Frank DiCesare reports from one of the country’s most scenic byways: The Creole Nature Trail.
Though Louisiana is synonymous with smooth jazz, sultry nights, and a certain streetcar named Desire, travel to the Bayou State extends far beyond Bourbon Street. In fact, a three and a half hour drive west of New Orleans will bring outdoor enthusiasts to one of the nation’s oldest and most cherished scenic byways, the Creole Nature Trail.
Known as the Louisiana Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a 180-mile All-American Road that meanders through Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes in the state’s southwest corner. Along the way, visitors can travel through three National Wildlife Refuges (Sabine, Cameron Prairie, and Lacassine) which encompass 250,000 acres of some of the best outdoor activities — and most photogenic alligators — in the country.
“When you think of Louisiana you think of marshes and swamps,” says Diane Borden-Billiot, visitor services manager of Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “It’s just a whole different look. People from outside Louisiana are attracted to this area because it’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.”
The trail’s waterfowl season began this month and runs through the first week of February. But whether visitors choose to shoot with shotguns or Canons, or prefer to peek through a pair of binoculars, the region’s bird population is second to none. Sabine’s 124,511 acres is home to more than 300 species of birds, of which 27 types of ducks, geese, and mergansers are legal to hunt. Trail officials arrange waterfowl hunts for youths, adults, and seniors, which run from daybreak until noon.
Hunters must apply for these hunts and comply with the bag limits that are imposed on certain waterfowl species.
Birders and wildlife photographers can set their own sights on some of the country’s most exotic and rarely-seen birds, including those that are only seen on the refuge every two to five years. A lucky few might even catch a glimpse of a bald eagle.
For those who prefer fish to fowl, autumn at the Creole Nature Trail is also great for fishing, crabbing, and shrimping. Fishermen from around the country dip their lines and casting nets in the trail’s lakes and rivers in search of flounder, redfish, and speckled trout, a trio locals call “the grand slam of fishing.” Shrimping along the trail’s marshes is particularly popular.
“Around here, casting for shrimp is like panning for gold,” says Borden-Billiot. “As the shrimp come out of these canals and channels, people are more likely to catch them in their nets because they are pinched up coming through these channels. It’s very exciting, and it only happens at certain times of the year.”
So grab your gear, your hat, and your sunscreen. Cajun life is calling.
Photo by Frank DiCesare