The Creole Nature Trail in Lake Charles, Louisiana
As we head deep into Southwest Louisiana, lush green surrounds us as far as the eye can see, interspersed with beautifully clear bayous and ponds. Herons are carefully stalking along the water’s edge, waiting for the fish that the Gulf of Mexico washes into the bayous with every tide. Here and there, an osprey rises from the tall grass with large wings, and a small group of pelicans on our left indicates that Holly Beach can’t be far. This landscape exudes an incredible calm, and day-to-day life seems infinitely far away. Welcome to the Creole Nature Trail, one of the oldest scenic byways in America.
Shelling at Holly Beach
Which other nature trail boasts 25 miles of natural beachfront? Holly Beach – also known as the “Cajun Riviera,” with its brightly colored stilt houses – is one of the eight relatively untouched beaches along the Creole Nature Trail. What strikes me immediately upon getting there is the fine sand under my feet. It consists of ground shells, which makes it ideal for walking and even driving on along the shore. Filled with an abundance of unique shells, Holly Beach is a treasure trove for shell lovers. While we walk along the beach comparing our finds, we meet locals who have taken the afternoon off to come here to go crabbing, getting their fresh catch for dinner. One thing is clear: Visitors are warmly welcomed on the “Cajun Riviera.”
Walking Alongside Alligators on the Pintail Wildlife Drive Boardwalk
If you’re ready to see some wildlife up close, I recommend heading to the boardwalk of the Pintail Wildlife Drive. While the drive itself is meant to be experienced from your car, this half-mile-long boardwalk was specially designed to guide you on foot directly into the middle of the pristine marsh. Here, you’re surrounded by exotic plants peeking out of the tall grass while sunbathing alligators lounge in ponds right below you. It’s a unique opportunity to watch these prehistoric creatures and get your perfect photo of them.
Birdwatching on the Marsh Tour
A marsh tour is an absolute must when you’re on the Creole Nature Trail. I decided to go with Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours, a tour operator that offers small, individualized tours focusing on whatever you want to see most. Since I had already seen alligators, I wanted to see more of the rare, flamingo-like roseate spoonbills, which I had come across but only very sporadically and always far away as these birds are very shy. Sure enough, our guide Bobby Jorden took us to an area in the marsh where roseate spoonbills breed and feed, and we got to see hundreds of them, up close and undisturbed, attending to their young. It’s an image I will surely never forget.
The Creole Nature Trail has an app for your Apple or Android device, making it even easier and more fun to explore this beautiful nature trail alone or with friends and family!