Exploring Louisiana: Road Trips in the Bayou State
By Kimberly Graf. Published On 10/12/2018
While New Orleans is the biggest draw for the state of Louisiana, there is still a lot to do and see outside of the Mardi Gras capital of America. There are many scenic drives through Louisiana, though you will of course want to at least visit New Orleans while you're in the area! Here are some of the best road trips you can take through the bayous of Louisiana!
Interstate 10 runs through much of the southern United States. The section that runs from Lake Charles through to Baton Rouge is a gorgeous stretch of countryside full of forests, bayous, and some of the most active towns in Louisiana.
Lake Charles is the beginning of our journey. This appropriately-named town sits right on a lake and is surrounded by parks with outdoor recreation. Also in Lake Charles is a local Mardi Gras museum, The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. Here you can see the beautifully unique Mardi Gras costume displays and climb aboard an old parade float. It's a celebration of all things Mardi Gras!
Lake Charles is a laid-back town full of easy fun. From there, you'll want to take Interstate 10 for a while. It's an hour and fifteen-minute drive to Lafayette, another huge cultural center. This is a gorgeous drive full of sprawling magnolias, overlooking bayous and a land ruled by Cajun culture.
When you reach Lafayette, there's so much to see and do. You might want to spend a whole day here just looking at the various attractions. Acadian Village and Vermilionville Historic Village are both museums dedicated to authentic 19th-century Cajun culture. They are both full of restored and rebuilt structures authentic to the time period, and both have events and live music festivals that celebrate this time in history.
If you need more history, the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site is a plantation built in 1815 with guided tours and a lot of cultural significance. And for even more old-world charm, check out the Lafayette Cemetery. This is the above-ground cemetery that immediately comes to mind when you think of Louisiana.
Hop back on the I-10 towards Baton Rouge. You'll pass a few attractions on the way, such as Breaux Bridge. This town has the Prehistoric Park, a dinosaur-themed walking tour park full of thrills for the dinosaur enthusiast in your life. Breaux Bridge is the Crawfish Capital of the world, so you should stop here and get a bite to eat for sure.
An hour down the 10 will bring you to Baton Rouge, the last stop on our journey for now. This is the Louisiana state capital, and brings some of the best Cajun cultural stops so far. There's the USS Kidd, a naval battleships full of history exhibits and guided tours. When are you going to have the chance to tour a battleship again?
If that's not your thing, there's the Baton Rouge Zoo, full of the typical Zoo-type attractions, as well as botanical gardens and an arboretum. There's also the Magnolia Mount Plantation House, a plantation home from the 1700s with French Creole influences.
This road trip is about two hours of solid driving time, but you're going to spend a lot more time exploring all of these attractions.
Baton Rouge to New Orleans
This is a shorter trip, but there's plenty to do in each place that you're sure to enjoy it anyway. It's an hour and a half from Baton Rouge, Louisiana's state capital, to its most popular city. The drive is entirely green in the spring and summer, and covered in gorgeous foliage in the fall.
You're going to want to hop on the I-10 at Baton Rouge and go southeast down to New Orleans. You'll pass a lot of small communities. There's a magnificent bridge where the interstate passes over Lake Pontchartrain, with two separate bridges for traffic. It's not that far to New Orleans, but it's an amazing drive.
In New Orleans, there's more to do than just Mardi Gras. Some of the more popular tourist attractions are the French Quarter, full of iconic buildings and famous restaurants and hotels. The infamous Bourbon Street runs right through the French Quarter. Café du Monde, a historic café, has the best Creole-style powdered beignets – but don't inhale while you're eating them!
The French quarter also has a ton of cemeteries that are a lot like Lafayette Cemetery, full of historic, above-ground tombs. If you feel like getting spooky, you can take one of the many New Orleans Haunted Tours or Voodoo Tours. There's so much to do in New Orleans, this is just the tip of the iceberg. You should check it out and find some of your own attractions to pursue!
Louisiana's River Road Plantations
Louisiana is well-known for the wealth of old slave-driven plantation homes. A lot of them are still standing today, and have been restored to allow history and cultural tours. These houses are important parts of our history, full of magnificent architecture and a definitively Louisianan atmosphere.
The River Road area features areas on either side of the Mississippi river in southern Louisiana. There are easily two dozen plantations on this route, but we'll look at a few of the notable ones. You'll want to start in Vacherie, Louisiana at the Laura Plantation. Laura Plantation is a Creole-style plantation, though the original building has been restored. On the property are several period-authentic buildings, including slave cabins and overseer's cottages.
Just 8 minutes away is the most famous plantation in the area, Oak Alley. This is the typical plantation house featured in movies and other media. The road leading up to the front door is covered by an 'alley' of oak trees. Take your pictures here, perhaps take a tour, and then hit Highway 18 again. Take a turn onto 3219, and then again onto Highway 3127. As stated previously, there are plenty of plantations along this route to stop and look at; some give guided tours, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
If you're heading straight for our next destination, you're going to want to turn onto Highway 70 for a short time before the junction with Highway 1. Take Highway 1 up past the town of White Castle to Nottoway Plantation. This plantation is open to the public and you can do your own self-guided tours. If you want to see inside the main house and see the famed staircase and ballroom this house is known for, you will need to take one of the other tours.
Another half hour to the north will take you past the Myrtle Grove Plantation (famed for its alleged hauntings), and into Baton Rouge to our last notable plantation, Magnolia Mound. This house is famous for its antique and antique art collections. It isn't the grandest of plantations on the route, but perhaps the most humble.
Louisiana is so much more than Mardi Gras. New Orleans is still worth a visit, though, and so are plenty of other places in the state. There are few places left in America with as much connection to their culture as in Louisiana.