Louisiana’s prairies, marshes and shores teem with wildlife, and a drive along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road gives visitors a chance to experience nature’s bounty up close. In fact, signs along the route mark common spots for alligator crossings. This remote terrain, often referred to as Louisiana’s Outback, is readily accessible and includes four wildlife refuges as well as 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches. Other features include untouched wetlands, small fishing communities offering fresh seafood, and ancient cheniers – sandy ridges studded with oak trees, rising above the low-lying coasts.
Sulphur, which sat on a major deposit of the mineral for which it was named, has a rich history of sulfur mining in the area. Driving south on Highway 27 towards Cameron Parish, notice a gradual change in the landscape from prairie lands to coastal marsh. Cameron Parish has more than 700,000 acres of wetlands - and Hackberry, appropriately, is a hub of shrimp and crab houses along Kelso Bayou, the once-rumored hideout of legendary pirate Jean Lafitte.
Here, the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is a prime wintering ground for waterfowl. The Wetland Walkway, a 1.5 mile loop walk into the marsh, is home to alligators, birds and other indigenous critters. Gators are plentiful here and can grow up to 14 feet. Further south is Holly Beach, with opportunities for swimming, picnicking and hunting for shells. Turning west takes you along Highway 82 toward the Texas state line. Providing a nearly continuous view of the Gulf of Mexico, this stretch takes you to Peveto Woods Sanctuary – a 41-acre island that sees more than two million birds each year. Turning east takes you to the car ferry across the Calcasieu Ship Channel and into the community of Cameron.
Lake Charles offers a fusion of city life and the outdoors. It is a prime spot for casinos, southern cooking and shopping at the Lake Charles Boardwalk. A highlight is the Charpentier Historic District, with Victorian-era homes both designed and built by carpenters. Nearby is the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for wintering waterfowl and a great place for nature photography. Depending on the time of year, the Cameron Prairie Visitor Center as well as Pintail Wildlife Drive are excellent locations to spot alligators as well as a host of birds and waterfowl, including roseate spoonbills. At Highway 27’s intersection with Highway 82, turn east. Along this marshy stretch, look for cranes, pelicans and, in warm weather, an occasional alligator. Past the town of Grand Chenier lies the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. A drive along the refuge’s four-mile Price Lake Road gives visitors a close-up view of this coastal marshland and its inhabitants. (The road is closed from Dec. 1 to March 1 for migrating waterfowl). Or, if you turn west, you will head towards the community for which this parish was named, Cameron.