Arrive in Lafayette, Louisiana, early on Friday and stay late on Sunday to pack in as much toe-tapping Cajun and zydeco music, outdoor adventure, and crawfish pie as you can handle.
Louisiana’s fourth largest city is the unofficial capital of Cajun country. Learn about Lafayette’s Acadian, Native American, and Creole roots by listening to toe-tapping music, watching craft demonstrations, and touring historic homes at Vermilionville, a 23-acre living history museum and folk life park depicting Acadian life in 1765-1890.
Paddle through Cajun Country's watery wild side on a kayak trip through one of the area’s many cypress-lined swamps or bayous. Local outfitter Pack & Paddle rents kayaks, leads private trips, and shares tips for floating scenic routes such as the seven-mile Bayou Fuselier loop, part of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area.
At Parish Brewing Company in Broussard (seven miles south of downtown Lafayette) try a Canebrake wheat ale brewed with pure cane syrup from the historic Steen’s Syrup Mill in Abbeville. Arrive back in Lafayette in time for Downtown Alive!, the free outdoor concert/street party held Fridays (spring and fall) from 6 to 8 p.m. Feast on crawfish étouffée and listen to live music at Prejean’s, a Lafayette classic specializing in simple Cajun cuisine. Close out the night at the Blue Moon Saloon where the Friday night live show and dance party kicks off at 10 p.m.
Eat & Stay: Johnson’s Boucaniere and Maison D’Memoire, Rayne
Saturday Morning: Opelousas
From Lafayette, take I-49 N seven miles to LA-182 N (exit 7, Carencro), part of the 283-mile Zydeco Cajun Prairie Byway. The scenic rural route (one of 18 Louisiana Scenic Byways) showcases Acadian music traditions, heritage sites, and historic towns.
Follow this section of the byway 17 miles to Opelousas, “Zydeco Capital of the World” and birthplace of the king of zydeco, accordionist Clifton Chenier. Learn about zydeco music and Opelousas history at Le Vieux Village historical park and heritage museum. The recreated historic village is home to the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum and showcases 18th- and 19th-century St. Landry Parish structures, such as a mud-and-moss-walled Creole home built about 1791.
In downtown Opelousas, take a selfie in front of the new postcard mural on the Delta Grand Theatre. Shop for authentic Cajun spices or blend your own seasoning mix at Targil Seasoning & Butcher Supplies. Before leaving town, stop at Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins for a bag of boudin balls—fried globes of hot and spicy, batter-dipped boudin sausage. Ask for extra napkins.
Eat: T-Coon’s, Lafayette (breakfast) and Mama’s Fried Chicken, Opelousas (lunch)
Saturday Afternoon/Evening: Ville Platte and Alexandria
From Opelousas, take US-167 N 18 miles to Ville Platte, home to 6,400-acre Chicot State Park. Spend the afternoon hiking, canoeing (rentals available), and watching for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, alligator, a wide variety of birds, and other wild things. The nominal entrance fee ($3 per person; free for ages 3 and under and 62 and over) includes admission to the Louisiana State Arboretum located within the park’s borders.
Hiking and nature trails range from the arboretum’s 500-foot-long Bald Cypress Trail to the park’s 20-mile loop around Lake Chicot. The arboretum’s 1.5-mile Walker Branch Trail (trailhead is near the Nature Center) includes a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk through bottomland hardwood forest.
After playing in the park, get back on I-49 N (about 10 miles northwest of Ville Platte via LA-29 E) and drive 54 miles north to Alexandria to spend the night.
Side Trip: Before heading to Alexandria, consider detouring 27 miles south of the park to Eunice for “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns,” a rollicking Cajun radio and TV show broadcast live (6 to 7:30 p.m.) most Saturdays from the Liberty Theater. No translation is required to enjoy the French-language variety show’s Cajun and Zydeco music and comedy sketches. General admission tickets are only $5 and go on sale at the theater at 4 p.m.
Eat & Stay: Cajun Landing and Hotel Bentley, Alexandria
Sunday Morning: Alexandria-Pineville to Lecompte
Neighboring cities Alexandria and Pineville sit on opposite sides of the Red River. In Pineville, visit the Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site to walk the elevated boardwalk trails, learn about central Louisiana Civil War history, and get prime river views from the Bailey’s Dam overlook. In Alexandria, stroll around the Alexandria Zoo and see the Louisiana Maneuvers exhibit (inside the Hotel Bentley) commemorating the nearly 500,000 United States Army soldiers who trained in central Louisiana during World War II.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Alexandria-Pineville is also a gateway to Kisatchie National Forest. To take a scenic forest hike, drive 20 miles southwest (via LA-28 W to LA-121 S) of Alexandria to the Wild Azalea Trail (WAT) trailhead at the Valentine Lake Recreation Area. The 31-mile WAT (Louisiana’s longest hiking trail) bursts with color from late March to the end of April when its namesake flowering shrubs bloom. Hike in and out a few miles to sample the trail’s woodland, water, and wildlife views.
Hit the road by 2 p.m. to eat Sunday dinner at Lea’s Lunchroom in Lecompte (15 miles south of Alexandria via I-49 S and US-71 S). The restaurant closes at 4 p.m., and you’ll need extra time to enjoy a slice of homemade pie (try the pecan or double-crust peach) for dessert.
Eat: Harlow’s Donut & Bakery, Pineville (breakfast) and Lea’s Lunchroom, Lecompte (lunch)
Sunday Afternoon/Evening: Lecompte to Lafayette
From Lecompte, take US-71 S for 17 miles to Bunkie, home to Live Oak Plantation (not open to the public), Bayou Boeuf, and other featured sites on the Northup Trail, a Louisiana byway. The trail commemorates the journey taken by Solomon Northup, whose 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave was made into the 2013 Best Picture Academy Award-winning film by the same name. After seeing Northup Trail stops in and around Bunkie, get back on I-49 S (via LA-106 W) for the 47-mile ride back to Lafayette.
If time allows, close out your Cajun Country weekend with one more live music performance. Feed & Seed and Artsmosphere regularly host Sunday shows, and Cajun and zydeco bands play Sundays (and every other night) from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Randol’s, a seafood restaurant.
Eat & Stay: Bon Temps Grill and T’Frere’s House Bed & Breakfast, Lafayette