The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river swamp, containing almost one million acres of the nation’s most significant bottomland hardwoods, swamps and bayous. The Cajun Coast has many options to explore this vast wilderness along with even more waterways to explore!
The Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail features 9 sites within the Cajun Coast for you to explore. These sites include areas only available by boat, rich historic landmarks, and the beauty National Geographic Traveler noted as “hauntingly beautiful land.”
- East Cote Blanche Bay – Rich bays and marshes like East Cote Blanche Bay are important for Louisiana’s coastal fisheries and the state’s seafood industry. It also provides access for sports fishermen and recreational boaters to Marsh Island, a wildlife refuge and popular recreational fishing and shrimping destination about 20 miles from the Louisiana coast.
- Lake Palourde – The word palourde is French for “clam,” an important food source for early settlers to the area. The lake, near Morgan City, covers 11,520 acres and is one of a number of large lakes that once existed within the historic Atchafalaya River Basin’s 3-million-acre landscape.
- Atchafalaya River at Morgan City – After the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, levees were built to minimize flooding in populated areas. The first Atchafalaya River levee constructed in 1946 was 13 feet tall on both sides of the river. Subsequent floods resulted in its redesign and expansion. The current 21-foot-wall was built after the Flood of 1973. In Morgan City, a walkway was installed on top of the wall, giving visitors a bird’s eye view of the river and traffic. l
- Atchafalaya River at the Mr. Charlie Oil Rig – Offshore oil drilling off the coast of Morgan City had many challenges in transporting materials down the Atchafalaya River. Eventually Alden J. “Doc” LaBorde created a movable, submersible barge capable of carrying everything needed for drilling and traveling to any location in the Gulf. Mr. Charlie was the first rig of its kind. It began service in 1954 and made drilling for oil easier and more economical. A floating city that provided lodging for up to 58 workers and a platform to hold the drilling equipment.
- Bayou Teche at Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha – The Chitimacha Tribe settled along the lower Teche in approximately 500 A.D. and built permanent villages using trees, rivercane stalks and palmetto leaves native to the area. They used the bayou as a major trade network and built several mounds along its banks. It is believed that, at the time of European contact, the Chitimacha Tribe’s population approached 20,000 people who were spread out among 15 distinct villages in the Mississippi River Delta and Atchafalaya Basin.
- Cypress Swamp at Wedell-Williams Aviation & Cypress Sawmill Museum – Bald cypress trees and swamps are iconic symbols of south Louisiana that have evolved along with the rivers and bayous of this region. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these dense, insect-resistant old-growth trees were harvested from swamps and bayous to provide what many thought were limitless amounts of construction materials. Today, bald cypress trees are protected in Louisiana, but only a few scattered old-growth stands remain. Most of what we see are second-growth stands, less than a century old, but still a vital part of the area ecosystem.
- Bayou Teche at Franklin Historic District– Throughout the 1800s, the 125-mile Bayou Teche was the main transportation route through this region. Its banks eventually attracted settlers eager to capitalize on this strategic location and proximity to the coast. The city of Franklin was founded along the Teche in 1808 and became the seat of St. Mary Parish in 1811. Most of Franklin Historic District’s more than 400 historic properties on the National Register of Historic Places are along or near the Teche.
- Bayou Teche at Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge – Bayou Teche is one of the most important bayous in south Louisiana, running 125 miles from its headwaters at Bayou Courtableau in Port Barre to its convergence with the Atchafalaya River near Morgan City. Visitors to the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge can explore the area via several paddle trails that follow old logging canals and provide a peaceful environment to view wildlife such as birds, alligators, river otters and, occasionally, a black bear. Fishing and hiking are also popular here, though most hiking trails are closed during hunting season.
- Pierre Part Bay at Virgin Island Bridge – Bayous lace this portion of south Louisiana. The highest land in the area is located along the banks of Bayou Lafourche, where elevation of natural levees ranges from 15 to 20 feet above sea level. The community of Pierre Part, located along a body of water known as Pierre Part Bay (which flows into Lake Verret), sits on land only 3 feet above sea level and is nearly surrounded by water.
Take in a few stops along the Atchafalaya Water Heritage Trail – paddling, hiking, or even just sight-seeing – then stay awhile on the Cajun Coast!