that may be easily traveled by most cars and a rating of 10 is for purpose-built vehicles (buggies) with sophisticated suspensions and drive trains operated by expert drivers. The number of vehicles on each trail is limited to ensure participants have an enjoyable experience.

The upcoming Winter 4×4 Jamboree is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12 to Saturday, January 15, 2022.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Pie is King

Julian, California, is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. It came into being during the gold rush in the 1870s. And with it came the apple trees that would cement this town as a destination for pie lovers across the globe. The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many visitors come to Julian just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling). But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Nature experiences are abundant on the Bayou Tech Scenic Byway and the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains for a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Related Article: A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Native palms and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every Thursday with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Winter hours are 6–10 pm. Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues located along Palm Canyon Drive.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City by the Sea

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to spend time outdoors, take a horseback ride along the beach, or go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Or explore Padre Island, a 70-mile stretch of land protected by the National Park Service for its pristine beaches, calm atmosphere, and space to spread out.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. The scenic byway was designated in 1998 and is approximately 39 miles long, winding in and out of some of the most awe-inspiring country in Arizona—or for that matter, in the West. This partially unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

A visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a journey into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem. Discover the rugged beauty of this famed natural area on Corkscrew’s famous boardwalk—a 2.25-mile adventure through pine Flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. These impressive trees, relatives of the redwood, tower 130 feet into the sky and have a girth of 25 feet. Their massive branches are draped with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, and ferns. 

A little blue heron at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located about 30 minutes east of Naples, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to hundreds of alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors can be seen throughout the year while the fabulous Painted Bunting is one of many winter visitors. Photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Art Sculptures of Borrego Springs

Something more than desert wildflowers and the spectacular Anza-Borrego Desert State Park attracts visitors to the Borrego Valley in Southern California. People also come to see the amazing 130 full-sized metal sculptures here—many inspired by creatures that roamed these same desert millions of years ago. The artworks range from prehistoric mammals to historical characters, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through the roads that weave through the area—you’ll see sculptures of wild horses in a nearby field, sabertooth tigers in pursuit, and desert tortoises that seem as if they’re crawling through the brush. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, brought life to his sculptures by capturing each creature in motion. They are so still, yet all you see is movement.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The late Dennis Avery, landowner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs envisioned the idea of adding free-standing art to his property with original steel welded sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Dose of Southern Hospitality

Have you ever heard a Savannah native speak? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. The sweet Southern drawl of the locals should tell you all you need to know about this Spanish-moss draped city. It’s easy-going. It’s classic. And it’s charming.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In many respects, Savannah feels like Charleston, South Carolina. Mouthwatering seafood awaits all across town as do all kinds of butter-loaded, piping hot Southern comforts. Along River Street, you’ll find candy shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Savannah’s best-kept secrets is all the interesting festivals that happen each year. During January, appreciate all things film and learn a little something too with the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival (January 28-29, 2022).

Related Article: A Dozen Spectacular RV Parks for Winter Camping

You’ll be lulled by the sound of waves hitting the shore on Tybee Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Stroll down the popular pier and check out the ocean view from the pavilion, explore the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, and savor freshly-caught seafood prepared with a Southern flair.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See live alligators while you eat under shade trees at the Crab Shack and learn more about underwater creatures at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Join an eco-kayak tour, nature walk, or sunset cruise to explore this classic coastal town, its marshes, and surrounding waters. River’s End Campground is a fantastic home base for exploring it all and just a few short blocks from the beach.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

The Best States for Snowbird Camping

One of the best parts of the RV lifestyle is the ability to simply follow warm weather wherever it may lead

While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.

Related: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

Based on the above model, here are the 10 best states for warm winter camping.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Alabama

Composite index: 62.6

Average maximum temperature: 57.7

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 548,000

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Georgia

Composite index: 67.5

Average maximum temperature: 58.6

Cumberland Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 4.3

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 747,000

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. North Carolina

Composite index: 67.8

Average maximum temperature: 51.9

Average minimum temperature: 30.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.8

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,575,000

Related: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Mainstreet Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. New Mexico

Composite index: 69.9

Average maximum temperature: 49.3

Elephant Lake Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 21.2

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 0.7

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 2,720,000

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Nevada

Composite index: 70.5

Average maximum temperature: 42.8

Above Hoover Dam, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 20.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 6,580,000

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana

Composite index: 74.5

Average maximum temperature: 61.4

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 40.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,276,000

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. California

Composite index: 79.3

Average maximum temperature: 53.5

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 33.6

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 19,623,000

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Texas

Composite index: 83.3

Average maximum temperature: 59.7

Padre Island, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 34.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.6

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,167,000

Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arizona

Composite index: 85.7

Average maximum temperature: 54.9

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 29.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 7,704,000

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Florida

Composite index: 87.5

Average maximum temperature: 69.9

Average minimum temperature: 47.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 2.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,920,000

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Enthusiasts are drawn to their colorful culinary potential—or simply the thrill of the challenge

Grab a glistening, hot chile pepper—one jewel-toned beauty with a volcanic pedigree—and take the dare. Just know that once you pop that capsicum into your mouth, there is no turning back. No amount of water, beer, milk, or bread can fully put out the flame. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, for every coughing and gasping amateur daredevil, there are dozens of die-hard chile-heads for whom the pain of eating hot peppers is all pleasure. The seared taste buds, watery eyes, and sinus-clearing fumes are part of the attraction, along with the hunt for evermore pungent pepper thrills. 

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bringing the Heat

Humans have been eating peppers for at least 9,000 years. While archaeologists pinpoint the eastern coast of Mexico as the cradle of cultivation, there’s evidence that around the same time, indigenous peoples were harvesting and eating wild peppers from what is now the southwestern United States through Mexico and south to Peru. 

Pecans, pistachios, and chiles at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch, Almagardo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nobody knows exactly why humans crave the culinary drama of hot peppers, but scientists have come up with a few theories. The word addiction has been bandied about, in part because capsaicin, the substance that gives chiles their signature punch, causes pain followed by an immediate release of endorphins. Endorphins floating around the brain trigger a sense of euphoria. In addition, capsaicin releases chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain (which is why it is a popular ingredient in topical pain relievers). 

Related: Chile Peppers 101

Red chiles at Farmers and Craft Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot Is Hot?

In 1912, Parke-Davis Co. pharmacist Wilbur Scoville began exploring the capsaicin kick of different types of peppers. He wasn’t aiming for chile-head immortality but for a more efficient way to produce a capsaicin-laced liniment. He crushed chiles combined them with sugar water and had a panel of taste-testers take sips. Over time, Scoville diluted the chiles with more and more water until the tasters could no longer detect any heat in their cups. The pharmacist rated different chiles based on how much water was required to negate the capsaicin. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scoville called his process the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Today, in his honor, pepper punch is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) arranged on the Scoville Scale. No taste-tester tongues were harmed in the ranking process. Now, SHUs are measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a process that measures the heat-generating chemicals in chiles.

Hot sauces at Billy’s Boudin, Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For context, pure capsaicin ranks at 15 to 16 million SHUs, and sweet bell peppers come in at 0. In between is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million, orange habaneros at 150,000 to 325,000, cayenne peppers at 30,000 to 50,000, and jalapeños at 2,500 to 8,000.

Related: Feel the Burn

Pepper growers continue to try to out-spice each other with new tongue-searing cultivars. At any given time, a new hybrid could explode to the top of the scale.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sensory Perception

What are the mechanisms through which the human body responds to the varying degree of heat in chile peppers? As it turns out we didn’t know until very recently. In fact, in 1997, Dr. David Julius discovered the neural pathway that gets activated by capsaicin, causing spicy foods to feel “hot” when consumed.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, on October 4, 2021, David Julius, a physiologist, and Ardem Patapoutian, a molecular biologist and neuroscientist, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The men were honored for their research into human sensory perception; each had, independently of the other, discovered mechanisms through which human bodies respond to touch and temperature.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The importance of the five senses cannot be understated. They are mediums through which we experience and understand the world around us, transforming external stimuli into electrical signals that our brain translate into the sensations of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. How exactly this transformation works out on a molecular level, however, was long unclear and still remains one of the most elusive questions in modern science.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius currently serves as the chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California in San Francisco. In 1997, his team of researchers compiled a library of neural pathways that are activated by capsaicin, a compound that gives spicy foods like chile peppers their burning sensation when consumed. Along the way, Dr. Julius discovered TRPV1, the ion channel that acts as our primary capsaicin receptor.

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico

In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up a tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers (and wasabi) give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius answered this question by showing us that TRPV1 is responsible for keeping our bodies safe from high temperatures. The channel responds not only to capsaicin but also to temperatures that are greater than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. TRPV1 also acts up when we are injured or sunburned, causing damaged tissue to feel hot to the touch. In all cases, the channel transmits a signal that our brains turn into the sensation of heat.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Matter of Taste

Chile aficionados know their way around the Scoville Scale but they also insist that chile varieties like grape varieties and wines have terroir. Put simply, terroir is a subtle turn of flavor based on the location where a pepper is grown. By this measure, a Hatch green chile from New Mexico will taste distinctly different from the same variety grown in California. 

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Likewise, different peppers carry different signature taste prints. Habaneros are known for their fruity, floral flavors; jalapeños tend to be herbaceous; Thai chiles have an earthy flavor; Tabasco peppers have a slightly smoky taste. 

Experimenting with chiles of different pedigrees and forms—fresh, dried, crushed, powdered—could become a lifelong obsession. At what point does the chile overpower the food? What blends work together? What chile paste perfectly accentuates a stew, a kebab, barbecued ribs, or a block of tofu?

La Posta Restaurant, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, while you’re pondering, shopping, and cooking remember one thing: capsaicin, the thing that brings the truth-or-dare pleasure and pain to hot peppers has exactly no flavor. None! So if you’re expecting to add a sweet, tart, or vegetal aura to your food, start with a pepper you can actually taste before moving up the scale. 

Red chile flavored pistachios at Eagle Ranch, Almadargo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Hot Pepper Sauces

Chile-heads love to sample and collect hot sauces for the flavor and potency of the specific elixirs as well as for the opportunity to grab a portable pepper fix. For most, the hot sauce hobby has the makings of a lifelong obsession simply because there are so, so many different commercially produced sauces to try.

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Market researchers quantify the U.S. hot pepper sauce market at around $1.2 billion as of 2018 with the spicy condiment snaring more than $2.3 globally. At any given time, more than 100 major brands are vying for a share of that pie.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The invention of hot sauce is credited to the ancient Aztecs who cultivated chili peppers to add some flavor and nutritional value to their limited food choices. By the time the conquistadors arrived, the Aztecs were already mixing peppers, herbs, and water into sauces and serving them on ancient versions of the corn tortilla.

Fast forward several hundred years and hot sauces have spread from their birthplace in Central America to North America, Europe, Asia, and outer space. Walk into your average grocery store and you’ll be confronted with a dazzling array of hot sauce bottles filled with liquids in red, green, yellow, and orange. Different brands come with different types of peppers, ingredients, spice levels, and suggested food pairings—and not all are created equal.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edmund McIlhenny, a banker from Avery Island, Louisiana, founded Tabasco in 1868. The recipe evolved over time. A soldier returning from Mexico in 1840 gave McIlhenny, a known gardener, seeds from wild peppers he had collected. McIlhenny planted the seeds and the peppers that grew became the basis for Tabasco sauce. McIlhenny named the unique Mexican pepper strain for the sauce which he had already named for a region in Mexico. 

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To this day, Tabasco is made from the McIlhenny family’s original recipe: Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt aged in oak barrels for up to three years. Tabasco peppers are handpicked when they turn a deep red, which apparently signifies optimal flavor and heat.

Related: Avery Island: Touring Tabasco & Jungle Gardens

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco has many competitors including regional hot sauces, sauces with international pedigrees, and sauces created for different cooking techniques. I’ve tried many of them including:

  • Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce which was engineered in New Iberia
  • Tapatío, a popular Mexico hot sauce with a guy with a sombrero on it that’s not actually a Mexican hot sauce but made in California
  • Cholula (Choe-loo-la), named for a 2,500-year-old city in Mexico but actually manufactured in Chapala in the Mexican state of Jalisco—not Cholula—and instantly identifiable by its signature wooden bottle cap
  • Crystal Hot Sauce, the best-selling Louisiana hot sauce that has been in New Orleans since 1923 and popular around the world
  • Frank’s Hot Sauce, a Louisiana-born sauce made from Cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

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

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

Fact Box

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

Location: Southern Louisiana, 16 miles southeast of Lafayette

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

I’m going to Cajun Country!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Tabasco factory and museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Where to Stay

Cajun Palms RV Resort

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

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

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

Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge

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

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frog City RV Park, Duson

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

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954