Southwest Louisiana is paradise found for both sporting enthusiasts and nature lovers. The combination of a mild climate and a plentiful array of natural attractions creates an environment conducive for hunting, fishing, bird watching and simply getting out and enjoying the region’s breathtaking beauty.
“We pretty much have everything around here,” says Karl Zimmerman, sales and marketing manager for the Grosse Savanne Waterfowl & Wildlife Lodge in Bell City.
That really isn’t much of an exaggeration. In fact, the region is such a hot spot for nature that it attracts wildlife from other parts of the world. Twice a year, in late spring and early fall, more than 400 species of birds from Central America and South America use Southwest Louisiana as a prime migratory stopping point after crossing over the Gulf of Mexico. And why not? Even birds know paradise when they see it.
Creole Nature Trail
An excellent way to initially experience all that Southwest Louisiana has to offer is through the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. This 180-mile route – often referred to as the Louisiana Outback – is one of only 43 designated scenic byways in the U.S. and there certainly is plenty to see in terms of both animals (alligators, deer, dolphins, Peregrine falcons) and the landscape (marshlands, estuaries, beaches). In addition, authentic Cajun culture can be experienced at several eateries and music clubs along the way.
“The Creole Nature Trail is an awesome way to see a lot of the wildlife that is common to our area,” says Sheron Faulk, owner of the outdoor recreation store Ship to Shore Company in Lake Charles. “It’s pretty common to see an alligator on the trail. And for birders, it’s easy to pull over on most of the roads to watch the birds. The brown pelican is abundant here, along with egrets and the Roseate spoonbill. Beautiful birds that you can’t see so easily in other locations are abundant here.”
Part of what makes the Creole Nature Trail so special is that it passes through three major wildlife refuges. The 71,000-acre Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge borders the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles, and during the winter is home to approximately 160,000 waterfowl. The 125,000-acre Sabine National Wildlife Refuge consists of both marsh grasslands and open water, and is a popular location for anglers. And the 24,500-acre Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is a marshland habitat with parts of it accessible only by boat.
The best way to prepare for a trip along the Creole Nature Trail is with a stop at Adventure Point in Sulphur, a free attraction that details the nature and culture of Southwest Louisiana. Through interactive displays, visitors can learn the best places to spot alligators and migrating songbirds, smell the aromas of Cajun/Creole cooking and listen to the music of Cajun and Zydeco bands.
“Adventure Point is a great place for people who are new to the area to go and get a 10,000-foot view of the culture in Southwest Louisiana,” says Angie Manning, communications director at the Lake Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It gives you a good idea of how we are so tied to the land and music and food around here.”
Southwest Louisiana Eco-Tours
There are numerous ways to get out and truly sample all the natural offerings in Southwest Louisiana, be it through fishing and hunting trips or eco-tours where guides take visitors to experience close-up views of the wildlife.
Grosse Savanne has been offering such guided hunts and tours since 1998. Located on 50,000 acres along the Creole Nature Trail, Gross Savanne has access to fresh and salt water marshes, cypress swamps, native coastal prairies and pine forest plantations, as well as agricultural lands where rice, soy beans and wheat are grown.
“We have fishing trips where we catch speckled trout, redfish, flounder, largemouth bass and crappie,” Zimmerman says. “We have guided saltwater trips on the Calcasieu Estuary, which includes Calcasieu Lake, where you can access the Gulf waters and do coastal fishing.
“And then we do the eco-tours, which are for viewing purposes only. You’ll see alligators, birds, deer, lily pads out in the marsh and a lot of flowers. You can do all that and then stay overnight at our lodge, which can accommodate 18 guests. You can pretty much see everything the Southwest Louisiana region has to offer right on our lodge property.”