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From the sleepy bayous to the tranquil marshlands, breezy lakesides to mighty rivers, the ebb and flow of the waterways significantly define and influence the way its people approach life in the state of Louisiana. Home to the largest freshwater lake in the southern United States and, of course, the Mighty Mississippi, you'll quickly find there are plenty of adventures to be had throughout the state on these impressive waterways. Whether you'd like to climb aboard a historic steamboat or paddle through the bayou alongside alligators, you'll find plenty to see and do. The only problem? Narrowing down just where to go. We've listed 10 of the best locations in the state that are sure to satisfy all the anglers, paddlers, and wayward explorers out there — and then some. All you have to do is get there.
Nestled in Southwest Louisiana and just 50 miles from the Gulf Coast, Lake Charles is a certified sportsman's paradise. Home to expansive marshland and coastal waterfronts, Lake Charles is a utopia for outdoor enthusiasts and ecotourists year round. Whether it’s by kayak, pontoon, paddle board and airboat, there are numerous ways you can experience the dense waterways of this area with each adventure offering something unique to the next. Fishing is prime year-round with waters teeming with bass, crappie, redfish, and panfish — an especially important addition to any homemade Cajun concoction. Meanwhile, birdwatching is an equally compelling experience as the area is home to more than 400 species of birds and waterfowl during the winter months. Grosse Savanne Eco Tours provides an immersive exploration through the heart of the misty marshes with several tour options available. However, our editors can heartily vouch for the sunrise tour on the marsh, which allows you to watch the birds, alligators, and other wildlife rise with the sun.
A small town nestled on the narrow barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, Grand Isle is covered in about a quarter of water, making for a little slice of beachy paradise. With only one point of entrance at the southern end of Highway 1, it is the only inhabited barrier island within the state of Louisiana. The seven miles that make up this skinny stretch of land feel like a remote island oasis with flawless views of the Gulf. The area is great for fishing, especially for deep-sea fishing. This area of the Gulf has more than 280 species of fish that live in the waters around a sandy spur. Most notably, though, is Wake Side Cable Park which offers wake boards, water skis, and inner tubes to be pulled along jumps and obstacles. Ideal for adrenaline junkies, the board is pulled along a rope via a cable system rather than the traditional method by boat, giving participants a steady speed that allows them to better keep their balance.
Black Bayou Lake
Black Bayou Lake is no ordinary lake. After the western edge of the bayou was blockaded from the railroads in 1910, a lake was formed from a slow process of backfill draining into the lakes current area from waterways and surrounding bayous. The area is essentially a lake-meets-bayou type of environmental setting — the best of both worlds if you ask us — with cypress trees and oaks draped in Spanish moss. As a result, waterfowl and endangered wildlife have found a natural paradise in this unique hideaway. With 1,600 acres of lake area, Black Bayou Lake features some of the most unique fishing, paddling and wildlife viewing opportunities in the entire state. The best time to visit is in spring when the water levels are at their highest and easiest to navigate. During this time, alligators and turtles make their grand debut, giant water lilies and greenery sprout to the surface and dragonflies buzz overhead. It's pure magic.
The Louisiana Bass Trail includes seven different lakes offering world-class bass fishing. Toledo Bend has been ranked as one of the the best bass fishing destinations in the United States by Bassmaster Magazine for two years — and counting. Covering nearly a third of Louisiana’s western region, this 186,000-acre expanse features Toledo Bend Reservoir, a major body of water with bass fishing hitting numbers in the double digits. Angling put Toledo Bend on the map, allowing it to play host to some of the largest fishing tournaments in the country. Bass are the home hitters, though crappie, bream, white bass, striper bass and catfish are also in abundance, making the Toledo Bend trail an anglers dream come true. The only challenge? To see if you can land a “lunker” (a bass that weighs over 10 pounds).
Bayou St. John
No doubt the bayou is a trademark of Louisiana — it’s hard to imagine this southern land without it. Bayou St. John, running through the middle of New Orleans, was a key player in the founding of the city back in 1718. For a truly off-land urban experience, paddling down the scenic waterways of the bayou affords #OnlyLouisiana views at the heart of the city. The Bayou St. John paddle trail delves into the historic residential district and through neighborhoods, taking explorers as deep into the city as the depths of the Lake Charles marshlands. A more easygoing method of movement compared to the bustling streets of the Big Easy, voyagers can enjoy the naturally ornate and tranquil lagoons of City Park. Grab your paddle, take a deep breath, and just go with the flow.
Northshore, Lake Pontchartrain
Northshore, an area just across Lake Pontchartrain from downtown New Orleans, is home to a plethora of on-the-water activities. Bayous blanketed in lilly pads and rolling rivers weave their way through the region, making their way to Lake Pontchartrain. Paddling through the vascular water systems and 80,000 acres of national wildlife refuge create an all-around immersive experience for those who seek to connect with nature. For a more ambitious experience, local sailing charters offer rentals and lessons, exclusive sailing excursions, and fishing opportunities. The town of Slidell is also noteworthy for its guided swamp tours through the pristine Honey Island Swamp and fishing excursions with experienced charter captains.
If you love to be out on the water, then you know that the best views aren’t only on land. The same is true with New Orleans, where the magical sights and sounds of the city can be experienced on the sweeping waters of the Mississippi. Steamboat Natchez, one of New Orleans’ oldest vessels, boasts the authentic charm of a classic ship with 25 tons of white oak churning through the waters of the Mississippi. Guests can enjoy a Steam Engine Room visitation and a number of themed tours, including a casual buffet lunch with the Harbor Jazz Cruise featuring a casual buffet lunch and calliope concert to the Sunday Brunch Cruise with live jazz performances. American Queen Steamboat is another great option as it provides shore excursions onto Civil War memorials and antebellum plantations, such as Nottoway. This cruise plays up the “travel back in time” vibe with 50s and 60s inspired music, regionally-inspired cuisine, and catered special entertainment to create the most unforgettable river cruise experience.
Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
The truth is in the name for this region of the state. The word “Atchafalaya” (pronounced similar to a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means “long river” in American-Indian. Nicknamed America's Foreign Country, Atchafalaya National Heritage Area's 150 miles of diverse waterways and coastline are perfect for those seeking an adventurous paddle or two. Surrounded by bottomland hardwood forests and swamps dotted with bare cypress trees decorated in Spanish moss, this marshy backcountry creates a magical scene perfect for kayaking (and photo taking too). You might just get lucky and come across an alligator or two.
As one of the most rural parishes in the state, Washington Parish offers an unblemished display of all the beauty Louisiana has to offer. A hilly domain punctuated by tall pines and complex waterways, this backcountry bliss is best explored by more than just paddle and oar. Requiring nothing but some sunscreen, laid back attitude, and a cooler full of beer, tubing down the Bogue Chitto River allows floaters to take in the natural sights while beating the heat amidst the cool waters. With some of Southern Louisiana’s wildest terrain, this region offers water lovers the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Fishing fanatics, meet Houma. Located near the Gulf of Mexico, the city has become the ideal destination for dynamic fishing expeditions as it boasts an assortment of activities, including deep sea fishing, inland fishing, coastal fishing, fly fishing, rodeos, and fishing tournaments. Houma and its neighboring fishing regions are home to some of the most diverse combinations of fish in the world. Test your skills with rod and reel to pull speckled trout, amberjack, bass, black drum, catfish, flounder, grouper, king mackerel, redfish and more. With some of the largest catch limits in the country, Houma is the ultimate destination for fishing.