If you drive down I-10 through south-central Louisiana, you’ll notice big brightly painted highway signs for the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. The American-Indian word Atchafalaya (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-LIE-uh) means “long river,” after the Atchafalaya River, and the national heritage area includes 14 parishes that surround or are near it. This includes the Atchafalaya Basin, known as a favorite spot among locals and visitors alike for swamp excursions, crawfishing and Louisiana’s famous Cajun French culture.
But what you may not know is that the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is home to a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean and Native-American descent. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the U.S. and offers a myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities such as paddling, biking, birding, camping, hunting and fishing. It’s also a mecca for landscape and wildlife photography thanks to its bottomland hardwood forests, bayous, backwater lakes and swamps filled with Spanish-moss-covered baldcypress trees. Each bend in the river tells a story, making the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area an ever-changing landscape and earning it the nickname America's Foreign Country - an intriguing moniker that makes you want to explore every square inch of it!
October, designated annually as Atchafalaya Month in Louisiana, is the perfect time to visit the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. The weather is cooler and Louisiana’s official state tree, the baldcypress, turns rustic shades of brown and orange (or what I like to call “swamp chic”). The days are also shorter, so you don’t have to get up too early or stay out too late to catch majestic Louisiana sunsets and sunrises. And the pesky mosquitoes that are a burden to outdoor activities in the summer become scarce with the lower temperatures. Attending festivals during the fall is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Savor warm gumbo or étoufée, dance the two-step and learn the secrets to our local joie de vivre.
You could easily spend a lifetime exploring this mysterious land and trying to understand the eclectic cultural mix of its people, but for visitors on a time crunch, here are five events in October that will provide a taste of all there is to discover in the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area:
On Oct. 5 in Grosse Tete, Experience the authenticity of Cajun life at the Iberville Parish Swamp Life Expo, the official kick-off to Louisiana’s month-long “Experience Atchafalaya Days” event series taking place throughout the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. Enjoy a display of local art, food, craftsmanship and music through hands-on demonstrations and cultural displays of the heritage and lifestyles of Iberville Parish.
Fall in love with the Wetlands at the Voice of the Wetlands Festival on Oct. 11-13 in Houma, featuring authentic Cajun cuisine, an art market, late-night jams, and RV and tent camping. Stop by for a day or stay the weekend, but don’t leave the little ones behind! The small-animal zoo and the children's area make it perfect for a family getaway.
Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off Oct. 12-13 in New Iberia. Sample the many flavors that make up our culture and listen to free live music in Bouligny Plaza. This year’s “Lights. Camera. Gumbo!” themed event features over 100 different gumbos and continues the tradition of Roux Run, Meanest Beans Competition and Cajun Creole Foodfest.
Ranked by USA Today as one of the Top 10 Best Costume Parties in the United States, the Rougarou Fest is a family-friendly festival with a spooky flair that celebrates the rich folklore of the bayous of Southeast Louisiana. The festival, taking place Oct. 26-27 in Houma, showcases live music, cultural activities, children’s activities, Cajun food, the Krewe Ga Rou parade and so much more. All proceeds go to the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center – a nonprofit organization that is revolutionizing how we think, teach and learn about Louisiana’s coast.
Click here for more information about these and other events taking place throughout the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area.