A great way to travel and experience Louisiana is by its unbeaten paths. Avoid the Interstate and instead take quiet, two-lane highways that snake through Louisiana’s diverse natural settings and connect interesting small towns, charming downtowns, locally-owned shops and stereotypical Mom-and-Pop eateries.
A great blueprint for the rambling Louisiana traveler is the state’s Scenic Byway system. There are 17 designated scenic routes in and around the state, and many are just on the outskirts of major urban centers. They vary in length—the shortest is 17 miles, but a few are more than 200 miles—and they enable a traveler to experience the food, music, culture and natural beauty found in Louisiana’s more rural areas, at a more relaxed pace.
Here are a sample of Louisiana’s Scenic Byways and what they offer:
The Bayou Teche Byway gets its name from the waterway (bayou translates into “slow moving stream”) that the road hugs as it connects St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary parishes. A charming rural drive in Louisiana is this byway’s stretch of La. Hwy. 31 between St. Martinville and downtown New Iberia, where huge live oaks and old farm structures dot the route. For Cajun small town flavor, be sure to take driving timeouts for downtown Breaux Bridge’s antique shops, St. Martinville’s Evangeline Oak and Acadian Memorial and Franklin’s historic district to see stunning residential architecture.
Speaking of architecture, two Louisiana byways are peppered with antebellum plantations. The Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway, connects more than a dozen tourist-accessible Mississippi River plantation mansions between New Orleans and St. Francisville. Its sister byway in northern Louisiana, the Cane River National Heritage Trail, links a handful of Cane River mansions to Melrose Plantation, the former home of world-acclaimed primitive folk artist Clementine Hunter and the site of her largest mural.
Bird and wildlife (and, specifically, alligator) watchers should migrate toward the Creole Nature Trail in southwest Louisiana. This 180-mile route through Cameron and Calcasieu parishes showcases the coastal marshes and a bountiful animal population found between Lake Charles and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Battle of New Orleans was the culminating battle of the War of 1812, and one of the best ways to learn about its significance is to get outside New Orleans, on the San Bernardo Byway in St. Bernard Parish. A national park site and museum now operate on Chalmette Battlefield where the actual battle took place.
This map provides more information on these and other Louisiana Scenic Byways and shows which Byways are located in which regions of the state.