1. Bayou Teche Paddle Trail
Of the countless reasons to visit St. Mary Parish, also known as the Cajun Coast, the biggest among them may be the land itself. Bayous and cypress forests, driving and paddling trails — if you want to see some of America’s wettest wild places, you need to be here. Gear up for a trip down the Bayou Teche Paddle Trail, 135 miles of Atchafalaya swampland with conveniently located access points that allow canoeists and kayakers to go for short day trips or more ambitious multi-day journeys. Start planning your paddle trip.
There are plenty of local festivals, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. The Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival (April, in Franklin) celebrates the native Louisiana black bear, which is found almost exclusively in the state, with live music and boat tours of the Bayou Teche. The Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show (April, in Franklin) is an ode to Cajun craftsmanship, and features antique and newly built watercraft that have made it one of the fastest-growing fests of its kind in the Southeast.
The enormously popular Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival (September 1-4, 2017 in Morgan City) is a huge celebration of two of the region’s most prominent industries, hosting local and nationally touring musicians, arts and crafts displays, the Children’s Village and the Blessing of the Fleet. And in October, the Chitimacha Pow Wow in Charenton honors the local American Indian tribe with competitive dancing and drumming.
A little bit of Vegas in Cajun Country? Sure! Amelia Belle Casino, downriver from Morgan City in Amelia, is home to 800 slots as well as table games including blackjack, craps and roulette. Cypress Bayou Casino, located on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation, is a top regional destination for dining and gaming. Its 1,300-plus slots and more than 35 table games are just part of the draw—Cypress Bayou also has five restaurants with outstanding dishes that include praline-coated chicken and biscuits at Mabel’s Kitchen, and mouthwatering steaks at Mr. Lester’s Steakhouse.
4. Mardi Gras
Cajuns know how to party, and the many eclectic festivals you’ll find throughout St. Mary Parish prove that. Take Mardi Gras, for example. Towns and villages through the Cajun Coast go into parade mode in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday (Feb. 13, 2018). From Berwick to Bayou Vista, Morgan City to Cypremort Point, there’s a party going on — and all y’all are invited! See how much fun we had during Mardi Gras 2017.
5. The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway
Driving the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, one of the 19 driving trails that make up the Louisiana Byways & Trails system, is an awesome intro to the area’s culture, history and geography. On it, you’ll find the Chitimacha Museum in Charenton (home of the Chitimacha Indian Tribe), the Wedell-Williams Aviation & Cypress Sawmill Museum, the International Petroleum Museum & Exhibition and the Southwest Reef Lighthouse.
Spending the night on a houseboat is an unforgettable way to experience the wild beauty of the Cajun Coast. Hear the sounds of the swamps set against the backdrop of dense forests, with the comforts of home within arm’s reach. Fire up the grill, cast a line, go on mini-excursions into the bayous, and most of all — relax. Cajun Houseboat & Rentals, Inc., Bayou Rehab Houseboat Rentals and Bayou Houseboats can get you set up.
7. History Tours
Of course you could read a history book about Cajun culture, but why not see it in person? A couple noteworthy stops include Arlington Plantation House & Gardens, a historic Greek Revival home in Franklin that’s open by appointment for tours, and the Franklin Historic District. Most of these homes (more than 400 of them) were built in the late 1800s, and the turn-of-the-century structures situated near the railroad lines make Franklin and unforgettable, picture-worthy place.
8. The Southwest Reef Lighthouse
There’s no mistaking the Southwest Reef Lighthouse when you see it: A large red monument to the glory days of south Louisiana’s fishing industry. Built in 1858, this Berwick attraction in Atchafalaya Bay was built to replace lightships that had been guiding boats to shore well over a century ago.
9. Cajun Cuisine
The Acadians (later known as Cajuns) who migrated to south Louisiana in the 1700s knew how to live off the land, and that resulted in a unique culinary tradition that has made the region world-famous. Find authentic, locally sourced Cajun delicacies at such restaurants as Bayou Lagniappe in Berwick, Atchafalaya Restaurant Club House in Patterson, Mabel’s Kitchen in Charenton and Joe’s on the Bayou in Franklin.
10. Swamp Tours and Cypremort Point
Swamp tours offer a quick, convenient way to get up close and personal with St. Mary Parish’s natural beauty. Part Cajun history lesson (since the people and swamps are inextricably linked), part eco-adventure, you’ll witness the Atchafalaya Basin’s awesome beauty while learning about the fur trappers, crabbers, crawfish fishermen and farmers who carved out a living in the nation’s largest river swamp and is also known as “America’s Foreign Country.”
No trip to the Cajun Coast would be complete without seeing the coast itself. Cypremort Point State Park’s half-mile stretch of sandy beach makes for a perfect getaway where visitors can picnic, swim and try their hand at crabbing. Sailing here is especially popular as well.