The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the U.S., providing fresh water for a wide swath of south Louisiana. Smack in the middle of it is Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, a great introduction to the peculiar beauty of Cajun Country’s wetlands.
The region’s history alone brings many visitors to the park. Once occupied by the Chitimacha Indians, the French, Spanish and Acadians (French-speaking exiles from Canada better known today as Cajuns) have at various times claimed ownership of the area throughout the past 300 years.
Exploring the park is all about the boardwalks. Keep your boots dry as you hike the elevated walkways through healthy stands of cypress trees, taking in views of the park’s namesake waterway or neighboring Dauterive Lake. To better understand the sights and sounds of Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, park naturalists are on hand to help orient visitors, with programs that explain the history, ecology and biology of the Atchafalaya Basin.
Get an even closer view of the lakes with a canoe or kayak, available for rent at the park’s visitor’s center — ask about the canoe trail while you’re there. Seeing the waterlogged forests with a paddle in hand is perhaps the best way to get a feel for what the region must have looked like thousands of years ago. Lake Fausse Pointe State Park’s boat launch offers an opportunity to get out on the water quickly and conveniently.
Grill out under the canopies of cypress trees, and afterwards, get some rest at one of the park’s primitive campsites, canoe campsites (that require paddling in), RV sites and cabins. The cabins in particular are worth checking out — they’re not on the water, but rather, in the water, suspended by piers that add an especially rustic vibe to the surroundings.
While you’re in the area, visit one of the historic sites nearby to learn more about the swamp’s backstory. The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site and Vermilionville in Lafayette offer good introductions to regional history. Don’t leave the area without trying some world-famous Cajun cooking, found throughout Lafayette and New Iberia. And deep in the swamps you’ll also find Avery Island, home to TABASCO hot sauce (whose factory is open for tours) and the nature preserve known as Jungle Gardens.
Entrance fee: $3 per person; free for seniors age 62 and older, and children age 3 and younger.