Rediscovering Lake Charles Louisiana: The grand re-opening of the Creole Nature Trail and more
A brave and enduring spirit fought the winds and tides of Hurricane Rita creating a new stream of energy along Louisiana’s southwest coast. On March 19, 2008, the Creole Nature Trail All American Road celebrated its grand re-opening after two and a half years of repairs. A prefect time for renewal as springtime paints the backroads and waterways with an explosion of color. The marsh and swamp explode in a gallery of sights and sounds, lazy gators and turtles are sprinkled with a green confetti of duck weed while migrating birds drop in for a little “R & R.” The southwest corner offers nationally recognized birding, fishing, photography and the only white-sand inland beach along the entire gulf coast. The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road
Creole Nature TrailThis 180 mile trek follows a vast topography known as Louisiana’s Outback and has earned the distinction of becoming the first National Scenic Byway in the Gulf South. Traveling the entire trail takes eight to ten hours but for a shorter four to six hour route, you can travel south then east to Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge into the cities of Cameron and Creole with stops at the beaches and picnic sites.
As you leave Sulphur, the prairie lands melt into marsh with spectacular views of wildlife and waterfowl. From Sulphur to Hackberry, witness many of Louisiana’s industries both large and small. A center for commercial crabbing, fishing and shrimping, fleets of shrimp boats line the Intracoastal Waterway where huge casting nets stand at attention like flocks of butterflies waiting for their next flight.
Several recreation areas promote hands-on fishing, crabbing and boating with newly refurbished fishing and crabbing piers, boat lunches, parking lots and observation towers. The Sabine National Wildlife Refuge offers generations of folktales and a couple miles down the road, a 1.5 mile boardwalk inside the refuge. Alligators form freeways of weedy trails throughout the grassy marsh with an occasional nutria bravely scouting the territory. Look closely you may find a family of baby alligators wrapped in a tightly woven lair soaking up the sun. Larger gators rest along tall tufts of grass or casually cross the walkways along the trail. Pavilions bring shade and a front row seat of waterfowl grazing the marsh and scouring the skies.
A little further south, Holly Beach brings 26 miles of gulf coast beaches bordered by glaring sand dunes with wind swept sea grass and cedars that look like large bonsai trees. Pelicans, seagulls and a variety of sea birds skim the ocean waters while others take a rest on the waters edge.
Creole Nature Trail signs and kiosks guide you throughout the trail with information on your exact location and important points of interest. Located inside this scenic byway you will find cheniers, sandy beach ridges topped with sculpted trees from the gulf’s sea breezes. There are only four known cheniers that exist worldwide and they play a vital role for migrating songbirds and butterflies. Explore a chenier up close at the Peveto Woods Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary, green tunnels of lantana and honeysuckle are home to a village of songbirds including spring warblers, tanagers and orioles.
The Charpentier Historic DistrictDuring the late nineteenth century, skilled lumbermen from the north descended the Western pinelands of Louisiana fueling rapid growth. Without architects, the homes reflect the individual characteristics of carpenters and builders who harnessed their creative skills by combining different designs creating the title “Lake Charles Style Architecture.” In honor of the carpenters who helped build the city, the district is now named The Charpentier (French for carpenter) Historic District. A detailed map and brochure follow sawmill Victoriana designs, Eastlake mansions, worker cottages, gaslit middle-class homes, historic churches and municipal buildings.
Hotels, Golf, and FoodEnjoy Las Vegas style casino and entertainment at L’auberge Du Lac rising 26 stories over Lake Charles with more than a thousand hotel rooms, suites and villas. Swing your way across an 18-hole Tom Fazio golf course, toast the evening inside six innovative restaurants or relax at their spa and resort pool with a lazy river and swim-up bar.
Part of the Audubon Golf Trail, Gray Plantation was selected one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses selected by members of Golf Digest’s exclusive course evaluation panel. A pristine 18-hole 7,000-yard course celebrates the natural beauty of piney woods with 60 acres of lakes, 94 bunkers and four par 3s, two of which feature island greens.
Throughout the southwest region, the salty lair of the Gulf of Mexico cooks up a trail of knee-buckling seafood. Cajun cowboys team up boiled seafood, fried frog legs, Crawfish Bisque, Alligator Sauce Piquant with a pinch of country with smoked barbeque and chicken and dumplings.
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An award winning writer and photographer, Deborah Burst enjoys traveling and stocks her travel log with trips across the gulf coast, eastern seaboard and recently back to her childhood home in Bermuda. She scouts the backroads and waterways working as Louisiana Bureau Chief for Southern Breeze magazine, primary writer for the Louisiana Culinary Trails, travel columnist and photographer for St. Tammany News and Louisiana Road Trips magazine, and a frequent contributor to many other publications. Deb recently served as moderator for a Tennessee Williams Festival travel panel and keeps busy with local publications as a frequent contributor to the Northshore Report and a columnist with Covington Magazine. Deb is working on a book about historic trails through south Louisiana.