Jean Lafitte National Historic Park


The trails are designed to give you access to the various habitats of Barataria Preserve in the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park . Quiet paths wind through the oak woodlands of the former river channel and its natural levees, and boardwalks carry you over the saturated ground of swamp and marsh.

Over seven miles (13 km) of hiking trails, including two and a half miles (4 km) of boardwalk, allow you to visit the various environments. Take your pick...

Bayou Coquille Trail. A handicapped accessible trail exploring the Preserve's prehistory.
Marsh Overlook Trail. On warm days see American alligators.
Palmetto Trail. Through transitional zone with lots of palmettos and red maples.
Ring Levee Trail. Wildlife abounds in this area.
Plantation Trail. Quiet walk through bottomland and along old roadbeds.
Wood Duck Trail. Wood ducks can occasionally be seen in the ponds.
Twin Canals. High levee featuring quiet bank-side fishing.
Old Barataria Trail. A quiet, relaxing walk through a hardwood forest.
Roadside Wildflower Trail. Excellent for wildflower viewing or study.

Bayou Coquille Trail
Length: 0.5 miles (0.8 km) one way
All Weather

The trail begins at the site of a prehistoric Indian village (c. 200-600 A.D.) on the banks of Bayou Coquille. The bayou was named by early French settlers for the mound of clam shells (coquilles) visible here. Remnants of ancient meals, like shells and bones, were piled here with other refuse to form a "midden."

The Indian village was situated atop the only kind of high ground to be found in the delta, a natural levee. About 2,000 years ago, Bayou des Familles was still a major tributary channel of the Mississippi River. Natural levees were formed when sediments settled out of the floodwaters of this channel. Here, where Bayou Coquille diverged, you are five feet above sea level. From this ridge, the trail descends the back-slope of the levee to progressively lower and wetter areas.

All plants have a limited range of soil and water requirements. Therefore, as the trail descends, it passes through different vegetational zones. Hardwoods, including the majestic Live Oak, grow on the natural levee. The wetter soils of the backslope are thick with Dwarf Palmettos under a canopy of Swamp Red Maple. The swamp, a flooded forest of Baldcypress, Water Tupelo, and Pumpkin Ash, is encountered next. Near the end of the trail the trees thin out, revealing the open marsh, a floating prairie of freshwater grasses, sedges, and aquatic plants.

Marsh Overlook Trail
Length: 0.4 miles (0.7 km) one way
All Weather

This continuation of the Bayou Coquille Trail sits atop an old spoil bank, formed by the dredged material from Kenta Canal. The canal was dug in the late 1800's by loggers to gain access to the Baldcypress swamp you have just traversed. The harvested logs were dragged by a pull-boat into the canal and then floated to a sawmill. Today, the canal is a good place to see American Alligators on warm days. The overlook at the end of the trail provides your best view of one of the most productive ecosystems on earth: the marsh. This is a nursery for countless estuarine organisms, including shrimp, crabs, oysters, and fish. It serves as nesting and wintering habitat for waterfowl and wading birds, and provides cover and food for deer, otter, mink, and other mammals.

Palmetto Trail
Length: 0.9 miles (1.5 km) one way
All Weather

This trail connects the Visitor Center with the Bayou Coquille Trailhead. It parallels Bayou des Familles, running between the higher ground of the bayou's natural levee and the lower swamp. A portion of the trail sits atop an old man-made levee, which separated plantation fields from swamp. Farther on, the abundance of palmettos and red maples indicate a transitional zone, not quite swamp, but flooded at times.

In this transitional area we see evidence of subsidence, the gradual sinking of the delta. Look for dead and dying oak trees, reminders of a time, not long ago, when this land was higher. Note that here the palmettos grow taller than their counterparts or; drier ground, a result of the higher water table. Ever since the arrival of aboriginal man in the delta, this palm has been an important plant, providing food, shelter, and fiber for weaving.

Ring Levee Trail
Length: 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round-trip
All Weather

Like the Bayou Coquille Trail, this trail descends through different vegetational zones. Each zone has its own community of wildlife. On the crest of the natural levee, you may hear the rustling of leaves caused by fleeing Ground Skinks or by Nine-Banded Armadillos, foraging on the floor of the hardwood forest. After the trail's descent to the swamp, look for Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders sunning on fallen logs. Water snakes, often mistaken for the less common Cottonmouth, join the turtles, or drape themselves in low branches.

The trail, which sits atop an abandoned oil exploration road built about 1960, ends on a loop atop a ring levee. The ring levee was built to contain a drill site.

Wildlife abounds in this area. Be quiet and patient, and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of a fleeing white-tailed deer. Probably, though, you will have to settle for its tracks in the soft mud of the natural levee. Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, and Red-shouldered Hawks are easily found throughout, especially if you learn their distinctive calls. Otter, mink, and raccoon are common denizens of the swamp, but you'll be lucky if you find more than their scat along the raised boardwalk. You are more likely to see a Ribbon Snake searching the water's edge for a Bronze Frog, or a Black-faced Racer hunting the Five-lined Skinks seen scampering along the boardwalk.

Plantation Trail
Length: Loop A—1.8 miles (2.9 km). Limited Improvement
Loop B—1.4 miles (2.3 km) Primitive
Total: 3.2 miles (5.2 km)

This quiet walk through bottomland and levee ridge forest takes you along a series of old roadbeds. You will be walking in the footsteps of people who used these roads decades or, perhaps, centuries ago. The trail consists of portions of the old Christmas Plantation Road; the old Barataria Road which linked settlements along the Mississippi River and Bayou Barataria in the 1800's and early 1900's; an old railroad bed from about 1900; and a 1910 subdivision road, the Pecan Grove Road. These roads form the figure eight Plantation Trail.

From the bulletin board the trail follows the Pecan Grove Road to the left. As the name implies, pecan trees are visible along this segment. Planted about 1900 as part of a real estate promotion, many of the old pecan trees can still be seen lined up in neat rows. After you make the first right turn, you are on the railroad bed segment of the trail. It was common practice to use narrow gauge railroads to haul sugar cane from the fields to the mill. Once the railroad was removed, the fields began to revert to forest.

Thereafter, the roadbed was kept open by hunters in the area. The railbed segment of the trail continues until it meets the crossroads with the old Barataria Road. From there it curves north to its junction with the v-levee. (Loop B). From the v-levee the trail turns back to the left and curves southward. This segment may be the oldest road in the Preserve. As early as 1803, a map shows a "Chemin de Barataria," tracing this route, following the curves of Bayou des familles. It is conceivable that this French colonial road followed an even older American Indian trail. There is evidence that Islenos (Canary Islanders) settled here in the late 1700's on land deeded to them by the Spanish Government. This section of the trail continues, through the crossroads, to the Christmas Plantation Road. From here, you can follow the Christmas Road to your right, back to the parking lot.

Wood Duck Trail
Length: 0.4 miles (0.7 km) one way
All Weather

The colorful male Wood Duck is often the model for woodcarvers of the area. The name "wood" comes from the species' habit of nesting in natural tree cavities. Old Pileated Woodpecker holes, sometimes 50' up in a tree, are often used. Wood Ducks can occasionally be seen in the ponds at the end of this trail. That is, if you are lucky, if the water is high, and you approach very quietly near dawn or dusk.

Over 230 species of birds have been sighted in the Preserve. Of these, about 60 species, like the Wood Duck, breed. Others migrate through on their way to and from the tropics or visit seasonally. A checklist of birds can be obtained at the visitor center.

This trail, like the Ring Levee Trail and part of the Bayou Coquille Trail, follows an old oil exploration road. A roadbed was constructed from earth, often excavated on site, leaving "borrow" pits and ditches. To avoid getting heavy machinery bogged down, wooden planks were placed over the roadbed. Equipment could then be transported to the drill site. When this well began producing natural gas, clam shells were laid on the planks to make the road more permanent. The drillhole at the end of Ring Levee Trail, on the other hand, proved to be dry. Rather than converting it to a more permanent road, the planks and shells were removed to be reused elsewhere. Compare the areas at the end of each of these trails. Only a practiced eye can detect the signs of past use at the end of Ring Levee. But the forest has not recovered nearly as well at the end of Wood Duck. As has happened at many drill sites, a discharge of brine here killed several acres of swamp forest.

Twin Canals
Length: 0.6 miles (1 km) one way

The two canals and the spoil levee between them were built in the 1970's as part of an incomplete drainage and development scheme. A pumping station, built near the parking lot, would have drained water from the interior canal, lifted it over the levee, and discharged it into the exterior canal. Large areas of the delta have been drained in this way for development purposes.

Today, the high man-made levee provides a foothold for a new generation of trees normally restricted to the high ground on the natural levee near the highway. The canals provide excellent opportunities for quiet bank-side fishing.

Old Barataria Trail
Length: 1.4 miles (2.3 km)

A quiet, relaxing walk through a hardwood forest would be a logical step following a picnic in the Pecan Grove Picnic Area. This trail is shaded by huge oaks and carpeted with Southern Shield Fern. From the end of Christmas Road, it follows the old Barataria Road southeast along the property line of the Christmas Plantation (1767-c 1900). It then traces an old plantation field road to the northwest, ending at the picnic area. Ditches and rows are still recognizable, marking the fields of the plantation. The main cash crops were sugar cane and, for a brief period, rice.

In order to cultivate these areas, they first had to be cleared. Thus the present day forests are second or third generation growth. Even before cultivation, much of the area was logged. Records indicate that as early as the 1720's—less than ten years after the foundation of New Orleans—contracts were let for the cutting of oak and ash from these woods. In the years since abandonment of the plantation around 1900, the forest has regenerated. Even so, a discerning eye can detect the signs of previous uses: the roadbeds, ditches, rows, and furrows.

This is a dynamic area, and change is constant. The trail traverses an area of ground that was deposited in a channel of the Mississippi abandoned only about two thousand years ago. The present channel of Bayou des Familles occupies only a fraction of that old channel bed along its western edge. Today the bayou continues to shrink as it silts up (from lack of flow), and swamp vegetation colonizes it from either side.

Without man's intervention, the bayou will eventually silt up completely, field rows will wear down, and the ditches will fill up. Trees will reclaim the old roads and railroad beds. The signs of man's past will slowly fade away.

Roadside Wildflower Trail
Length: 0.9 miles (1.5 km) one way

For those wishing to take an alternate route from the trailheads back to the Visitor Center, a mowed path skirts the woodline along Hwy. 45. This provides an excellent opportunity for wildflower viewing or study. Do not walk on the highway!

Be Aware:
Please be aware that in this natural area, all plants and animals are protected by law. You can observe the Preserve's wildlife best by viewing it quietly from the safety of the trails. Harassment of wildlife is illegal. Feeding wild animals is dangerous and against the law. Do not gather wildflowers, palmetto fronds, Spanish Moss, or any other plant materials; plants are an important part of any ecosystem, and receive the same legal protection here as wild animals. Besides, if people pick wildflowers along the trail, there will be none for future visitors to see.

Throw-away food and drink containers are prohibited on the trails. Please help us keep the trails attractive and litter free.

This is a wild area! Venomous snakes, biting and stinging insects, alligators, and poison ivy abound. For your safety, stay on the trail, and watch your step. Exercise simple precautions, and you are unlikely to have any problems. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Watch your children! Keep pets leashed at all times, for their safety, the safety of wildlife, and the safety of other visitors. And don't forget: Here in the humid sub-tropics, insect repellent may be necessary.

Unfortunately, crime is not limited to the city. Lock your vehicle, and keep valuables out of plain sight. Be prudent about walking alone or using the trails in poor light.

Barataria's trails are open seven days a week, year-round. Come take a quiet stroll with a camera or binoculars, and you are very likely to be rewarded. Your experience, and the experience of future visitors, will be enhanced if you minimize your impact upon this delicate environment. For more information, contact the Visitor Center at (504) 589-2330.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »