All Nature Lovers to the Creole Nature Trail
by Eleanor S. Morris
more on romantic getaways in Louisiana
The Creole Nature
Trail, a newly-designated All-American Road, loops through 180
miles of southwest Louisiana's picturesque marshes, bayous and
coastal beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Think of all the wildlife
to be seen and experienced...roseate spoonbills, spring warblers,
Vermilion flycatchers and more. Millions of migrating geese and
ducks spend the winter here, while millions of migrating songbirds
and butterflies use these wildlife refuges as stopovers on the
way to Mexico and Central America.
Even alligators seem to think this is their land as they glide
up and down bayous and lakes or sun themselves on the banks. (But
caution: Don't be deceived by the apparent immobility of a resting
'gator. Do not feed, tease, or prod him by tossing rocks or other
items at him. Respect him--and keep your distance!)
The trail begins either in Lake Charles or Sulphur and winds through
Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. (Stop awhile in small Sulphur
to visit the whimsically-named Brimstone Museum in the Old Southern
Pacific Railway Depot, 800 Picard Road, and learn the history
of sulphur mining.) Although driving the entire Creole Nature
Trail National Scenic Byway takes about eight to ten hours, the
most frequently-travel route, from Holly Beach and east across
LA 82 to Cameron-Creole and on LA 27/Hwy 14 north to Lake Charles,
takes about four to six hours, allowing time to stop at wildlife
refuges, beaches, picnic sites or restaurants.
Sulphur exit I-10 and go south on LA 27 down to Holly Beach. Just
before Hackberry you'll cross the Intracoastal Waterway which
stretches all the way from Brownsville, Texas, to New York City.
Hackberry is a commercial crabbing, fishing and shrimping center
with an intriguing legend: pirate Jean LaFitte is supposed to
have hidden some treasure here in Kelso Bayou.
On down to Holly Beach through this Louisiana Outback, take out
your binoculars to view the wildlife of Sabine National Refuge
on both sides of the highway. Stop for a bit at the Sabine National
Wildlife Visitors Center, or take the 1.5 mile Marsh Trail, where
interpretive panels and four marsh dioramas depict the habitats
found on the refuge, giving you some understanding of the coastal
At Holly Beach, 26 miles of Gulf Coast beaches are called by locals
the "Cajun Riviera." There, collect conch shells, whelks,
sharkseye, angelwings and cockles.
West on LA 82 leads to the Peveto Woods Birds & Butterfly
Sanctuary. Along the way, Constance, Gulf Breeze, Little Florida/Oceanview,
Longview-Dunn and Martin-Erbelding beaches are tempting place
to stop for a picnic. At the sanctuary you'll see a variety of
songbirds such as spring warblers, tanagers and orioles. Depending
on the time of year, you'll see more different types of wildlife
and wildflowers here than simply on a back road in Louisiana.
You might even get a view of the Sabine Pass Lighthouse on the
Gulf just before the Texas border. It was a working lighthouse
for almost 100 years, surviving both hurricanes and Civil War
skirmishes before it was extinguished in 1952.
on LA 82 from Holly Beach leads to the ferry to Cameron, crossing
the Calcasieu Ship Channel which connects the Intracoastal Canal
to the Gulf. Aboard the ferry, you might see porpoises in the
water among the shrimp boats, hoping for a snack. The ferry also
offers great views of multitude of sea birds--not only seagulls,
but white and brown pelicans. On the jetties, there is fishing--and
more great bird-watching. And in Cameron there are restaurants,
gas stations and convenience stores in case you feel the need
of some temporary relief from nature.
Continue on LA 82 to Cameron Parish's "Walkway to the Gulf"
and enjoy a leisurely stroll to a secluded beach. Then on to Oak
Grove and north to Creole, another small Louisiana Outback community.
Following north back on LA 27 between Creole and Gibbstown Bridge,
you'll cross the Intracoastal Waterway again through the Big Burns,
100,000 acres of marsh that burned during the 1930s. But instead
of being a disaster, it created ponds of excellent freshwater
fishing. Get a permit at a local store and try your luck at large-
mouth bas, crappie, white fish and more.
next stop is three-mile Pintail Drive at Cameron Prairie National
Wildlife Refuge, where you'll see ducks, geese, many species of
migratory birds, nutria, even white-tail deer and alligators.
If the latter are being coy and hiding in the mud, go to the Cameron
Prairie Interpretive Center, where in a large man-made pond you
can see 'gators large and small at home. Exhibits, too, as well
as a state-of-the-art robotic diorama and a telescope on the observation
pier. Cameron Prairie's moist prairies are home to resident songbirds
such as northern bobwhites and mourning doves, as well.
For brochures, maps and more information, contact the Southwest
Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1205 N. Lakeshire
Dr., Lake Charles, LA 70601 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
National Wildlife Refuge Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington,
VA 2203, 800-344-WILD.