The bayous of Louisiana, vast stretches of mysterious wilderness, offer stunning natural landscapes unlike any other.
This unspoilt nature, straight out of a dream, is unrivalled in its beauty.
On site, the majestic cypress trees draped in Spanish moss will whisper in your ear the legends and stories that have shaped the region, while your eye will linger on fascinating wildlife, from imposing alligators to graceful herons.
As you may have guessed, a trip to Louisiana is not complete without a trip to the swamp.
What are the best ways to visit Louisiana’s bayou and swamps? Here are three options for your next trip in Louisiana.
Table of Contents
- What you need to know before visiting the bayou
- The best ways to visit Louisiana’s swamps
What you need to know before visiting the bayou
Bayou vs swamp…. What are the differences?
During your trip to Louisiana, you’ll hear about bayou, swamp or marsh.
While these terms all refer more or less to densely vegetated bodies of water, there are a few differences between them.
A bayou is a term used mainly in the southern United States, in Louisiana and Texas for instance, to describe a slow-moving stream or swampy section of a river or lake.
The bayou is always located in a flat area and connected to a larger water source, such as a river. In Louisiana, these are “secondary branches of the Mississippi”, to quote the dictionary.
A swamp or marsh is a shallow wetland with stagnant water and vegetation adapted to this type of environment (cypress, mangrove, water lilies, etc.). They can be found all over the world.
In reality, a bayou is very much like a swamp. What really sets them apart is the concept of slow-moving water.
What equipment should you bring with you to visit the bayou?
The equipment you need to bring will vary according to the type of activity you choose, but certain accessories are essential:
- a hat * to protect you from the sun during the day
- a case to protect your cell phone * from water (especially if you’re kayaking)
- a bug repellent
- a bottle of water
What should you do if you come across an alligator?
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see alligators in the bayou.
While Louisianans pride themselves on the fact that “their” alligators are not aggressive (crocodiles are) and that attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, the fact remains that this is a wild animal with impressive teeth.
A few safety rules are in order:
- Never feed an alligator
- You don’t go near an alligator, you go away from it.
And do you know how to get away if an alligator comes after you? We were told that the best technique is to run in a zigzag pattern.
Does it really work? Fortunately, we didn’t had the chance to try out this technique, but now you know this information as well.
The best ways to visit Louisiana’s swamps
Ziplining from the air
Here’s a zip-line course you’ll remember for a long time! It’s not every day you get to do this kind of tour over the bayou, with alligators in the background.
During our stay, we had the opportunity to try out the ZipNola, located less than an hour from New Orleans.
This activity is suitable for families with young children as well as adults, thrill-seekers or more cautious persons, and offers an adrenalin-pumping view of the bayou from the air.
Apart from the first staircase to climb to reach the top of the starting tower, 60 feet in the air, this activity doesn’t require a great deal of physical efforts.
The course, which lasts around 1h30, is made up of 5 ziplines and several suspended bridges, and offers the chance to see alligators, turtles and a variety of birds.
Safety also remains a key factor during the journey. The guides are responsible for setting up and dismantling the equipment for the zip lines and stations, with each participant strapped in at all times.
This swamp, where Zip Nola is located, is said to be the most haunted in the United States. During your visit, take the opportunity to learn more about the story of Julia Brown, a voodoo priestess who predicted that when she died, she would take part of the village of Frenier (and its inhabitants with her). And, on the day of her funeral in 1915, a hurricane did indeed devastate the village, killing many of Frenier’s residents.
Good to know:
- There are a few water stations along the way.
- Choose an early morning tour if you can – the sun is beating down hard!
- Bring closed shoes
- Zip Nola also offers transportation (extra charge) from New Orleans.
Zip Nola, Laplace
Discovering the bayou and its marshes by kayak, on the surface of the water, is an extraordinary experience. The proximity of water and trees makes for an almost meditative experience, and allows even closer observation of the wildlife.
Lake Martin, about 20 minutes from Lafayette, is a haven for many species of birds and an ideal place for this type of activity.
During our visit, our kayak trip with Duc In Altum to Lake Martin unfortunately had to be cancelled due to heavy rain, but a meeting with one of their guides confirmed that this activity was a must. To be added to the list for our next trip.
Outings in small groups are offered at sunrise, sunset or during the day.
Duc In Altum, Lafayette
A boat tour of the bayou
A boat tour is probably the simplest and most classic way to explore the bayou.
Since bayous are to be found all over Louisiana, there are many tours available.
In 2018, we had the opportunity to tour Lake Martin with Norbert Leblanc. This 80 years old cajun man showed us the bayou with all his passion, in French and English, punctuated by anecdotes of trapping and fishing. Unfortunately, his tours are no longer offered, but other companies still offer such expeditions.
It’s worth noting, however, that there are fewer commercial tours in Lake Martin than there used to be, the area having become a protected zone. Some people still offer tours, but there are no kiosks or services on site.
Otherwise, you’ll find online several excursions to Jean Lafitte National Park, Honey Island Swamp, Teche or Atchafalaya bayous, etc.
Points to consider when booking:
- Boat size and number of participants
- Stops included (some tours also combine a visit to a plantation, for example).
Here are a few companies offering bayou tours that are well reviewed online:
- Cajun Encounters Tour *
- McGee’s Louisiana Swamp & Airboat Tours
- Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours
- More tours and expeditions *