The truest way to show your love for New Orleans? To leave it for the day.
Whether you’re fleeing from the brutally hot and humid weather, seeking an outdoorsy adventure or simply looking for a respite from the Big Easy’s riot of colors and sounds, here are a few of the best ideas for easy day trips from New Orleans.
1. Explore the swamps of Barataria Preserve
Travel time: 40 minutes by car
One of our favorite ways to experience south Louisiana’s rich wetlands is a visit to Barataria Preserve, a national park located about 25 miles south of New Orleans. Easy dirt trails and boardwalks thread through the swamps here, and you may be able to spot local alligators (although wildlife sightings are 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 Westbank. From US-90, take exit 4B to access Barataria Blvd, which leads to the preserve.
2. Encounter the sobering history of slavery at the Whitney Plantation
Travel time: 1 hour by car
A cluster of restored antebellum mansions sits roughly 50 miles west of New Orleans, with the Whitney Plantation being the most interesting of the bunch to visit. While most plantation sites now at least pay lip service to the history of slavery, the Whitney is a museum dedicated to confronting and unpacking the grim institution head-on. 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: Take I-10 west for about 40 miles, then detour south on LA-641 for another 10 miles.
3. Feel the beach vibes of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes to Gulfport by car
Despite being completely 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 away. 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, a relatively quiet escape beckons during the week.
How to get to Mississippi Gulf Coast from New Orleans: Heading east on I-10 will take you along the entire Mississippi coast to the Alabama state line.
4. Get all Cajun in Lafayette
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
As fabled a destination as New Orleans itself, Cajun Country is a land of low prairies, deep swamps, good music and delicious meals that you will probably not want to let your cardiologist know about. “Acadiana,” as the area is known, consists of many small towns scattered around southwest Louisiana. The capital of the region is Lafayette, a small, friendly city located 140 miles west of New Orleans that’s 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.
5. See small-town Louisiana in St Francisville
Travel time: 2 hours by car
When the furnace of New Orleans gets too hot, head north about 120 miles to St Francisville, a tiny, tidy bohemian retreat set amid hills and forests. A glut of historical buildings, cute cafes, antiques vendors, artsy stores 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 toward Baton Rouge, getting off at exit 8C and onto I-110 north. From there, take US-61 north to St Francisville.
6. 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) as the state’s gray, faceless capital. Yet it’s also a sprawling town with some decent attractions worth checking out. In particular, football games at LSU are a non-stop display of pageantry and spectacle. Game days serve up the football-mad culture of the American South at its liveliest, where team loyalty is tribal and tailgating is a form of art. For a quieter experience, the Rural Life Museum offers a window onto the state’s past.
How to get to Baton Rouge: The “BR” is an easy 80-mile drive northwest of New Orleans via I-10.
7. Head up to the sleepy (and 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 sedate vibe. Make the drive to sample some brews at the Abita Brewery or explore 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, making 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 longest bridges in the world.
8. 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 its sleepy main streets you’ll find the well-preserved plantation Shadows on the Teche. Just outside of town is the area’s main attraction: Avery Island (though you’ll have difficulty finding the waterways that make it one), home of a huge salt mine and the headquarters of iconic hot sauce maker Tabasco. If you like heat, take a tour of the Tabasco Factory, then amuse yourself afterward by exploring the nearby Jungle Gardens, a sort botanical retreat, wildlife preserve, aviary and a slice of historical trivia all in one.
How to get to New Iberia from New Orleans: US-90 west gets you almost the whole way to New Iberia, with plenty of low-lying Louisiana farmland along the way.
9. Paddle Louisiana’s swamps
Travel time: meet in New Orleans; the swamp is about 45 minutes away
While it’s great fun to tread a boardwalk at Barataria or watch an old fisherman point out gators on a motorized boat tour, there’s something utterly otherworldly about paddling the Louisiana swamps. This strange, primal and beautiful experience immerses you in the wildness of the bayou, making you aware that you are but a visitor to this ecosystem – or a fish out of water, if you will (or at least a human gliding across it).
Louisiana Lost Land Tours are led by local environmental experts, who give participants an excellent kayaking experience, as well as a solid introduction 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.