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 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.
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.
You can also find rental facilities on the Bogue Chitto River in the Florida Parishes. In the Atchafalaya area, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers canoe rentals.
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 detailed information on facilities, including boat ramps and rentals, around the state, see Louisiana’s State Parks.