Having family in Atlanta and Chattanooga, one of the things I look forward to most when visiting is the abundance of hiking trails nearby. Spending a day surrounded by nature with friends and family, removed from the noise and overstimulation of the city and unleashed from the digital ankle bracelet that is my smart phone, is a soothing—even meditative—experience.
I always looked forward to these adventures with my sister during July when I would travel up that way for the summer, never suspecting there were plentiful opportunities here in the Bayou state. That was until I received the book "50 Hikes in Louisiana" as a gift this past Christmas.
Below, I share my experiences and photos exploring four of the listed hikes nearest to the Crescent City, as well as two nearby in Mississippi that are well worth your visit. The book lists many more trails in Southeast Louisiana, including several in Baton Rouge, St. Francisville, and on the Northshore; it also discusses the history behind each site, as well as providing a scenic and elemental breakdown for nature lovers. This rundown gives you a few to start off with, just in time for summer.
Fountainebleau State Park
Distance: 7 miles
Just a 45-minute drive from New Orleans, Fountainebleau State Park is not your typical inner-city park excursion. Upon entering from the main parking lot, visitors are greeted with two divergent paths. The first, to the right, is a brisk nature trail featuring boardwalks that allow a view of the outlying marsh (the second image above). At the conclusion of this walk is a stunning view of the lake (the first image), including a pier view, as well as a covered picnic area, water fountains and rest rooms, and a camping area.
Retrace your steps back to the start for the second path. There scenery is less diverse on this trek, however you can bask in a blanket of lush greenery, shrouding you on every side for miles to come. I tracked about 5.4 miles out and back on my Jawbone, though I did circumvent a few "Do Not Enter" signs. This is a solitary trail, silent except for the rustling of leaves and the occasional critter. This is a perfect path to clear your mind of the outside world, or to take a romantic stroll with someone special.
Bonnet Carre Spillway
Distance: 5 Miles
This is a good trail for someone looking for something a bit more adventurous, and is just a 35-minute drive from Uptown New Orleans. I saw visitors partaking in a variety of pastimes here, from canoeing to dirt biking. I covered the terain by mountain bike. The Spillway is in close proximity to a nearby industrial plant, and though naturally contrasting, scenically it is a complimentary juxtaposition to the swamp's grimy gumbo of sludge. There are a few lovely ponds if you cross under the interstate from the main parking area, and there is a small elevated train track running from the nearby plant you can go under offering a fun photo opp. The trail is flat, making it easy to travel by bike or foot (I covered it by mountain bike, finding it mildly challenging and quiet fun). Beware: if you wander off the beaten path, the surrounding wetlands are sheathed in poison ivy.
Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge
Distance: 12 miles
To be honest, my friends and I were not able to locate the trail outlined in the book. This could be because this edition was published in 2003, or it could be that we are directionally dyslexic and/or are poor at following instructions...I'll blame it on the book. Anyway, beginning at the starting point outlined by the writer, you start off on the levee just off the interstate (if you are familiar with the castle visible from the interstate just past Slidell, the path is on that side barely a mile from the regal landmark). Walking towards Lake Ponchartain, there is a spectacular swampland view to your left, sprawling for about two miles. Once you reach the lake, the levee forks left continuing for about 10 miles through New Orleans East up to the Lakefront Airport. The trail is remote and calming much like the longer path in Fountainebleau State Park, but lacks the same intimacy. The dirt path is better suited to mountain bikers or marathon runners looking for a long trail run. Just be sure to bring lots of water.
Barataria Preserve Trails
Distance: Main Trail - 1. 8 miles; outlying trails - varries
Barely a 30-minute drive from Uptown, Barataria Preserve Trails gives visitors the most constant swamp experience of any of the trails outlined in this list. The trail described in "50 Hikes in Louisiana" is both the most scenic, and the most rudimentary, I experienced. The view from the plank path is so contrived it feels like it should be in a zoo...and this isn't a bad thing. Obviously a tourist attraction, it delivers on all of its promises. However, barely a mile down from here across the road is series of about 3 trails that are the most rugged I've encountered among this selection of Louisiana hiking opportunities. These are official trails, with the entrance guarded by a surprisingly heavily armed park ranger who closes the gates at 5 p.m., though this does not mean you cannot still enter or be on the premise past then— it's just not advised. The trails here go anywhere from three-quarters of a mile to several miles in length. Unlike the aforementioned pedestrian path, this is a naturally lawless area, swarming with poison ivy, snakes, and, I was told, gators. I found these paths to be far more liberating than the first, though they are all worth your time.
Clark Creak Natural Area
Distance: 5+ miles
Often referred to as Tunica Hills, this area should not be confused with the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area in St. Francisville. Going through Baton Rouge from New Orleans, it takes about an hour and 45-minutes to drive to this beautiful, one of a kind destination just over the Mississippi border. This hiking trail features more than a half-dozen small water falls, something I would never expect to find so close to home. This is by far the most rugged path described here; there are many opportunities to go off road—sometimes as far as 12 ft. down—to walk through stream. The path pictured to the left required climbing over several bolder-esque rocks and was nearly a mile off course. Aside from the water falls, there are no water fountains along the trail, so come prepared with water and snacks—and please be mindful of your trash. Also, bring four-dollar bills, as there is a parking fee, and the nearest gas station with an ATM is nearly 30 minutes from this location.
You can easily spend an entire day here, making this well worth your drive. If you want to make a weekend of it, book a night at the Myrtles Plantation, one of the country's most haunted houses, not far from here in St. Francisville, Louisiana.
Black Creek Canoe Rentals
Distance: 16 - 20 miles
Black Creek is technically a canoeing trip, not a hike; however, seeing as how the outdoor appeal speaks to a similar temperament, I thought to include it here. Black Creek has it all: swimming, camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing, friends and fun. Just under an hour and a half from New Orleans, a rental for two is roughly $50. The boat is sturdy, though not heavy, and can hold your tent, food, water, clothes and other camping accoutrements. We split our trip into two days, beginning our journey around 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in mid-October of the past year.
You are rowing for just under 20 miles, so you will sweat...a lot. Be sure to bring about two gallons of water each. I'd recommend trying to cover as much ground as you can the first day. Even being an avid swimmer and having a relatively toned upper body, I was stiff as a sphinx the next morning from the ten miles of rowing the first day. We had a proper camping experience, docking on a small island of land and cutting our own firewood for the night. Warning: do not bring any glass bottles, alcoholic or otherwise. The park rangers here do not mess around; you will get arrested—do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.
I loved this trip. For the money, the preparation, and the time spent with close friends, you can not ask any more of from your dollar or your weekend. I hope to make this an annual outing, if not more frequent during the warm months of the year. Below is a time lapse of my 2014 voyage—enjoy!
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