8 Natural Wonders of Louisiana

A flock of nesting ibises in Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana.
A flock of nesting ibises in Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana.

Philip Gould / Getty Images

While Louisiana may be best known for the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans, the state has plenty to offer in terms of its natural beauty. Delicate ecosystems along the Gulf of Mexico, like the barrier islands of Breton National Wildlife Refuge, and protected woodlands, like Kisatchie National Forest, are home to species of animals and plant life that are worthy of protection and appreciation.

From bayous and swamps to forests and prairies, here are eight natural wonders of Louisiana.

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Barataria Preserve

A moss-covered tree in a swamp at Barataria Preserve.

Donald Atkinson / Getty Images

Just a half hour from the city of New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve contains 26,000 acres of beautiful swampland, marshes, bayous, and forests. The preserve is one part of the larger Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which was established in 1907 in commemoration of the Battle of New Orleans. Visitors to the Barataria Preserve can take one of many trails, like the boardwalk Bayou Coquille Trail, and expect to see wildlife like tree frogs, swamp rabbits, and alligators. The area is also ideal for bird enthusiasts, with more than 200 species of birds using the waterway, including the prothonotary warbler.

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Kisatchie National Forest

The morning sun shines though the trees at Kisatchie National Forest

Jonathan Nutt / Getty Images

The 604,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest in north-central Louisiana is home to longleaf pine forests, wetlands, and prairie habitats with a wide collection of threatened plant and animal species. Designated a national forest in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover, the forest features walking trails throughout, allowing guests to witness remarkable wildlife, like the pine-loving red-cockaded woodpecker and the Louisiana black bear. Visitors to Kisatchie National Forest may take part in  recreational activities ranging from camping and bicycling to swimming and horseback riding.

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Ouachita River

A partly cloudy sky is reflected in the Ouachita River.

Danny Lehman / Getty Images

The Ouachita River flows 604 miles from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas down south through Louisiana to its endpoint near the town of Jonesville. The river runs mainly through forests and wetlands, and is home to black bass, rainbow trout, and freshwater drum, making it a popular fishing location. Canoeists and kayakers also take to the Ouachita River for scenic summer float trips.

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Breton Wildlife Refuge

A brown pelican lands among royal terns at Breton Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Greg Thompson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Breton National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Louisiana is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System (second only to Florida's Pelican Island). More than 100 years later, the group of barrier islands have transformed from a place where birds were greatly threatened into a thriving, nesting and wintering destination for a variety of shorebirds and seabirds, including brown pelicans, royal terns, and piping plovers.

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Cypress Island Preserve

Cypress trees grow out from wetlands at Cypress Island Preserve

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Known for its thriving rookery, the gorgeous Cypress Island Preserve protects 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest just outside the city of Lafayette. Those hiking the preserve's levee and boardwalk trails can expect to encounter a variety of wading birds, including blue herons, roseate spoonbills, cormorants, and a variety of egret species. Although the preserve is open to guests all year, the popular walking trail is closed from June through October during alligator nesting season.

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Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area

An aerial view of Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area

Lauren Sullivan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Accessible only by a 10-mile boat ride, Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area is a 115,000-acre wetland located at the mouth of the Mississippi River. With its scenic marshlands, human-made canals, natural bayous, and river channels, Pass-a-Loutre is an exceptionally scenic place for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, crabbing, camping, and even houseboating. As a wildlife management area, the hunting of migratory game birds, waterfowl, rabbits, and deer is permitted under regulation.

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Atchafalaya Basin

Massive cypress trees grow from the water in Atchafalaya Basin

Bill Swindaman / Getty Images

The largest river swamp in the United States, the sweeping wetland ecosystem of the Atchafalaya Basin in south-central Louisiana comprises nearly one million acres of cypress-tupelo swamps, bayous, marshland, and lakes. The basin extends 140 miles from Simmesport, Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico, and features over 100 species of fish and more than 250 species of birds. Visitors to the basin may take part in fishing, canoeing, biking, hunting, and camping, among other recreational activities.

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Honey Island Swamp

Spanish moss grows on a tree in Honey Island Swamp on a sunny afternoon.

Mindaugas Dulinskas / Getty Images

Located within St. Tammany Parish in the southeastern part of the state, Honey Island Swamp contains 70,000 acres of scenic marshland. Over half of the acreage is protected as part of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, which, in addition to swamps, contains hardwood forests home to feral pigs, black bears, and nutria. Several companies offer boat tours of Honey Island Swamp, allowing guests to get a close look at alligators, snowy white egrets, and other wildlife found within its waters.