NOLA’s Great Outdoors: Where to Find the Best Local HikesBy Anne Delatte
Jean Lafitte Historical Park and Preserve (Photo: Henryk Sedura/Shutterstock.com)
New Orleans may be more famous for its high-proof Hand Grenades than for hiking, but don’t let that stop you from strapping on your boots and sense of adventure to wander beyond Bourbon Street. Find some invigorating fresh air or a relaxing afternoon in nature with these hiking opportunities within easy reach of the Big Easy.
Couturie Forest, City Park
One of the largest urban parks in the country, New Orleans City Park has enough room for more than a few hidden gems, and Couturie Forest is a particular treasure for nature-lovers.
This secretive little patch of woodland manages to escape the notice of even some locals, but don’t let its low profile fool you — with a rich sampling of local flora and fauna, it’s easy to forget the French Quarter for a few hours and trade in the constant people-watching for some spectacular bird-watching.
You can also scale the highest peak in New Orleans, Laborde Mountain, which towers a heroic 43 feet above sea level. Slip away for an afternoon retreat that provides a respite from city bustle without leaving city limits.
Tammany Trace, St. Tammany Parish
Hop across Lake Pontchartrain to the north of New Orleans and put some miles on your hiking shoes with the Tammany Trace. This old railway line was converted into 31 miles of paved trail that constitutes the perfect year-round route for not only hikers but also bikers, rollerbladers and equestrians.
Take in the history and landscapes of the scenic Northshore area as you trek across bridges of old railroad trestles and under the arching branches of forest trees.
With trailheads anchored in five local communities, the Trace features plenty of points of interest for intrepid hikers. Fontainebleau State Park, just east of Mandeville, offers access to additional hiking and nature paths as well as the chance to camp out under the stars. Campgrounds range from the primitive to the premium, with lodges and group camps available.
Thirsty? Head towards Abita Springs, where you can take a break from hiking to admire the quirky Abita Mystery House and (of course) cool down with a frosty local beer directly from the Abita Brewery.
Barataria Preserve, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Looking to uncover some of the wonders of the Louisiana wetlands? Just across the Mississippi River in Marrero, miles of foot trails wind through the 23,000 acre Barataria Preserve, showcasing the unique wildlife and natural vistas of the area. Pace along the swamps and bayous on boardwalks that skim the surface of their mysterious waters, or venture onto the unpaved trails for a rugged, earthy trek.
Recommended for those who are looking for an up-close-and-personal experience with nature — don’t be surprised to find a nearby alligator enjoying the Southern sunshine just as much as you are. Visit in the spring to skirt the humidity and overeager mosquitoes and witness the famous giant blue irises of the park burst into bloom.