Louisiana bayou deep in the heart of Cajun Country

Louisiana Road Trip — Pontchartrain to Cajun Country

Stretching from New Orleans to Lafayette, US Route 90 stretches through bayous, ancient cypress swamps, and the into the heart of Cajun country and the Louisiana bayou. The road trip starts in the French quarter of New Orleans, where visitors can explore a place and culture centuries old. From Creole to Acadian (Cajun), explore the bayous and byways of Southern Louisiana. French accents, plentiful wildlife, Cajun music, and tasty cuisine make the region a must see in the Fall and Spring months.

How Long? 300.5 miles from New Orleans to the end (around 7 hours). Once you’ve finished in Lafayette, it’s an additional 134 miles (2 hours) back to New Orleans.

When to go? Spring and Fall. Summers can be extremely hot and humid. Winter months are okay, but you’re less likely to see wildlife, especially alligators.

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Start in The French Quarter

The French Quarter of New Orleans.
The French Quarter of New Orleans.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
/ French Quarter Visitor Center

419 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Nouvelle Orleans, New Orleans’s French Quarter, was developed in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. As people moved to the quarter from all over the world, a unique culture rich in food, music, and tradition quickly developed. The Jean Lafitte’s French Quarter Visitors Center presents the history and traditions of the city and the lower Mississippi River delta region through a variety of exhibits and a film. The visitor’s center is also a great place to begin your tour of the old French quarter with sightseeing tours, brochures, and visitor’s information.

Quick TipLove touring old buildings? Check out 15 of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter.


Side trip! New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park

916 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Stop by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park to learn more about the origins and evolution of jazz music. The 4-acre park is technically in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, but it’s near the French Quarter. The visitor centers can be found at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at 400 Esplanade Avenue.

Barataria Preserve. Source: Ken Lund, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Barataria Preserve. Source: Ken Lund, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve at Barataria

6588 Barataria Boulevard, Marrero, LA 70072

Once you cross the Greater New Orleans Bridge, follow the West Bank Expressway (Route 90) west to Route 45, which leads south to the Barataria section of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Located just outside of Marrero, the preserve contains 23,000 acres of coastal wetlands. Walk along boardwalks and dirt trails to view the variety of animals (such as alligators) and over 20 species of birds that live in the swamps, freshwater marshes and hardwood forests. Download the trail map, explore with a cell phone tour, or enjoy a self-guided walking tour of Pecan Grove. The town of Jean Lafitte, named after the pirate-turned-patriot, is also just down the road from the preserve.

Example of a Cajun Cabin. Source: James DeMers
Example of a Cajun Cabin. Source: James DeMers

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center

314 St Mary St, Thibodaux, LA 70301

You’ll take a slight detour on to Route 1 into the small town of Thibodaux. The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is a National Park Service center with exhibits on Cajun culture along with boat tours, walking tours of Historic Thibodaux, and Cajun music nights. Learn about the lives of the Acadians (Cajuns) and others who lived in Louisiana’s bayous. On Tuesday nights, the Cercle Francophone gives you a great opportunity to watch linguistic history in action and learn French, Cajun or otherwise. In the Spring and the Fall, boat tours tour Bayou Lafourche, locally known as the “longest street in the world.” Watch for birds and alligators and learn about the bayou ecosystem.

Swamp near Houma, Louisiana
Swamp near Houma, Louisiana

Houma, Louisiana Swamp Tours

Houma Area Visitor’s Center, 114 Tourist Drive, Gray, LA 70359

Getting back on Route 90, you’ll pass through Houma, nicknamed the Venice of America due to its 55 bridges that cross its waterways and over 2,500 square miles of wetlands. More than 65% of Terrebonne Parish consists of wetlands and open water.  Houma’s streets hug the bayou, which served as towpaths in days gone by. Stop by the Houma Area Visitor’s Center to learn about the area and to get restaurant guides, local maps, and suggested itineraries. Houma’s marshland, diverse environment and wildlife, excellent food, and authentic Cajun culture make it an excellent stop on the Bayou Byway.

Quick TipLooking for some authentic Cajun cooking? Stop at the Jolly Inn in Houma (1507 Barrow St, Houma, LA 70360)  for spicy food and live music.

Another local favorite is A-Bear’s Restaurant (809 Bayou Black Dr, Houma, LA 70360), a small restaurant that serves authentic Cajun fare.

Oaklawn Manor

3296 E Oaklawn Dr, Franklin, LA 70538

Outside of Calumet on Route 90, you’ll detour onto Route 182. This new route allows you to follow the bends of Bayou Teche, a 125-mile-long waterway. During the steamboat era, sugar barons built large homes right along the stream leading the area to be called “Sugarcane Country.” Oaklawn Manor is one such plantation house, built in 1837 by Alexander Porter. The restored Greek Revival structure is surrounded by one of the largest groves of live oaks in America.

Shadows-on-the-Teche. Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress.
Shadows-on-the-Teche. Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress.


317 E Main St, New Iberia, LA 70560

Several additional antebellum homes can be found on the route into New Iberia. (Stay on Route 182, despite your navigation system’s best effort to take you back to I-90. It’s the scenic route). The Shadows-on-the-Teche is one such house built by sugarcane planter David Weeks in 1834. This coral-brick, white-columned home is 3,750 square feet and nestled on the banks of Bayou Teche.  The Classic Revival-style home with a traditional Louisiana garden has tours and seasonal events, such as Terror-on-the-Teche. The house was also the first site in the Gulf South listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Jungle Gardens and Bird Sanctuary (Avery Island)

Hwy 329, Avery Island, LA 70513

The home of TABASCO® Pepper Sauce, Avery Island is also home to Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary. Jungle Garden features over 20,000 egrets and its egret rookery built on bamboo piers. The semitropical garden stretches along Bayou Petite Anse.  The island itself is a large salt done, best known as the source of TABASCO® Sauce, a staple of Cajun cuisine. Go to the TABASCO® Visitors Center (32 Wisteria Rd, Avery Island, LA 70513) and take a tour, a cooking class, or book a TABASCO®  Culinary Tour.

Flowers from Rip Van Winkle GardensRip Van Winkle Gardens

5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd, New Iberia, LA 70560

After leaving the antebellum manor, head down Route 14 towards Jefferson Island to explore another semi-tropical garden and mansion. The small island was named after Joseph Jefferson, an actor who played the part of Rip Van Winkle on stage over 4500 times. The Joseph Jefferson Mansion was built in 1870 in a Victorian style with a fourth-story cupola. It sits atop the salt dome approximately 75 feet above sea level. The Gardens consist of 15 acres nestled among 350-year-old oak trees.

Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville, LA. Sorce: Maren, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville, LA. Source: Maren, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

1200 N Main St, St Martinville, LA 70582

After leaving Jefferson Island, you’ll head east on Route 675 and then north on Routes 76 and Route 31 to St. Martinville, a town established as a military post in 1714. After being expelled from Nova Scotia by British authorities in 1755, the Acadians (Cajuns) settled in the town. During the French Revolution, so many Refugees came to St. Martinville that the town was called Le Petit Paris. The small town is best known as the setting for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline.

Evangeline Oak Park (122 Evangeline St, St Martinville, LA 70582) has a large oak tree called the Evangeline Oak. The oak tree is where Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, supposedly the inspirations behind Longfellow’s poem, reunited after years of separation. (It’s the third Evangeline Oak.) The tree itself can be found at the end of Port Street and is often used by musicians who sometimes gather to play Cajun tunes.

The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site showcases the regions French-speaking people along the famed Bayou Teche. The 175-acre park also includes a reproduction of an Acadian Farmstead that shows what a typical single-family farm would have looked like in 1800. Also on the site is the Maison Oliver, a plantation built around 1815, in a distinct architectural style that is a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influence.

Lake Fausse Pointe at Sunset. Source: Edd Prince on Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Lake Fausse Pointe at Sunset. Source: Edd Prince on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Lake Fausse Pointe State Park

5400 Levee Rd, St Martinville, LA 70582

About 18 miles east of St. Martinsville in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin sits Lake Fausse Pointe State Park. The site of one of the oldest bald cypress groves in the region, the 6,000-acre recreation area was formerly the home site of the Chitimacha Indians. It was later occupied by French and Acadian farmers. The influx of Spanish and Canary Islanders also influenced the local culture. The park sits at the edge of a beautiful water wilderness.  Hike the elevated walkways and view Lake Fausse or the nearby Dauterive Lake. You can also rent canoes or kayaks at the park’s visitor center and see the waterlogged forests and canopies of cypress trees up close.

Beaux Bridge

1908 Atchafalaya River Hwy, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517-8518

Known as the crawfish capital of the world, Breaux Bridge holds a festival every year in May. During this event, you’ll find Cajun music, carnival rides, and crawfish eating contests. In the Fall, the St. Francis of Assisi Fall Celebration has a variety of barbeque and catfish dinners as well.  Antique stores, seafood restaurants, and other little shops fill the historic downtown area. You’ll often hear traditional Cajun music played by local musicians. The Atchafalaya Welcome Center offers additional background on the Atchafalaya area with educational exhibits and an introductory movie on Cajun food.

Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Swamp Tours

Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Swamp Tours

1377 Henderson Levee Rd, Henderson, LA 70517

Looking to take a swamp tour of the Atchafalaya Basin? The Atchafalaya Basin lLanding& Marina tour takes you deep into the Henderson Swamp. The swamp consists of mossy cypress forests, Louisiana Alligators, and a deep history as the original home of the Cajun people. Using an airboat, you’ll get to ride under I-10 on the swamp tour as you view alligators up to 10-feet long and a variety of bird life, such as the osprey. Depending on what you want to see, the Atchafalaya area has a host of tour providers that cover different regions of the swamp.

The tour will end in Lafayette, located in the heart of Cajun country.

A cabin in the Acadian Village.
An example of an Acadian cabin.

Acadian Village

200 Greenleaf Dr, Lafayette, LA 70506

For a final stop on your tour, visit LARC’s Acadian Village, an open-air museum that features one of the oldest authentic versions of Acadian life.  The village recreates a small, 19th-century Cajun bayou community with 11 relocated Cajun homes and a Native American museum. Besides that, a bayou also runs through the community.

Quick TipLooking for some (more) authentic Cajun cooking? Stop at the Blue Moon in Lafayette (215 E Convent St, Lafayette, LA 70501)  for tasty food and live music.

The Azalea Trail is a driving tour through historical Lafayette.
The Azalea Trail is a driving tour through historical Lafayette.

Azalea Trail

1400 NW Evangeline Throughway, Lafayette, LA 70501

The Azalea Trail stretches for 20 miles across historical sites, city streets, and private homes in Lafayette. Landmarks along the trail include the Lafayette Museum, Boulevard of Floral Splendor and Mouton Plantation. The well-marked tour can be downloaded or picked up from the visitors center.

From here, take I-10 back to New Orleans.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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