These Beautiful Places in Louisiana Prove Swamplands Can Be Absolutely Stunning

The Bayou State is also home to beautiful city parks and botanical gardens.

While Louisiana doesn’t usually come to mind when discussing “The Great Outdoors,” the state has much more in the natural beauty department than you might think. It is, as the license plates proclaim, a “Sportsman's Paradise.” Louisiana’s bayous, rivers, and lakes offer plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing, and hunting—and for landlocked folks, there are lots of trails for hiking and biking. While we may not have majestic mountains or dense forests, the most beautiful places in Louisiana provide lots of unique experiences worth checking out.

New Orleans is, of course, home to undeniably beautiful spots like the French Quarter and Garden District, but it’s worth the trip out of town to see idyllic areas like St. Francisville (especially during the holidays) and Natchitoches. Some might say there’s no place more beautiful than the Superdome or Tiger Stadium on game day. But there’s something to be said about taking in the majesty of nature, and Louisiana has a wealth of unique opportunities to get outside and marvel. From trails and bayous to lakes and gardens, these are the most beautiful places to visit in Louisiana.

Tammany Trace
Photo courtesy of Tammany Trace

Tammany Trace
This Rails-to-Trails conversion on the Northshore stretches 31 miles from Covington to Slidell. As you bike the trail, take in the changing landscape, from light forests to lakefront to bayous. Trailheads in Covington, Mandeville, Abita Springs, Lacombe, and Slidell offer amenities, events, and access to these quaint towns, each worth a visit in their own right. The stretch in Old Mandeville along Lake Pontchartrain is particularly beautiful, with calming water stretching out to one side and gorgeous homes on the other.

New Orleans City Park
Photo courtesy of New Orleans City Park

City Park
New Orleans
New Orleans has many amazing parks, including Audubon Park, but City Park is one of the most breathtaking urban parks in the entire state. Marvel at the world's largest collection of mature live oak trees, some more than 600 years old. Stroll along peaceful lagoons and admire the architecture of the park’s buildings and bridges, many built by the WPA. Couturie Forest, within the park, features a nature trail that leads to New Orleans’ highest point—Laborde Mountain, topping out at a towering 43 feet above sea level. Best of all, when you’re ready for a snack you can enjoy beignets at Cafe du Monde amidst all these wonders.

Lake Martin
Lake Martin | Tyler Domingue / Unsplash

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

Jungle Gardens
Avery Island
Avery Island is known as the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. It’s also home to lush forests, swamps, and a beautiful spot called Jungle Gardens. Wander through azaleas, camellias, and bamboo as you keep an eye out for alligators, raccoons, and deer. Within Jungle Gardens is a bird sanctuary known as Bird City. The sanctuary is the migration site for thousands of egrets, whose nesting season begins in February, as well as herons, roseate spoonbills, ibises, coots, and more. Bird lovers can book a tour, while others can simply enjoy the scenery.

LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens
Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens

LSU AgCenter’s Botanic Gardens
Baton Rouge
While most visitors to Baton Rouge know to make a swing through the LSU campus to visit Mike the Tiger or walk through the oak tree-shaded Quad, few know to head south of campus toward the Botanic Gardens. Here, you’ll find a variety of flora to entertain even the least likely gardener, including plumeria, bromeliads, herbs, roses and even some of the largest collections of ginger and camellias in the world. Don’t miss the Louisiana Kitchen Garden, an herb garden where you can learn about culinary and medicinal native herbs and their historical and modern uses.

American Rose Center
Photo courtesy of American Rose Center

The Gardens of the American Rose Center
Ready to wake up and smell the roses? Just head to Caddo Parish in the northwestern corner of the state, and you’ll find the American Rose Society, whose gardens span 118 acres of florid beauty. The organization moved here in 1974, planting roots to develop America’s largest garden dedicated solely to roses.

Chauvin Sculpture Garden
Photo courtesy of Chauvin Sculpture Garden

Chauvin Sculpture Garden
So, this is an interesting story: A reclusive bricklayer named Kenny Hill, who, beginning in 1990, started turning his grounds out on the bayou into one of the most intriguing works of “outsider art” in the country. The centerpiece is a crazy 45-foot-tall, figurine-embellished lighthouse, which took more than 7,000 bricks to construct. The artist left behind more than 100 concrete sculptures on his property, which he never intended for public visitation. It all makes for a beautifully weird and fascinating visit.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park | Krista Hardin / Shutterstock

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
There are actually six sites that make up this renowned park system, but the best is easily the Barataria Preserve. It includes 23,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands that will make you fall in love with the beauty of the swamp. Here you’ll find marshes, forests, and bayous filled with birds, frogs, snakes, turtles, nutria, and, of course, alligators. April is prime time to see irises in bloom. Make a day of it and stick around the West Bank for some great Vietnamese fare or fresh seafood after your walk.

Northlake Nature Center
This small but mighty nature preserve on the Northshore is located on 400 acres of ancient pine and hardwood forest along Bayou Castine. Take a peaceful walk through the swamp along boardwalks to spot native plants and animals, as signage encourages you to stop, look, listen, and smell. The preserve blooms with native irises in April, and hosts a BirdFest the same month. The preserve also hosts activities designed to enhance the natural beauty, from moonlight walks to yoga classes.

Grand Isle
Grand Isle | Bonnie Taylor Barry / Shutterstock

Grand Isle
Jefferson Parish
Nestled along the South Louisiana coastline is the state’s only inhabited barrier island, Grand Isle, and if you have any interest in birding or fishing, you’ll want to pay this oasis a visit. Once a hideout for the pirate Jean Lafitte, who later became a Battle of New Orleans hero, Grand Isle offers birding trails, the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, fishing spots, wide-open beaches, and a magnificent view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Kisatchie National Forest
Kisatchie National Forest | Justin Meissen / flickr

Kisatchie National Forest
Central and Northern Louisiana
If you’re looking for a National Forest in Louisiana, Kisatchie is the state’s one and only. But really, we only need one because Kisatchie is just spectacular. The entire forest is too big to admire at once, but a good start is the Castor Creek scenic area. The more adventurous visitors should consider a hike along the 23+ mile Wild Azalea Trail, which you can easily turn into a two-day adventure.

Poverty Point
Poverty Point | Michael Homan / flickr

Poverty Point
Northeastern Louisiana
It might not seem like the most beguiling name, but Poverty Point is actually an incredible (and incredibly important) archeological site dating back more than 3,000 years, when Native Americans built this series of mounds and ridges thought to be the hub of a trading system that spanned thousands of miles. It’s touted as an “engineering marvel,” and was designated a World Heritage Site in 2014, making it both fascinating and beautiful.

Lake Claiborne
Lake Claiborne | MRHSfan / flickr

Lake Claiborne State Park
With its sandy beaches, boating, and abundant fishing opportunities (there’s a reason Louisiana is called “Sportsmans’ Paradise,” and it ain’t because of the Saints), Lake Claiborne is a fantastic place to visit if you want to drink in Louisiana’s natural splendor. And bring your appetite for fresh fish, because the lake is literally swimming with largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, channel catfish, black crappie, striped bass, chain pickerel, bream, and white perch. We’ll take one of each, please, preferably with a nice brown butter sauce.

Darrell Miller / flickr

Tunica Hills
St. Francisville
When you think of Louisiana, you might not think of rolling hills, bluffs, and ravines, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in Tunica Hills. If you’re looking to hunt, go horseback riding or bike riding, head to the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area, which also offers a nature trail for something more introductory.

Lynford Morton / flickr

Honey Island Swamp
Less than an hour from New Orleans, and you’ll find the Honey Island Swamp. While many think of mysterious creatures and spooky waterways, Honey Island is a perfect example of some of the breathtaking natural scenes you’ll find in Louisiana’s swamplands. Here, you’ll see magnificent cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss, owls and waterfowl and, yes, wild boar, snakes, and (as always), alligators. But this is their home, and we’re the ones visiting here.

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Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, where she formerly worked for The Times-Picayune as an arts and entertainment reporter and city columnist.

Gerrish Lopez is a Thrillist contributor.