Paddling Louisiana’s waters, you’ll pass under mysterious canopies, see elegant birdlife and even brush past the occasional alligator. Instead of the fast-rushing “white waters” found elsewhere, here you find quiet exploration in the labyrinthine bayous, rivers and sloughs that cover the state in a liquid network.
“It’s a unique experience,” says Brad Wagstaff, an avid paddler who grew up on Louisiana’s waters. “Here you have the opportunity to just lose yourself.”
In north Louisiana, Bayou Bartholomew and Bayou Chemin-A-Haut offer some of the loveliest day floats in the state. Bayou Chemin-A-Haut is walled on both sides by what Ernest Herndon, author of the book Canoeing Louisiana describes as a “veritable gallery of cypress trees.”
Other favorites for paddlers are the scenic rivers in north and central Louisiana, as well as in the Florida Parishes. In western Louisiana, the Whiskey Chitto Creek is the most popular spot, and there are plenty of rental options. Mittie, north of Lake Charles, is the town to look for—it bills itself as the canoe capital of Louisiana. If you come to Louisiana without a canoe or kayak in tow, no problem. For instance, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, Bayou Segnette State Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park all offer rentals just a short drive from the center of New Orleans.
In places like Blind River near Gramercy, and Lake Fausse Pointe and Henderson Swamp in the Atchafalaya Basin, you’ll spot gorgeous birdlife like egrets, herons and roseate spoonbills. The key to exploring these areas, Wagstaff says, is to point your boat into the less-traveled areas.
Within the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area lies the Bayou Teche National Water Trail. The Bayou Teche, a 135-mile-long waterway, was added to the National Water Trail System in 2015 as the 17th water trail in the country and the first in Louisiana. In Lafayette, check out the Bayou Vermilion Paddle Trail in the Bayou Vermilion District, where recreation areas, boat and canoe launches, and areas of historical interest are highlighted. Also in the Atchafalaya area, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers canoe rentals.
In the southeast corner of the state, the Grand Isle State Park offers the opportunity to canoe or kayak in the Gulf waters. For a purely urban paddling experience, check out Bayou St. John, where you can paddle through the calm water of a scenic waterway and enjoy the scenery right inside the city of New Orleans. The short route takes you through a historic residential area along both banks of the bayou with interesting neighborhood views.
For Wagstaff, paddling is Louisiana’s answer to hiking. “To see a lot of the wild country in Louisiana, you have to do it by water,” he says. For additional resources on trails and facilities, including boat ramps and rentals, around the state, see Louisiana’s State Parks and The TECHE Project.