Paddle On: Exploring Louisiana’s Swampy Atchafalaya Basin

Kayakers explore Lake Martin in St. Martin Parish, La. Lake Martin and the Nature Conservancy's Cypress Island Preserve is one of the largest wading bird rookeries in North America.

 

Louisiana is known for its large, moss strewn cypress trees and unparalleled Cajun swampland, enticing many visitors to explore. Paddling the Atchafalaya Basin gives adventure-seekers a unique way to get up close and personal with mystical swamps and bayou wildlife. With kayaking routes ranging from five miles to fifty miles, you’ll have a chance to wander your way through Cajun country for days. Here’s a taste of what to expect on your journey through the Atchafalaya.

Wading Through History
Atchafalaya, a word from the Native American Choctaw people, means long river. The Basin covers 150 miles and has been isolated from the river in order to provide a separate shipping channel and allow for flood control. It is also home to the largest continuous tract of coastal cypress in the U.S. In 1988, 44,000 acres were dedicated to the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge in order to preserve the largest wetlands area in our country.

Cory Werk of Bayou Teche Experience kayak outfitters guides kayakers down Bayou Teche in Breaux Bridge or through Cypress tress in Lake Martin in St. Martin Parish.

Cypress, Cranes and Crawfish Oh My
Wildlife in the Basin is thriving, and you’re sure to encounter an abundance of what the area has to offer while paddling through. When you think about the swamps in Louisiana, your mind may drift towards the American alligator. If you spot one of these magnificent creatures, keep your distance and be mindful of their 70-plus razor-sharp teeth! With 400 species of birds living throughout the area, it can be overwhelming trying to keep track of the different types you see along the way. Be on the lookout for the beautiful great egrets and the graceful whooping cranes wandering through the marsh. The Basin’s mysterious, otherworldly ambiance is enhanced by the Spanish moss dangling from the baldcypress trees that line the swamps.

Paddle Passages: Our Recommended Routes
There are endless stretches of bayou to explore but we pulled a few of our favorites to get you started. If you’re following a longer route, bring a GPS with you to keep track of where you are along the marshy maze.

Bayou Fuselier
On this seven-mile loop near Henderson you’ll find yourself wandering through narrow stretches of the bayou passing by forests full of cypress, hardwoods and willow trees. This route goes upstream and downstream so you may find yourself doing a bit of extra work throughout the paddle.

Lake Martin and the Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Preserve is one of the largest wading bird rookeries in North America.

Buffalo Cove
One of the most stunning portions of the Atchafalaya Basin, this tour will give you a true sense of what the bayou is all about. Thick forests full of cypress and tupelo trees create a mysterious landscape, leaving you with a sense of wonder. This route requires a higher level of navigational skills, so make sure you know what you’re doing.

Eagle Route
Outside of Morgan City you’ll find this 11-mile paddle, known to be packed with wildlife from beginning to end. You’ll pass through rivers, lakes and bayous during your tour through this region, and might see an alligator or two wading around the waters.

Tourists ride an airboat through the cypress forest of Henderson Swamp with the help of tour guide and airboat captian Byron Lemaire from McGee’s Atchafalaya Basin Swamp Tours in Henderson, La.

Kayaking along the Atchafalaya Basin is surely one of Louisiana’s most unique experiences. If you’re looking for one adventure outside of the city, it’s hard to beat paddling through Cajun country while wandering through mesmerizing swamps and soaking in the amazing wildlife.