Hiking, Biking, and Running
The landscapes of the Mississippi River deltaic plain don’t conjure up conventional images of hiking, à la the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians.
But the proximity of wilderness preserves to New Orleans, and the paths that come with them, ensure that a good walk through the natural environment is never far away.
At destinations like Barataria Preserve and Bayou Segnette State Park, visitors can expect to find fabulous examples of the swampy Bayou country for which this region is world famous. The boardwalks and trail markers at these facilities often provide the only opportunity to traverse the watery world of cypress and tupelo swamps, fields of Louisiana irises and pastures of rich green bull’s tongue that would otherwise be out of reach for those without water-born transportation.
New Orleans’ level geography surrounded by the mighty Mississippi and the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain provide unique opportunities for tourists who want to explore the city and its natural environment on foot or bicycle. Bike rentals and guided cycling and kayaking tours of New Orleans and the surrounding region are available.
In Mid-City sits the magnificent City Park. It’s many paths provide scenic opportunities to walk, run, or ride. There is even a dog park there where you can bring Fido for some exercise and poochie play dates.
Audubon Park‘s oval bike-and-walking path weaves around the perimeter of this subtropical paradise. Workout stations are situated along the path. Many locals also run along St. Charles Avenue and other medians – known here as neutral grounds – that divide the wide boulevards throughout the city.
To take advantage of river views, visitors can run or bike along the Levee Bike Path that begins Uptown at Audubon and Magazine Streets and goes more than 80 miles to the state capitol at Baton Rouge. On the other side of town, paths along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain near Lake Shore Drive parallel a grassy levy shaded by oak trees and enhanced by playgrounds, benches and a few concession areas.
Across the lake is St. Tammany Trace, a 31-mile trail that is well loved by bike and horseback riders, cyclists, joggers and walkers alike. Converted from an old railroad line, this paved path goes from Covington to Slidell through Fontainebleau State Park, historic towns and horse farms. Outdoor enthusiasts have a chance to glimpse the fox, deer, wild turkeys and swamp rabbits that are a part of the ecosystem.
On The Water
The license plate in Louisiana describes the state as a “Sportsman’s Paradise” and this is referring to one sport more than any others: fishing. The wetlands of the Mississippi River are such a rich and productive ecosystem that they provide upwards of 30 percent of the nation’s commercial fishing catch, and play host to thousands of satisfied fishing enthusiasts year round who keep coming back for the speckled trout, redfish and many other game fish found in the marshes.
For those with a boat, the options are limited only by the imagination. There are many launches south of New Orleans and many spots to choose from once you are in the water. If you do not have a boat but would love to toss in a line and try your luck, then there are still many options. Boat hire is easy to arrange, as are guides to add some local knowledge to your fishing excursion. There are also many spots on the roads south of New Orleans where it is easy to act like a native by setting up a chair and catching some fish while keeping your feet on dry land!
Visitors can pick up a Louisiana State Fishing License from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at www.wlf.state.la.us/apps/netgear/page1.asp. The annual Tarpon Rodeo brings in people from around the country to see who can catch the most fish.
For those who want a taste of the region’s watery wildlife, but don’t have time to venture outside of the city limits, fishing in City Park is a surprisingly productive venture. Fishing at Lake Pontchartrain, accessible by public transit, and even Bayou St. John, adjacent to City Park, are also common pursuits by natives. Even the non-fishers know these waters have fish; the pelicans, gulls and jumping fish are the giveaway.
Birding in New Orleans
The rich wetland habitat of south Louisiana has abundant birdlife, and with the recent completion of the America’s WETLAND Birding Trail, access to this great natural resource is world class. The new trail follows seven scenic byways through 22 coastal parishes. The 115 sites along the trail introduce visitors to a variety of Louisiana’s coastal habitats including fresh and saltwater marshes, cheniers, upland pines, riparian hardwood forests, cypress-tupelo swamps, bottomland hardwood forests, open meadows, lagoons, canals, borrow pits and natural bayous, to name a few. Associated with these diverse habitats are an exceptional array of birds and other wildlife.
Much of the region’s bird life can be found right within city limits, in the parks and gardens, on the bayous, ponds and lakes. Keep your eyes open on any roadway for the ubiquitous snowy egrets that remind you constantly that you are in America’s WETLAND. To learn more about the birds of Louisiana, visit the Audubon Zoo. As a result in part of the Audubon Institute’s Species Survival Center at the end of the Mississippi River, the Zoo contains exhibits, in natural settings, of many endangered bird species.
More ambitious birding enthusiasts can use New Orleans as a departure point to access the 12 mapped out ‘loops’ of America’s WETLAND Birding Trail. Chances are you will encounter thousands of migratory waterfowl that flock to the region every year, or you can revel in the area’s resident herons, ibises, eagles, osprey and many more. Visit Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge on the Louisiana Scenic Bayou Scenic Byway/Florida Parishes Loop to see the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, one of our nation’s officially endangered bird species.
Thanks to the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for contributing to this article.