I will admit it — I like a road trip. Just about any road trip. But I really LOVE a beautiful one!
Last week, we found a fabulous scenic route that shows off the culture and uniqueness of southwestern Louisiana. Called the Creole Nature Trail, this 108-mile loop is a National Scenic Byway, and one of the mere 48 that have earned the elite designation of an “All-American Road.”
Easily accessed directly from I-10 near the city of Lake Charles, La., this route shows you the beauty of what is often referred to as “Louisiana’s Outback.”
The paved drive offers the opportunity to get out and explore via trails, boardwalks and beaches — or the ability to enjoy the beauty of the area from the comfort of your vehicle. Depending on which way you are already traveling on I-10, you can choose to begin your drive from Exit 36 on the eastern side of Lake Charles, or from the western side via Exit 20 in the small town of Sulpher, La.
We chose to begin our tour in Sulpher because it is also home to the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, which is a small substation of the Lake Charles Visitor’s Center.
Filled with fun and informative exhibits and activities, the center will appeal to all ages. This fun mini-museum is staffed with knowledgeable locals to answer any questions you may have about the area or the route, and it also houses a small gift shop, offers clean restrooms, and is the perfect place to begin your All-American Road road trip.
At Adventure Point, you can learn about the differences between Cajun and Zydeco music and discover popular Creole dishes, while the kids can practice crabbing and duck hunting while also learning about the local wildlife.
While you are there, be sure to sign in at the guest book, pick up a shelling brochure and download the Creole Nature Trail app which gives you access to short videos that explain areas of interest all along the Creole Nature Trail route (search for it under ‘Creole Nature’ in Google Play or iTunes).
Also, be sure to pick up a copy of the CNT Experience Guide at the Adventure Point or Lake Charles Visitor’s Center locations. In it, you will find info about the area, as well as a map that includes each walking trail and beach area location.
The Creole Nature Trail drive will take you along the intercoastal waterway, through the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, along the Gulf coast, and back up through the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge to the city of Lake Charles.
In the Sabine NWR, there are several stops that offer interesting and relaxing walking trails, choice fishing spots, and serene scenery. This is the place to stop if you want to check out the marshes, or if you are a bird watcher!
Our favorite part of the route was the eight beaches that are along the Creole Nature Trail. Five of the beaches are not along the 108-mile loop, but are just west on a spur of the trail.
Mae’s Beach seemed to be the choice spot for fishing by the locals, while Little Florida beach was a fun place to access the beach and collect shells in the shallow pools created by sandbars when the tide was out.
The area between Constance Beach and Holly Beach had the best RV parking for accessing the beaches. This stretch of highway had large shoulders for parking on, with the beach just feet away. We found Holly Beach to be the best for shelling, and there were numerous accesses, as well as porta-potties (very important if you aren’t toting your house along for the drive).
Next, we rode the Cameron Ferry over a short stretch of Calicasieu Lake. The ferry was not particularly big-rig friendly. While there was a 40-foot Class A waiting to ride the ferry behind us, we would not have taken our 42-foot fifth wheel and 2 ton truck on the boat. The weight would not have been an issue, but this ferry is a side-entry, and the width was not conducive to super long rigs.
The other beach that we especially liked was the eastern-most Rutherford Beach. It was here that we discovered the most hard-to-find shells, and the remote feel of the beach appealed to the adventurers in us!
None of the beaches are overly RV friendly. If you have a smaller RV, then you will find them accessible. But, if you run a long rig, then they are not good choices for lack of area to turn around as well as parking.
Long Dun Beach is the least RV friendly. Do not take an RV in there unless you have a camper van or a short Class C. There is not room to turn around much more length than that of a truck.
As you drive along the eastern side of the route, there is a boardwalk and wildlife drive. Across from it is the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge complex visitors center. The center is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and offers some great exhibits about the area.
The Creole Nature Trail was a fun, full day jaunt for us, although we could have done it in a couple of hours had we chosen to skip the walks and beaches. We chose to leave our fifth wheel in Lake Charles and just do the drive in our van each time. But, there are numerous RV parks along the trail.
You can request an informative brochure called the Louisiana Camping Guide at any of the visitor’s centers in the state. It is a great resource for finding RV parks throughout the state.
The Creole Nature Trail is a beautiful driving route through southwest Louisiana. You can learn more about this All-American Scenic Byway by visiting the Lake Charles visitor’s bureau website at www.visitlakecharles.org/creole-nature-trail.
Then charge those camera batteries and get an early start — this is one road trip that you’ll want in the books!