Part of the Cane River Creole National Park. Photo courtesy of Louisiana State Tourism

Exploring Nature, History, and Culture in the Cane River National Heritage Area of Louisiana

The Cane River National Heritage Area in Natchitoches in northwestern Louisiana is known for its historic plantations, creole architecture, and multicultural legacy. The area includes seven National Historic Landmarks, three State Historic Sites, and the Cane River Creole National Historic Park. There is no shortage of family-friendly activities and attractions to engage and educate.

In the spring and fall the Briarwood Nature Preserve offers the perfect place to experience nature at its best. The preserve is the birthplace of world-renowned naturalist, author, and artist Caroline Dormon. A complete natural forest ecosystem, guests to Briarwood can walk forest trails and savor the beauty of the Louisiana iris bog, the ancient longleaf pine, and the most complete botanical and wildlife sanctuary in Louisiana.

The Cane River Lake offers the opportunity to get out on the water. The Cane River Queen Riverboat cruises the waters on its fun and informative tours and the more adventurous can try paddle boarding or kayaking with Cane River Paddle and Pedal Sports.

For a look into Creole culture, visit the historic Melrose Plantation. Melrose is also home to a collection of work by world famous African American folk artist Clementine Hunter, who once lived and worked on the property. Her unique African-American perspective, considered "insider art," tells stories that historians overlooked while documenting plantation life. These works include her popular African House Murals, which feature the historic structure still located on the grounds.

The Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site is a replica of the strategic outpost built to protect the borders of the French colonial empire from Spanish forces. The original fort served as a military outpost and commercial trade center until 1762. Today, daily tours are offered and costumed historic interpreters are on site to help visitors find their way around the fort.

Conversely, the Los Adaes State Historic Site was once the capital of Texas and was built to counter French intrusion into Spanish territory. Visitors can view artifacts discovered at the fort in the on-site museum or explore the grounds on a 1.5-mile nature trail.

The city of Natchitoches itself is also a historic destination. Founded in 1714, the city is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory. Its Historic Landmark District encompasses a 33-block area and includes many historic homes demonstrating a mixture of Queen Anne and Victorian architecture, as well as Creole style cottages. At the heart of the National Historic District lies Front Street, a brick thoroughfare where wrought iron balconies, restaurants, and shops face the beautiful Cane River Lake. Guided tours of the historic district are available.

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Information provided by Travel South USA -- Official Travel/Trade Site of Southern State Tourism Offices and the official Louisiana Office of Tourism

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