Sometimes the only way to truly love New Orleans is to leave it. Whether you’re fleeing from the brutally hot and humid weather or simply looking for a respite from the Big Easy’s riot of colors and sounds, here are a few of the best day trips from New Orleans.
Get swampy in Barataria Preserve
Travel time: 40 minutes by car
There are all sorts of swamp tours that operate out of New Orleans – we’re even recommending one below – but one of our favorite ways to experience the south Louisiana wetlands is a visit to Barataria Preserve, a national park located about 25 miles south of New Orleans. Easy trails – dirt and boardwalk – thread through the swamps, and you may be able to spot local alligators, although wildlife viewing is often hindered by prolific invasive water flora. On your way back to New Orleans, make sure to pop into the superlatively good Tan Dinh for some excellent Vietnamese food.
How to get to Barataria Preserve from New Orleans: Take US-90 and cross the Crescent City Connection Bridge over the Mississippi to the New Orleans West Bank. From US-90, take exit 4B to access Barataria Blvd which takes you to the preserve.
Learn about the history of slavery at the Whitney Plantation
Travel time: 1 hour by car
A cluster of restored mansions sits roughly 50 miles west of New Orleans, with the Whitney being the most interesting of the bunch to visit. While most plantations now pay lip service to the history of slavery, the Whitney is a museum dedicated to unpacking the grim institution. Through a series of thoughtful exhibits, the Whitney demonstrates how the South did not just benefit from but was built upon chattel slavery.
How to get to the Whitney Plantation from New Orleans: The most direct route is I-10 West for about 40 miles, then detour south on LA-641 for another 10 miles.
Feel the beach vibes on the Coastal Mississippi
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes to Gulfport by car
Despite being totally tied to the water, there’s no real beach access in New Orleans, barring a few stretches of not very friendly sand on Lake Pontchartrain. While the beaches of Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, Alabama, are pretty lovely, they’re also a fair distance. Consider instead the decent sand, friendly restaurants and generally laid-back seashore vibe at Mississippi Gulf Coast towns like Bay St Louis and Gulfport. While this area can get inundated with day-trippers on hot weekends, you can still embark on a relatively quiet escape during the week.
How to get to Mississippi Gulf Coast from New Orleans: It depends on where you’re going, but this advice applies from the Louisiana border to the Alabama border – just head east on I-10.
Visit Cajun country in Lafayette
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
Cajun country is as fabled a destination as New Orleans, a land of low prairies, deep swamps, good music and delicious meals that you may never want to let your cardiologist know about. “Acadiana,” as the area is known, consists of many small towns scattered over southwest Louisiana. The capital of the region is Lafayette, a friendly small city located 140 miles west of New Orleans, packed with great food and excellent live music venues – don’t leave without stopping in for a night of dancing at the Blue Moon.
How to get to Lafayette from New Orleans: Take I-10 West. Part of the route goes through the preserved Atchafalaya Basin, one of the state’s remaining wild wetlands.
See small-town Louisiana in St Francisville
Travel time: 2 hours by car
When the furnace of New Orleans gets too hot or you just need some small-town arts atmosphere, head north about 120 miles to St Francisville, a tidy bohemian retreat set amidst hills and forests. A glut of historical buildings, cute cafes, antique-and-artsy shopping and hiking trails through the woods makes for a perfect break from New Orleans.
How to get to St Francisville from New Orleans: Take I-10 West up through the state capital to Baton Rouge, take exit 8C to get on I-110 North. From there, take US-61 North to St Francisville.
Experience the spectacle of sporty Baton Rouge
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes by car
A lot of New Orleanians blow off Baton Rouge – named for a red stick used as a geographic marker by local Native Americans. This may be known as the state’s grey, faceless capital, yet it’s also a sprawling town with some decent attractions. Football games at LSU are a non-stop display of pageantry and spectacle; it’s a glimpse into the football-mad world of the American South where a tailgating party is a monumental sports moment. For a quieter experience, the Rural Life Museum is a window onto the state’s past.
How to get to Baton Rouge: The “BR” is an easy 80-mile trek northwest of New Orleans via I-10.
Visit sleepy (but a little weird) North Shore
Travel time: 1 hour by car
The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain is made up of several bedroom suburbs of New Orleans and radiates a more sedate vibe than what you’ll find in the Crescent City. Attractions include sampling some brews at the Abita Brewery or exploring the surreal madness of the Abita Mystery House, one of the state’s great roadside attractions. Need a place to stay? Cabins at Fontainebleau State Park are raised on stilts over Lake Pontchartrain and make for a supremely relaxing, breezy escape.
How to get to the North Shore from New Orleans: To cross Lake Pontchartrain, take I-10 West and exit to cross the Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the largest bridges in the world.
Smell the flowers and taste the hot sauce in New Iberia
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
The hazy, humid town of New Iberia sits about 140 miles west of New Orleans. On the sleepy main streets you’ll find the well-preserved plantation of Shadows on the Teche, and just outside of town is the area’s main attraction: Avery Island (not really much of island), home of a huge salt mine and the headquarters of Tabasco, the iconic hot sauce maker. You can take a tour of the Tabasco Factory, and afterward amuse yourself by exploring the nearby Jungle Gardens, a sort of hybrid botanical retreat, wildlife preserve, aviary and a slice of historical trivia.
How to get to New Iberia from New Orleans: US-90 West gets you almost 100 percent into New Iberia, and you’ll get to see some low-lying Louisiana prairie and farmland on the way.
Paddle Louisiana swamps
Travel time: meet in New Orleans; the swamp is approx 45 minutes away
While it’s great fun to tread a boardwalk at Barataria or watch an old fisher point out gators on a motorized boat tour, there’s something utterly otherworldly about paddling the Louisiana swamps. It’s a strange, primal, beautiful experience; you are at once present in the midst of the bayou, yet also deeply aware that you are a visitor to this ecosystem, a fish out of water (or a human gliding across it, more accurately).
Louisiana Lost Land Tours, conducted by local environmental experts, give participants an excellent kayaking experience, as well as a solid grounding in the unique environmental issues confronting south Louisiana.
How to get to the Louisiana swamps from New Orleans: Lost Lands will help you coordinate the launching point for your swamp adventure.