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Nature, history & food — Louisiana Part 2

For RVers, southern Louisiana is a treasure trove of opportunities for fun times and great memories. I-10 runs along the southern edge of Louisiana with several large RV parks located on the interstate, making for easy to access attractions. We love nature, history, and local foods, so the stops we made while touring Louisiana reflect that.

Our three-week Louisiana roadtrip began in the northern part of the state, following I-20. We then drove south on 49 to get to Interstate 10, so our first city to explore was Lafayette. We chose to use Poche’s Fish and Camp RV Park as our base camp for exploring that area of the state. You can find our review of Poche’s by clicking here.

These are the Lafayette stops we enjoyed the most and felt were worth the money:

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The Vermilionville Living History Village is a Cajun/Creole heritage park that shares the Cajun history and culture through living history. The village begins with a beautiful gift shop that is filled with the work of local artisans. Here you receive a pamphlet that contains a guide for walking the park. With costumed reenactors stationed throughout the 23-acre museum, the village seeks to convey what life in the area would have been like between 1765 and 1890.

In each area of the village, the houses and businesses are restored to original appearance, both in structure, and in furnishings. Costumed staff is available to provide information about what life would have been like for the people who lived or worked there, demonstrate household chores or tradesman’s skills that would have been performed at that time, and answer questions. Often, the tradesmen’s products are sold in the gift shop. There is also a popular restaurant located on the grounds that features traditional Cajun cooking. http://www.vermilionville.org/vermilionville/index.html

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The Tabasco factory and gardens offers a free, fun foodie tour! Located south of Lafayette on Avery Island ($1 toll per vehicle), it includes a short, but interesting, tour of the Tabasco factory. Tours are held every 20 minutes throughout the day, and include a short talk by a staff member, a 12-minute video on the process of making Tabasco, and then walking down a window-lined hallway where you view the bottling process.

The best parts about this free tour are the fun samples that are given out, and the eclectic and all-encompassing Tabasco gift shop that is right outside the factory. If you can imagine it, the gift shop has it — flavored, decorated, or embossed with the Tabasco emblem. You can purchase everything from Tabasco embroidered aprons to Tabasco print blankets to Tabasco spiked jelly beans. Don’t forget to make your Tabasco pressed penny, or try the free samples of Tabasco flavored Coca-Cola and ice cream

While visiting the factory, hop over to their Jungle Gardens and Bird City to enjoy both native and exotic plants, as well as view the prolific local wildlife that call the gardens home. The gardens do charge admission. To learn about both the factory and the gardens, visit http://www.tabasco.com/avery-island/visitor-information.

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Rip Van Winkle Gardens ended up being an unexpected gem. It is also located south of Lafayette, but this destination is near the little town of New Iberia. Beginning at the gift shop, where you can find an expansive selection of Louisiana-branded products, be sure to watch the short video that explains the interesting history of the garden property. Walking through the vast, maintained gardens, you will find everything from exotic flowers, to resident peacock, to stunning, massive oaks where three pots of gold were discovered, which was rumored to have been buried there by the pirate Jean Lafitte. For an additional fee you can tour the main floor of the Rip Van Winkle mansion and find out why it is called the Rip Van Winkle Mansion. http://www.ripvanwinklegardens.com

Love southern mansion tours? Then, check out nearby Shadows on the Teche. http://www.shadowsontheteche.org.

USS Kidd
USS Kidd

After our time in Lafayette, we drove a mere 50 miles east to our next Louisiana Roadtrip stop – the city of Baton Rouge. We were there for one specific destination. The USS Kidd is an exceptional stop if you are a history buff. This WWII destroyer, also known as the “Pirate of the Pacific,” is open for self-guided tours. This tour is unique because so many of its rooms are restored and open to the public. In addition to the destroyer, there is also an extensive museum with displays spanning from WWII to present, including hero displays, a pirate ship exhibit, models, static aircraft, and displays featuring many different kinds of ships. Plan at least half a day for this engaging destination. http://usskidd.com/home.html

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While we were in Baton Rouge, we also stopped by the Bluebonnet Swamp. A fun destination for all ages, this swamp walk and educational center features live local wildlife, and is a mecca for birdwatchers. The center’s 103-acre preserve features multiple paths that vary in length from 0.3 to 1.5 miles in length. The paths extend from the park’s 9,500-square-foot nature center, where you will find live animal and reptile exhibits, craft and hands-on areas, a play area, and a small gift shop. It is an easy way to get out and experience a little of Louisiana’s swamp area! http://www.brec.org/index.cfm/park/detail/19

About 80 miles southeast of Baton Rouge is New Orleans, also known as NOLA. New Orleans has a reputation of not being overly RV friendly. We nearly always take I-12 around the city, and generally stay north of town on Lake Pontchartrain. We head into NOLA a few times each trip as there are some great destinations there that are worth the drive.

The National World War II Museum is New Orleans’ top visitor attraction, and is consistently rated as a top museum in the world. Founded in 2000 and situated on a 6-acre campus, the series of buildings that make up this extensive museum are stocked with World War II exhibits, a choice of films to view, two onsite eateries, and a museum store. You will want to consider purchasing their reduced second day ticket so you can take your time exploring the WWII era. http://www.nationalww2museum.org.

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Audubon Nature Institute (ANI) Zoo is located in historic uptown New Orleans, and is a great stop for families! The ANI Zoo features animals from all over the world, but their most popular area is the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit. This section of the park explores Louisiana Cajun culture and history, Cajun food and daily life, and the importance of animals and plants in that culture. While we enjoyed the entire zoo, we agree with the masses — the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit was the best! http://www.auduboninstitute.org/zoo.

ANI Zoo’s sister site, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, is an all-indoor aquarium featuring sea creatures from all over the world. From the walk through reef adventure to the 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit, this impressive aquarium is sure to be a hit with everyone in the family. http://www.auduboninstitute.org/aquarium

Interested in visiting the zoo, aquarium, and their third location, ANI Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, and have three or more children or want to return? Then, be sure to look into Audubon family membership, which is $155 for two adults and their children under 18. No reciprocity with other venues, but it is a great deal if you have a family and are interested in visiting all three ANI sites.

Did you know that the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve has six separate site locations in southern Louisiana? You do now! Three of those locations are located in New Orleans:

The Barataria Preserve is 23,000 acres of swamps, bayous, forests, and marshes, that are inhabited by local species of animals including alligator. A favorite of birdwatchers, this national park offers extensive boardwalks, and a visitor’s center that shows a film on southern Louisiana culture as well as having educational exhibits about the local animals and habitats.

Chalmette Battlefield honors the troops involved in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. The new visitor’s center educates visitors with interactive exhibits, while outside offers historical exhibits that you can peruse while taking a leisurely stroll over the well maintained grounds. You can access the park’s historic cemetery by foot, or you can drive the road that leads to and by it.

Chalmette Battlefield scene: American rampart, War of 1812 cannons, Malus-Beauregard House. (photo courtesy of National Park Service)
Chalmette Battlefield scene: American rampart, War of 1812 cannons, Malus-Beauregard House. (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

The French Quarter Visitor’s Center is a small NPS site that focuses on the history of the city, as well as local traditions. Ranger-led riverwalk tours are available on a limited basis, and there is a short film offered for viewing.

You can find out about all three Jean Lafitte sites in New Orleans by visiting http://www.nps.gov/jela/index.htm

Looking for a place to set up while you explore the city? Bayou Segnette State Park is a well maintained state park with 98 large water and electric sites, and is just 30 minutes from New Orleans. Each campsite is level, paved, and has a picnic table and campfire ring. With bath houses offering showers and laundry, a playground, and open places to walk and explore, Bayou Segnette is perfect for those RVers who want more of a rural atmosphere, but like the easy access to town.

Bayou Segnette State Park has a seasonal wave pool and splash pad that is a short distance from the campground. http://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/parks/bayou-segnette-state-park

During the three weeks we spent exploring and experiencing Louisiana, it became, and still is, one of our favorite states! Oozing with character, rich in culture, and offering a dizzying amount of fun and unique destinations, it is one state that we cannot wait to return to.

If you missed part 1 of our Louisiana Roadtrip, you can find it at http://letsrv.com/cajun-country-beckons-visitors-to-louisiana.

New Orleans

About Dana Ticknor

Dana Ticknor and her husband, along with their tribe of 8 gypsy kids (they also have 4 more grown and flown) have been calling the road home for seven years. Traveling with a highly modified toy hauler, their passions are discovering local history and culture, as well as volunteering with disaster relief efforts across the country. You can follow their journey at OurTravelingTribe.com, where they write about fulltime RVing and the family friendly destinations they discover during their travels.

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