Health + Fitness

7 Refuges for Nature Lovers in New Orleans

Riverview Park, known locally as “The Fly” (Photo: Joshua Brasted)

New Orleans is known for big sounds and sights, but as an alternative to the 24-hour party scene here are seven hidden corners suited to a nature-lover’s soul:

City Park offers lush grounds with live oaks dripping in Spanish moss. The Mid-City park’s entrance is at Esplanade and Carrolton Avenues, with Big Lake pond just to the right. A three-quarter-mile path lines the pond, and passes a gazebo with waterfall and 14-foot wind chimes dangling from the Singing Oak. Settle down on one of the benches beneath the tree and listen to the chimes as geese glide across the pond.

Lake Pontchartrain, a 630-square-mile body of water, is one reason Louisiana earned its slogan, Sportsman’s Paradise. The lakefront boasts a newly paved walkway with benches and palm trees reinforced against tropical storm season. The pelican, the state bird, has made a comeback after being endangered and you may spot one diving in for plentiful fish. For carnival flair, Mardi Gras Fountain on Lakeshore Drive is circled by plaques of New Orleans’ krewes, some dating back a century.

Audubon Zoo, named for naturalist John James Audubon, offers some of the most scenic, secluded hideaways in New Orleans. Just past the St. Charles Avenue entrance, benches line a lagoon with two fountains. On any given afternoon, turtles sun themselves on tree trunks and many of the birds that first inspired Audubon’s artwork fill the landscape.

“The Fly,” officially known as Riverview Park, extends toward the rear of the Audubon grounds that line the Mississippi River. You’re likely to find students engaged in volleyball games or crawfish boils, but for a nature lover’s sanctuary, check out the viewing shelter overlooking the river.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest of New Orleans’ cemeteries, known collectively as “Cities of the Dead” because the tombs are above-ground. In its verdant setting, angelic and gothic sculptures mark plots where generations are laid to rest. Visit the Uptown neighborhood cemetery at 1400 Washington Avenue from 8 a.m.– 2:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m.– 12 p.m. on Saturdays.

Washington Square Park is a tree-lined alternative to the Frenchmen Street party scene. The park features a playground and a music-themed sculpture—appropriate since you’ll likely encounter buskers. The “No Dogs, Bikes or Alcohol” sign is disregarded as all three abound, given the Marigny neighborhood’s bohemian nature. Visit from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. in the winter, and until 7 p.m. after Daylight Savings.

Governor Nicholls Street Wharf, just past the Riverfront Streetcar line, is a prime location to sit on the banks of the Mississippi River and watch wind toward the Gulf of Mexico. Morning is the ideal time to take in the ambiance as steamboats play calliope tunes and seagulls circle, making the riverbank a serene spot in the French Quarter.