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With its southern-style hospitality, delicious Creole cuisine, mysterious swamps, and spectacular wildlife – Louisiana is a prime destination for great day trips from New Orleans!
This article will reveal Louisiana’s best-kept secret destinations, attractions, restaurants, and activities in tucked-away quirky villages, historic cities, and breath-taking forests.
Best Day Trips from New Orleans
1. Explore Family-Friendly Abita Springs
Situated in the idyllic St. Tammany Parish countryside, with its tranquil forest, Abita Springs is less than an hour’s drive from New Orleans and well worth a visit, especially for families who love the great outdoors.
The 31-mile Tammany Trace Bicycle Trail, which runs alongside a disused railway line, is a great area to go jogging or cycling. Your kids can play in the adjacent eco-friendly Abita Springs playground designed to aid children’s development.
Then head on over to the Abita Brew Pub for lunch and an ice-cold (award-winning) Abita Beer. Alternatively, head over to the Abita Springs Brewery to sample some of the region’s finest local beers.
If you are interested in the weird and wonderful, pop in at the Mystery House, otherwise known as the UCM Museum, with tons of wacky displays that include weird inventions, memorabilia, a tiny Southern town, including retro arcade games that your kids can play.
2. Spend A Day In Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, is steeped in history dating back more than 300 years ago. It is famous for its delicious Southern-style cuisine (and warm hospitality), fascinating museums, fun amusement parks, and a wide variety of regional activities.
Must-see museums include the Baton Rouge African American Museum, the 100-acre Audubon State Historic Site, including the Louisiana Art and Science Museum.
Then join an interesting plantations tour to learn more about American history, and visit one of the several historic mansions like the 1835 Rosedown home and spectacular gardens or the French Creole Magnolia Mound dating back to 1792.
Alternatively, you can take an Oak Alley Plantation Tour on the way to Baton Rouge, which offers sugar plantation tours. OR, make it a half-day trip by hopping a transport and tour experience from NOLA.
Head on over to the Louisiana State University’s Hilltop Arboretum or the picturesque Brec’s Botanical Gardens for a little fresh air or go on a thrilling water slide at the Blue Bayou Water Park.
Read next: 16 Best Louisiana State Parks
3. Take A Day Cruise On The Tranquil Mississippi River
The iconic Natchez is the last remaining steamboat still in use; taking a cruise on this historic boat will transport you back to a time with a far gentler pace of life.
There are various types of 2-hour Mississippi river cruises ranging from jazz-themed boat cruises to those suited to history buffs about the meteoric rise of the cotton industry in the region.
It’s a great day trip if you want to recuperate from the frantic hustle and bustle of New Orleans!
4. Go On A Safari At The Global Wildlife Center
With over 4000 wild animals roaming freely from all corners of the world – the Global Wildlife Center is an animal lovers’ paradise. While it’s only an hour’s drive from New Orleans, it feels like a world away from the bustling city!
The center is home to a wide range of unique animals ranging from zebras and kangaroos to giraffes and Llamas playing in the open fields.
But the utmost best part is that you can have close encounters with all the wild animals on a vintage-style wagon and even feed some deer if they venture close enough.
5. Enjoy Great Live Music At Lake Charles
Located in the southwestern portion of Louisiana, Lake Charles, with its rich culture, delicious food, incredible music, and breath-taking nature, is a fabulous day trip destination.
Downtown is really where you want to be if you love listening to live music with several great bands playing at the Panorama Music house or the vibe Luna Bar and Grill.
Or head on over to the Arts and Humanities Center, a 1912-era refurbished Central School that is now a creative hub for local musicians and artists.
Then tuck into a delicious boudin sausage on the Lake Charles Boudin trail, and enjoy nature’s bounty on the Creole Nature Trail, alongside 26 miles long stretch of stunning Gulf of Mexico beaches.
6. Atchafalaya Natural Heritage Area: America’s Foreign Country
With its iconic swamps, rivers, coastal prairies, marshlands, and diverse cultural heritage, the spectacular Atchafalaya National Heritage, located in the south-central region of Louisiana, is one of the most biodiverse yet mysterious regions in the United States.
That’s why this national park in Louisiana is definitely worth your time.
Commonly known as “America’s Foreign Country,” the park is comprised of several diverse cultural areas that include Entire Atchafalaya, Coastal Zone, the Bayou Teche Corridor, Between Two Rivers, and Upper Atchafalaya.
It’s a perfect day trip from New Orleans for wildlife enthusiasts, avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers with a diverse range of breathtakingly beautiful scenery, including waters teeming with catfish, oysters, and crawfish, shrimp, and roaming alligators.
With ancient oak trees, swaying cotton and sugar fields, and majestic cypresses dotted along the way, interspersed with roaming bears, raccoons, and 270 diverse, rainbow-colored bird species swooping through the skies.
There are numerous amazing swamp tours operated by the likes of Cajun Country Swamp Tours and the Atchafalaya Experience, with a wealth of experience and knowledge about the park’s rich culture and history.
7. Indulge In Spicy Tabasco On Avery Island
Situated on a 2,200-acre sub-tropical island with a gigantic rock salt structure, Avery Island is the birthplace of Tabasco sauce, Louisiana’s most iconic hot sauce that is exported to 195 countries.
So, it’s a great New Orleans day trip if you love a little spice in your life!
Head on over to the Tabasco Museum, pop in at their gift shop, and take a tour through the factory with its greenhouse peppers, aged barrels, and bottling area, where the McIlhenny family has been producing the finest hot sauce since 1868.
Then tuck into delicious Cajun or southern soul food like hearty Avery Island red beans and sausage and succulent Tabasco chicken poppers, complete with a decadent slice of Tabasco-infused cake for dessert.
Explore the 170-acre lushes Jungle Gardens, home to spectacular indigenous fauna and flora, and marvel at the multi-hued birds in the local bird sanctuary with a pre-booked guided tour.
8. Immerse Yourself In Louisiana’s Rich Culture In Lafayette
Lafayette is a great New Orleans day trip for anyone who would like to know more about Louisiana’s Cajun history, culture, and outstandingly delicious local cuisine, and it is only a few hours away from the city.
To immerse yourself in Lafayette’s rich Cajun history, head on over to the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park, which showcases the cultural traditions of the Creole, Native American, and Acadian communities from 1765 – to 1890.
Vermilionville offers guided tours of the village, villagers dressed in historic costumes, live music, dance lessons, an interesting cooking school, and a little gift shop where you can buy souvenirs.
Lafayette is also renowned as a foodie haven with the likes of The French Press and Prejean’s, who serve mind-blowingly delicious Cajun specialties like po’boys, shrimp etouffee, catfish, and succulent boudin.
Most importantly, don’t miss out on Lafayette’s lively dance halls, where you can do a whirl on the dancefloor to the tune of zydeco music and make some lasting memories to boot!
9. Hop-On A Honey Island Swamp Tour
If you want a profound encounter with Louisiana’s unique wildlife and the spectacular biodiversity of its bayous and swampland, book a day trip from New Orleans with the Honey Island Swamp Tour operators, who are hand’s down the best tour operators since 1982.
The Honey Island swamp is not too far from New Orleans, so you can arrange with the tour operators to meet and pick you up in the French Quarter and provide a highly entertaining tour within the space of 4 hours.
Even though the swamp is close to New Orleans, it’s incredibly rugged, with Cajun villages dotted alongside the waterways and an abundance of diverse wildlife ranging from the obligatory alligators, water snakes, and turtles, wild pigs, insects, and spectacular birds to cheeky raccoons.
If all of this might sound a little scary, it should not, as the tour is incredibly safe, and the professional tour guide’s highly entertaining presentation will have you doubled over with laughter in no time!
But more than that, spending time in a tranquil setting, surrounded by the bounty of nature, is food for the soul.
10. Catch A Tan On The Mississippi Coast
There are so many incredible small towns in Louisiana, particularly near the coast, like the tranquil, pristine beaches of the gorgeous Mississippi coast, which is only an hour and a half’s drive away from the bustling city.
So, pack your beachwear and explore the uninterrupted coastline located between the idyllic Gulfport and Ocean Springs, then go for a refreshing dip in the Gulf and bask in the sunlight on the soft beach sand.
If all of that hard work has made you hungry, head over to the charming Gulfport coastal community for a fresh-out-of-the- ocean fish platter, shrimps, or some hunger-busting Po Boys at one of the town’s many great restaurants.
Then work off that heavy lunch by heading over to Gulfport’s waterfront to rent a jet ski or kayak, take a leisurely fishing charter cruise, or splash around at the Gulf Island Waterpark.
Alternatively, explore the town by renting a bicycle from Magnolia City Rides, and visit the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum, including the family-friendly Lynn Meadows Discovery Center children’s museum.
And if none of the above appeals to you, explore all the town’s quirky little shops or head over to of the Biloxi casinos to roll some dice; who knows – lady luck might shine on you!
11. Explore Lake Pontchartrain And The Amazing Northshore
Less than an hour’s drive from New Orleans, the picturesque Lake Pontchartrain and the idyllic Northshore, which is situated just across the lake, is a fantastic day trip destination!
It’s a prime outdoors destination with several breath-taking nature trails, great fishing spots, sailing, and all manner of water sports, in the sublime countryside.
Then hop on the scenic causeway in the direction of the Northshore area’s chocolate box pretty towns, with quaint little villages like Mandeville, Slidell, Covington, and Madisonville that are all steeped in history and are foodie havens with outstanding restaurants.
While charming Madisonville has amazing bookstores, quirky stores, bars, cafes, and restaurants, you can indulge in a High Tea in Covington’s English Room and shop till you drop into their historic quarter.
12. Hug A Tree At The De Soto National Forest
We had to save the best for last, as the spectacular De Soto National Forest is one of the best day trips from New Orleans, and it takes less than two hours to get there.
Located in Southern Mississippi, the magnificent 518,587 acres forest is home to several endangered pine tree species, and the forest is the only remaining ecosystem with rare tree varieties like Flatwoods and longleaf pine prairies.
However, the De Soto is also host to several little creatures that are currently on the endangered list, like gopher frogs and tortoises, including fascinating carnivorous plant species.
The park is also suited to outdoor enthusiasts with more than 170 miles of long nature trails, which makes it a haven for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders.
You can enjoy fishing in several pristine lakes, especially at Turkey Fork Lake with its oversized catfish, bass, and several other fish varieties, a refreshing swim in the summer heat, and several other great watersports.
So, before you know it, your day in the great outdoors is over, and it’s time to head back to fun-filled New Orleans!