Serving as a buffer between the country’s coastline and the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana’s wetlands are a national treasure. Prized for their important ecological role, the wetlands are also a home base for the state’s seafood and energy industries. A drive along the Wetlands Cultural Trail in southeastern Louisiana is an ideal way to see towns and villages where shrimping, trapping and farming have been a way of life for hundreds of years, and where close-knit families have preserved their cultural heritage with minimal outside influence. Water dictates the byway’s twists and turns, giving visitors a choice of entry and exit points. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:
Bayou Lafourche Area
The French, Spanish, English and Germans who settled near Bayou Lafourche were hardy trappers and fishermen who lived off the bounty the bayou provided. The Acadians who joined them brought their own culture, giving the area its strong Cajun flavor. Begin exploring in Raceland and follow Highway 1 as it winds toward Port Fouchon, a sprawling oilfield service port at Louisiana’s southernmost tip. The drive along the bayou takes you past shrimpers and tugboats, shipbuilding and repair yards, and small Cajun and seafood restaurants. Stops might include the Bayou Lafourche Folklife & Heritage Museum in Lockport; the Golden Meadow Historical Center, in the Golden Meadow Branch of the Lafourche Parish Public Library; or a visit to one of Louisiana’s few sandy Gulf beaches, at Port Fourchon or nearby Grand Isle State Park.
Bayou Terrebonne Area
This segment of the byway begins in Houma and reaches southward on Highways 56 and 57 through a number of small towns, ending at the Gulf of Mexico. In Houma, the Terrebonne Folklife Culture Center features hand-carved duck decoys, Indian artifacts and a 100-year-old dugout pirogue. See how the other half lived at Southdown Plantation, built by 19th-century sugar barons and now home to the Terrebonne Museum. On either Highway 56 or 57, you’ll drive past marshes, lakes and numerous cafés that feature the fresh catch of the day. In Cocodrie, at the end of Highway 56, visit Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, dedicated to coastal research and preservation. The DeFelice Marine Center features a tower that offers beautiful views of Cocodrie and surrounding marshes, and the center’s ponds and boardwalks are ideal places to spot indigenous birds and fish.
Houma to Thibodaux
Driving north from Houma on Highway 24 brings you to the town of Thibodaux. If you’d like a break from driving, consider taking a swamp tour from nearby Kraemer; the boats can take you deep into the swamps for views of egrets, turtles, snakes and, of course, alligators. Thibodaux is a pretty town with lots to offer visitors; standouts include the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and many historic downtown buildings. Nearby attractions include the Louisiana State Museum's E.D. White Historical Site, once home to Louisiana Gov. E.D. White I and U.S. Chief Justice E.D. White II.