Today’s Louisiana is a melting pot of French, African and American cultures, and Creole heritage is a way of life here. The state bills itself as a "Sportsman's Paradise” – a particularly apt title when you count up the area’s ample fishing and golfing opportunities, not to mention hiking trails, bird trails and lovingly maintained State Parks. In addition to the bayous and the Gulf, water lovers can enjoy hundreds of lakes, streams, and rivers, including the great Mississippi River. When to go to enjoy the best Louisiana has to offer? Campers typically enjoy great weather outside of high summer, so October to May is ideal.
Louisiana’s Gulf Coast – affectionately referred to as the “Third Coast” – is home to dozens of biking trails, scenic byways, state parks and reserves. Fishing, golf and gumbo is almost always on the agenda, as is at least one foray into the cushy white sands of the Gulf. There’s only a handful of swimming beaches in the traditional sense, and Grand Isle State Park is one of the best – not only does it boast its own state park, replete with remote stretches of coastline, but there are dockside seafood shacks and kayaking outfitters as well.
Inland a bit, close to the Big Easy, the lovely Fontainebleau State Park offers sandy beaches and a cool converted railroad track for cyclists and inline skaters. Nearby in Houma, you’ll find swimming holes, fishing charters and – for the geocachers among us – over 50 geocache locations to hunt down. Houma is one of only 50 places in the world that offer these types of GeoTours, where you can hunt down cultural touchstones, Cajun cuisine and outdoor adventures by smartphone or Garmin unit.
Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest, tucked into the center of the state, is a big draw for campers, featuring 50 miles of piney forest trails and swimming in the Kisatchie Bayou. Brilliant azaleas blanket the area in early spring, and there’s even a hiking trail devoted to the native flower.
About 30 miles south, Chicot State Park boasts 6,400 acres of rolling hills and the cool, blue waters of Lake Chicot. Fishing is big here, as is mountain biking along the lake-circling trail. Looking to engage with some of the local wildlife? Between Breaux Bridge and Lafayette, you’ll get your fill at Cypress Island Preserve, which protects over 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and hardwood forest.
Dozens of gorgeous crystal streams – including the highly photogenic Tchefuncte River – and hiking trails, makes Fairview-Riverside State Park one of the sweetest spots in the state to hike, swim, fish or just stretch out and catch some rays. Don’t be surprised to see local birds and alligators making their way through the swamp, or (gulp) shuffling down the boardwalk.
Got Mardi Gras fever but prefer a little nature with your party? Tucked into in the southwest corner of the state, Lake Charles boasts the state’s second largest Mardi Gras celebration – and the rest of the year is pretty darn spirited as well, with annual events like the Cajun Music & Food Festival, Black Heritage Festival and Contraband Days Pirate Festival earning it the nickname, “Festival Capital of Louisiana”. Walk off the raucous life at the nearby Creole Nature Trail – aka the “Louisiana Outback” – which winds its way through ethereally quiet bayous and marshes. The 180-mile scenic byway begins in the town of Sulphur, and is particularly beguiling at sunset.