The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for—the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area has everything to offer.
Paddle trails on the Atchafalaya
Bayou Teche/Lower Atchafalaya River Paddling Trail: This trail offers up to 10 miles (16km) of paddling if you begin at the Calumet Cut. From there you’ll glide through Patterson to the mouth of the Bayou Teche at the Atchafalaya River.
Lake Fausse Pointe State Park & Canoe Trail: Located in the Atchafalaya Basin near St. Martinville, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers miles of canoeing and kayaking trails in a labyrinth of waterways. You’ll also find hiking trails, cabins and campsites, a boat launch and a playground.
Grand Avoille Cove Paddling Trail (Atchafalaya Basin): Lake Fausse Pointe and Grand Avoille Cove lie adjacent to the Atchafalaya Basin swamp. The Atchafalaya River runs through the basin, which extends north from Morgan City past Lafayette in a maze of bayous, lakes, ponds and cypress swamps. The area is a great place for birding, as the cove is lined with cypress trees.
Atchafalaya birding trails
Iberia Parish Birding Trail: Louisiana’s coast in Iberia Parish has the perfect combination of wetlands, seed and soil to welcome rare and beautiful birds into its shoreland. The warm temperatures and location within the southern migratory flyway means more than 240 species have been documented here.
Iberville Parish Birding Trail: Uniquely located between two major migratory routes, the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Flyways, Iberville offers the public an excellent opportunity to observe unique bird species like neo-tropical migratory songbirds, migratory humming-birds, migratory wading birds, and raptors.
Biking trails in the area
Atchafalaya Basin Wilderness Trail: The Atchafalaya Wilderness Trail is a remote gravel trail that runs on top of the levee for about 55 miles (89km) from Henderson through three parishes to Franklin, Louisiana. It’s open for bike riders, walkers and hikers to enjoy.
Old River Control Structure to Natchez Trace Link: You can begin this route at the Old River Lock, which allows boats to enter the Atchafalaya River from the Mississippi River. The route from here travels alongside and sometimes on top of the levee bordering the Mississippi River. Several wildlife preserves along the way offer opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting or exploring.
Simmesport, Marksville, Washington Loop: This is a nice ride that goes through small towns, including Hamburg, Moreauville, Mansura and Marksville. As you leave Moreauville, you will follow Bayou des Glaises northward through Mansura, a community settled by Frenchmen in the 1700s and now home to a popular annual cochon de lait, a roasted pig festival held each spring.
St. Martinville to Fausse Pointe Loop: This ride begins in historic St. Martinville and loops eastward past Lake Dautrieve to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares) near what once was the home site of the Chitimacha Indians.
Franklin to Morgan City: Nature and history offers the main attractions and points of interest along this route, which tracks Bayou Teche for much of the way. Keep an eye out for wildlife.
Morgan City to White Castle: As you leave Morgan City, you’ll cycle along beautiful Lake Palourde, one of the largest natural lakes in Louisiana. Veer off and ride to the top of the levee occasionally for a look at one of the most beautiful swampland wilderness areas in the nation, the Atchafalaya Basin. In Pierre Part, stop for a photo of the bayou running through the main street—you might even see one of the locals paddling a pirogue.
National Wildlife Refuge trails
Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge: The primary mission of this refuge in the lower part of the Atchafalaya Basin is to preserve and manage habitat for the threatened Louisiana black bear, so there is potential for bear sightings along the system of interconnected trails. Other wildlife you are likely to spot include wading birds, neotropical songbirds, waterfowl, and various reptiles and amphibians Within the refuge, you can take your pick of four trails: Wood Duck Trail (approximately 10 miles/16km); Black Bear Trail (12 miles/19km); Alligator Trail (10 miles/16km); and Yellow Bayou Trail (6 miles/10km).
Indian Bayou National Wildlife Refuge: The Indian Bayou area is a 28,000-acre (11,300-hectare) paradise for hunters, fishermen, bird-watchers, boaters, nature photographers and outdoor enthusiasts located in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin. It is a haven for wading birds like the great blue heron and the great egret. Mallards and wood ducks are abundant, as are reptiles and amphibians, including the American alligator and western cottonmouth. Reflective white-on-blue directional signs mark the trails at major turning points, allowing paddlers to navigate without a guide.
For more, check out the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail to learn more about the Atchafalaya’s regional water story and the 50+ stops along this self-guided driving trail. And for an added bonus: Check out the many outdoorsy and cultural stops along the Bayou Teche Byway! Immerse yourself in Acadian culture in cafés and dance halls that serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.