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5+ (EPIC) Louisiana National Parks For Your Next Trip to the Pelican State

Looking for the best Louisiana national parks? Historic battlefields, vast forests, incredible jazz, beautiful wetlands, and much more.

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About the Louisiana National Parks

We'll give you 9+ reasons to visit Louisiana | Louisiana National Parks
In this article, we’ll give you 5+ reasons why you should take a trip down to the Bayou on your next outdoor adventure.

We’re not just whistling Dixie at More Than Just Parks. We’ve got five incredible national park sites for you to visit in Louisiana.

Louisiana is home to some truly incredible national park sites-historic battlefields, historic homes, smooth jazz, beautiful wetlands, and a world heritage site too. Louisiana has it all!

What are we waiting for? Let’s dive in.

Louisiana National Parks

1. Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Cane River Creole National Historical Park | Louisiana National Parks
Log house in the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, located near Natchez in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.

Cane River National Historical Park has a unique history. It goes back to the establishment of the Louisiana Creole Culture. It’s a culture which originated along the Cane River in 18th century Louisiana.

Creole culture goes back to the Colonial Era. French and Spanish peoples brought it with them from the Old World where they had been influenced by much earlier contacts with African peoples.

Catherine Picard & Jean Pierre Prud’homme

While visiting Louisiana, you may want to pick up a copy of the Creole Tourist’s Guide & Sketch Book to the City of New Orleans | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The National Park Service traces the American origins of this culture to 1725. Catherine Picard, daughter of a New Orleans trader, married Jean Pierre Philippe Prud’homme, a former marine and trader from Natchitoches.

The French-born couple went to a military and trading post. Imagine a world where cultural exchanges and marital unions among European, Canadian, African, and American Indian cultures produce a unique frontier society heavily influenced by the French.

Ex-soldiers like Prud’homme moved out from the post to make a living as traders, hunters, and farmers along the Red River, known in this area as Cane River.

As indigo and tobacco farming supplanted other livelihoods, colonists relied more heavily on the enslaved African workers who had helped build the colony. (Source: National Park Service)

The Cotton Kingdom

Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin revolutionized the production of cotton in the southern states | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Cane River National Historical Park tells the story of King Cotton. Visitors will find two plantations named Oakland and Magnolia. These amazing places depict the story story of cotton and the people whose lives revolved around it.

“Today, when we drive our cars along the highway with farmland on either side, we see a nearly empty landscape with nothing but heavy machinery, but one hundred and fifty years ago, those fields were filled with people,” says Nathan Hatfield, an interpreter at Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

“Back then, rivers were the transportation routes—the highways of the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century—and the combination of the Cane River and its fertile soil are what led people to settle here.”

-Scott Kirkwood, When Cotton Was King

Plantations That Were Like Small Cities

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Plantations played an important role in the economy of the antebellum south

Oakland and Magnolia were like small cities before the Civil War. Oakland had about 150 enslaved workers, and Magnolia about 250. Slaves picked cotton. They also worked as blacksmiths and carpenters.

Visitors can see where these people lived and worked. They learn about their culture too. Locals are available to tell the stories which give listeners insights into the people and their culture.

“These activities really take what could just become a historical museum, and put the people back in the story,” says Julie Ernstein, assistant professor of anthropology at nearby Northwestern State University. 

RELATED: Whose Island Is It Anyway: A History & Guide To Cumberland Island

Other Things To See And Do | Louisiana National Parks

Kisatchie Bayou | Louisiana National Parks
Kisatchie Bayou, in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, viewed from Red Bluff Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

You can take a self-guided or a guided tours of the two plantations and the cabins where slaves lived. Why stop there when there’s so much else to see?

Art lovers should check out the Natchitoches Art Guild & Gallery. The gallery displays a variety of interesting works which give you a real sense of the people and their culture.

Recreational enthusiasts should explore Briarwood Nature Preserve. It’s a private foundation open for public tours during: March, April, May, October and November; Saturdays, 9-5; Sundays, 12-5. Weekday tours are available by appointment only.

Wonderful Outdoor Activities

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Activities abound in Louisiana

If you’re interested in outdoor activities like boating, camping, hiking, swimming or watching wildlife then there’s three places nearby that are worth a visit. Together they offer all of these activities.

They are: Cane River Lake, Kisatchie National Forest and Red River National Wildlife Refuge.

2. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve | Louisiana National Parks

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve | Louisiana National Parks
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of history’s most colorful characters is Jean Laffite. Originally from France, by 1810 Lafitte was operating as a pirate in Louisiana. Lafitte’s main commodity was African slaves. The United States had outlawed international slave imports in 1808. It was an illegal commodity.

Lafitte purchased slaves in the West Indies. He smuggled them into Louisiana. They were highly profitable because of the federal ban.

Lafitte & The War Of 1812

During the War of 1812, Pirate Jean Lafitte became allied with General Andrew Jackson. Jackson would arrange a presidential pardon for Lafitte’s earlier crimes. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lafitte became one of Andrew Jackson’s advisors during the War of 1812. Like Jackson, he fought against the British imperial threat.

Lafitte received a pardon for his earlier crimes from President James Madison. Afterward, he resumed his career as a pirate on Galveston’s Island in Spanish Texas.

During Mexico’s war for independence, he served as a spy for the Spanish.

Lafitte’s Treasure

Much of Lafitte’s life was shrouded in mystery. This is purported to be a portrait of the famous pirate thought it cannot be ascertained with certainty. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lafitte is believed to have buried a large cache of treasure somewhere in the bayous of Louisiana according to legend. Other variations of the story say Lafitte buried his treasure in multiple locations along the Gulf Coast.

In the 1820s, Lafitte and his crew seized Spanish ships in the Gulf of Mexico. During a battle with Spanish ships in February of 1823, It’s believed Lafitte was wounded.. He is believed to have died from his wounds though no official obituaries appeared in any of the newspapers.

Jean Lafitte Revealed

To learn more about the man as well as the myths which surround him then I would recommend Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries by Oliphant & Yarbrough.

Beginning in 1805, the book traces Laffite through his rise to power as a privateer and a smuggler in the Gulf, his involvement in the Battle of New Orleans, his flight to Texas, and his eventual disappearance in the waters of the Caribbean.

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers) 2021

Six Sites Scattered Across South Louisiana

Barataria Preserve | Louisiana National Parks
At the Barataria Preserve trails, you can see snakes, turtles, and alligators swimming through waterways or sunning themselves on logs and bayou banks | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Six sites are scattered across South Louisiana. It’s important to determine what things most interest you.

At the Barataria Preserve, there are 26,000 acres include bayous, swamps, marshes, and forests. You will be able to walk along a series of boardwalks where you will see alligators, snakes, turtles and over 200 varieties of birds.

I recommend beginning at the visitor center. You can purchase a field guide and insect repellent there. Both will come in handy.

French Quarter Visitor Center

French Quarter Visitor Center | Louisiana National Parks
At the French Quarter Visitor Center, you can learn all about the culture, history, and nature of South Louisiana | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The French Quarter is an important part of the cultural identity of New Orleans and Louisiana. People from all over the world come here to create a distinct culture rich in food, music, and tradition.

At the French Quarter Visitor Center, you can learn about that culture. There’s everything from CDs, videos, collectibles, and books ranging from history to cookbooks to children’s stories.

The Chalmette Battlefield | Louisiana National Parks

Chalmette Battlefield | Louisiana National Parks
Chalmette Battlefield | Courtesy of the National Park Service

At Chalmette, on January 8, 1815, the Battle of New Orleans was fought. This was the final battle of the War of 1812.

It was fought between the British Army under Major General Sir Edward Pakenham and the United States Army under Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson, roughly 5 miles (8 km) southeast of the French Quarter of New Orleans, in the current suburb of Chalmette, Louisiana.

The battle was fought 18 days after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent formally ending the War of 1812. This was most unfortunate for the British. The Americans handed the British a humiliating defeat. They accomplished this despite being outnumbered.

An American Victory

War of 1812 British line of soldiers preparing to fire. This picture is from the re-enactment at Fort Erie, Ontario. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Americans suffered roughly 60 casualties. The British suffered roughly 2,000, including the death of their commanding general, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. The battle launched the political career of Andrew Jackson.

Visitors can learn all about the battle and the War of 1812 from visitor center films and exhibits. The visitor center’s park store has books, period music, reproductions of items from the period, and children’s books as well.

You can tour the battlefield. You can also explore the Chalmette National Cemetery.

Prairie Acadian Cultural Center

Prairie Arcadian Cultural Center | Louisiana National Parks
You can experience the history and culture of Louisiana’s Cajuns at the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center | Courtesy of the National Park Service

From history to culture to music to food, you can learn all about the history and life of Louisiana’s Cajuns at the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center. You can take Cajun language classes. There are classes on food and music too.

Acadian Cultural Center

Through a collection of wonderful exhibits, visitors can learn the fascinating story of Louisiana’s culture and history | Courtesy of the National Park Service.

The Acadian Cultural Center is located in Lafayette, LA.

Check out The Cajun Way: Echoes of Acadia. It’s a 35-minute film which answers the questions: Who are the Acadians and how did they become Louisiana’s Cajuns?

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center

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At the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, you can learn about and experience Louisiana’s musical heritage

At the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, you can learn about the wide range of South Louisiana’s music including: zydeco, gospel, blues, jazz, Cajun, and much more.

3. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park | Louisiana National Parks

Entrance to Armstrong Square, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jazz originated in New Orleans in the second half of the 19th century. With the advent of Reconstruction, many former slaves found jobs as musicians.

These newly freed Americans wanted to contribute their own musical style. The result was the birth of jazz. What is Jazz?

An Improvisational Style

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Jazz is an improvisational style

Jazz is a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up on the spot. This requires considerable skill.

There’s tremendous variety in jazz. It’s also very rhythmic. It has a forward momentum called “swing,” and uses “bent” or “blue” notes. You can often hear “call–and–response” patterns in jazz, in which one instrument, voice, or part of the band answers another.

(Source: Smithsonian)

Who Invented Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton was the first person to compose Jazz. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In 1978, after years of research, Donald M. Marquis released In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz.  According to Marquis, the beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877–1931) are inextricably intertwined.

Buddy Bolden is considered to be the father of jazz. His blaring trumpet could reputedly be heard miles away from the South Rampart Street clubs he and his band frequented.

Following in Bolden’s footsteps are other immortal jazz pioneers such as: Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Freddie Keppard, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, whose distinct solos and trademark gravelly voice brought jazz to the world.

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

-Louis Armstrong

Things To Do | Louisiana National Parks

The incomparable Louis Armstrong | Courtesy of Wikimedia

The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park offers regular jazz performances, lectures, films, and visual displays. Visitors can learn about the jazz scene in and around New Orleans.

4. Poverty Point National Monument | Louisiana National Parks

Poverty Point at its peak 3,000 years ago was part of an enormous trading network that stretched for hundreds of miles across the continent | Courtesy of the National Park Service

At Poverty Point there’s the remnants of ancient culture which contains some of North America’s largest prehistoric earthworks. 3,000 years ago, Poverty Point was part of an enormous trading network. It stretched for hundreds of miles across the continent.

It’s truly an engineering marvel! Visitors can explore the culture of a highly sophisticated people. There they will see one of North America’s most important archeological sites.

5. Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg National Military Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Vicksburg is recognized as one of the greatest military campaigns in history. It’s an important part of the history of both Mississippi and Louisiana.

According to John Henry McCracken, Professor of History Emeritus at Lafayette College, it was at Vicksburg that Ulysses S. Grant learned that only hard, long fighting and logistics will win the war.

How Did Grant Do It

Civil war reenactment at Kennekuk County Park, near Danville, Illinois | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Union victory cut the South in two and doomed their efforts in the West. President Abraham Lincoln put this victory in its proper context. He said,The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.

How did Grant do it? He moved his army along the west bank of the Mississippi River to get below Vicksburg, where he completed a well-planned amphibious crossing of the Mississippi and took a daring gamble to feed his army off the countryside.

RELATED: 9+ Mississippi National Parks For Your Dixie Bucket List (Expert Guide)

Map of the Vicksburg Campaign December 1862 – May 1863. Drawn by Hal Jespersen. (Wikimedia Commons)




To Learn More About Vicksburg

There are some excellent books on the Battle of Vicksburg. One of my favorites is Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke The Confederacy by Donald L. Miller.

Louisiana Memorial | Louisiana National Parks

Louisiana Memorial | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Louisiana State Memorial is located on Confederate Avenue at milepost 11.9 of the park tour road near the intersection of Pemberton Boulevard. Construction started on July 10, 1919. The memorial’s dedicated took place on October 18, 1920.

At a final cost of $43,500, the memorial was transferred to the Federal Government by Louisiana Governor Parker. It contains an 81 foot Doric Column, topped by a brazier of granite with “eternal flame.”

The monument stands on the highest point in the Vicksburg National Military Park at 397 feet above sea level. “Louisiana” is displayed on the front of the memorial and a list of the organizations involved in the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg appears around its base along the sides. (Source: National Park Service)

Things To Do At Vicksburg

View of fortifications, Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At Vicksburg, there’s a vast array of cultural, historical and natural resources. Each visitor to the park receives an official park brochure and map detailing the driving routes, tour stops, and provides a brief history of the Vicksburg Campaign and Siege.

There’s a self-guided driving tour or you can make a reservation to take a guided park tour.

There’s no shortage of things to see and experience. I would recommend beginning your tour at the visitor center.

Check Out The Memorial Monuments

Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At Vicksburg, there are more than 1,400 memorial monuments, tablets and markers. These cover the 1,800-acre park. They represent soldiers who served on both sides of the conflict.

The park features an impressive 20 miles of trenches and earthworks. These earthworks were reconstructed to reflect the time period.

There’s Even A Gunboat–The U.S.S. Cairo

Photograph of the U.S.S. Cairo–an ironclad gunboat with sailors onboard. Two smaller rowboats are in the foreground with more sailors in them. In the background are other riverboats whose smoke stacks are visible. At the Vicksburg National Military Park, you can see the U.S.S. Cairo. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

There’s even a gunboat! You can see the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat.

There’s a Museum located within the park. Visitors can view the restored vessel as well as Civil War-era artifacts recovered during the boat’s excavation.

Other key attractions include: The Antebellum Shirley House and 4 other historic buildings, 9 historic fortifications, Vicksburg National Cemetery, 141 cannons and carriages and 15 historic bridges.

If you love history plan on spending the entire day at the park. It’s well worth it!

Map Of Louisiana National Park Sites

List Of All 5 National Park Sites In Louisiana

  1. Cane River Creole National Historical Park
  2. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve
  3. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
  4. Poverty Point National Monument
  5. Vicksburg National Military Park

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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