The landscapes of the Mississippi River deltaic plain don’t conjure up conventional images of hiking, as found in the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians. But the proximity of wilderness preserves to New Orleans, and the paths that come with them, ensure that a good walk through the natural environment is never far away.
At destinations like the Barataria Preserve and Bayou Segnette State Park, visitors can expect to find fabulous examples of the swampy Bayou country for which this region is world famous. The boardwalks and trail markers at these facilities often provide the only opportunity to traverse the watery world of cypress and tupelo swamps, fields of irises and pastures of rich green bull’s tongue that would otherwise be out of reach for those without waterborne transportation.
New Orleans’ level geography surrounded by the Mississippi River and the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain provide unique opportunities for tourists who want to explore the city and its natural environment, on foot or bicycle. Bike rentals and guided cycling and kayaking tours of New Orleans and the surrounding region are available.
Audubon Park’s oval bike-and-walking path weaves around the perimeter of this subtropical paradise. Workout stations are situated along the path. Both paved and dirt paths run through City Park in Mid-City as well. Many locals also run along the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and other medians (known here as ‘neutral grounds’) that divide the wide boulevards throughout the city.
With one of the largest levee systems in the world protecting the waterfront, it is easy to forget that New Orleans is surrounded by water. To take advantage of river views, visitors can run or bike along the Levee Bike Path that begins uptown at Audubon Park and proceeds upriver until it reaches the huge Spillway, then picks up at LaPlace and continues on to the State Capitol of Baton Rouge. On the other side of town, there are paths along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Shore Drive where a grassy levee protects a lovely residential area and the campus of the University of New Orleans.
Across the lake is the St. Tammany Trace, a 331-mile trail enjoyed by bikers and horseback riders, by cyclists, joggers and walkers alike.
There are numerous races throughout the year, ranging from 5K run/ walks to internationally recognized marathons. In October, the Zoo presents its annual Swamp Fest 5K run/walk. Racers are treated to a special party and all-day admission to “Swamp Fest” on race day. Check out the New Orleans Track Club’s website (www.runnotc.org) for more information about other events.
The annual Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon is held close to the Carnival season. The route winds through many of the city’s most famous neighborhoods, and ends with an after-race party with plenty of live music, food and refreshments for participants.
The major running event each year is the Crescent City Classic, generally staged the Saturday before Easter. This 10,000 meter road race attracts everyone, from world class athletes to weekend joggers. The Classic attracts more than 15,000 runners. It begins at Jackson Square and continues through the Central Business District, then follows Esplanade Avenue to the finish line in City Park. The flat terrain in New Orleans helps make this course one of the fastest. Several world and American records have been recorded in the event.
For the less ambitious but eager athlete, the Quarter, Garden District, Esplanade Ridge or the Mississippi River parks such as the Moonwalk and Woldenberg Park offer great, safe and very accessible walking while taking in the signs of one of the most charming and exotic cities.
A Golfer’s Paradise
Bring your clubs when you visit New Orleans. Our city has both beautiful and challenging links that take full advantage of the historic, tropical ambience of the New Orleans landscape. Temperate weather throughout most of the year, with just two really cold months, also makes New Orleans a great golfing destination.
For members of clubs out of town, there are a good number of private clubs with generous reciprocal membership arrangements. Those looking for something a little more casual can find plenty of options at both of the city’s large public parks.
Golfing in New Orleans is a great way to experience the exotic natural settings the city has to offer. For example, the Audubon Golf Course is a very popular public facility, located in the Park with majestic live oaks proving a common menace. For more details, call 504-865-8260.
The Tournament Players Club of Louisiana, situated on 250 acres across the river, in the town of Westwego, was designed by Pete Dye. It’s where the Zurich Classic is held each year, under the sponsorship of the ForeKids Foundation. It’s a 7,300 yard, par 72 course offering four sets of tees. They stretch the course to 7,300 yards for the TPC PGA tourney. Call 504-299-8721 or visit www.tpc.com to set up a tee time.
City Park has an excellent public course which has just recently been rebuilt from the flooding of Katrina. The Park also has an excellent driving range. Call 504-483-9397 for information. The park has a great history in the game and for several years hosted the New Orleans Open for the likes of Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer.
English Turn is an outstanding private course, beautifully laid out under the design of Jack Nicklaus. It features a meandering lake and many mature old oaks, stretching 7,078 yards and a par 72. Club members from across country are welcomed to play “The Turn.”
The license plate in Louisiana describes the state as a “Sportsman’s Paradise,” referring to one outdoor activity more than any other – fishing. The wetlands of the Mississippi River are such a rich and productive ecosystem that they provide upwards of 30 percent of the nation’s commercial fishing catch, and play host to thousands of satisfied fishing enthusiasts year round…men, women and children who totally enjoy the fun of fishing for big redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and many other varieties found in the marshes, bays, lakes and offshore in the Gulf.
For those with a boat, the options are limited only by the imagination and knowledge of the water. There are many launches south of the city and down the west bank highway toward Empire and Venice.
Visitors can pick up a Louisiana State fishing license from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, atwww.la.us/apps/netgear/page1.asp.
Famous locally as a weekend destination, Grand Isle is a place for the serious fisher. At less than two hours’ drive from the city, Grand Isle hosts the annual Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, an event that each year attracts hundreds of game fishers in search of the fish known as “The Silver King.” Grand Isle greets visitors with available accommodations and numerous charter captains on hand to take you to where the fish are biting.
For those who want a taste of the region’s watery wildlife, but don’t have time to venture outside of the city limits, fresh water fishing in City Park can be a surprising venture. Fishing in Lake Pontchartrain can be accessible by public transit and the pelicans, gulls and jumping fish are dead giveaways to the presence of trout or reds.
Birding in New Orleans
The rich wetland habitat of South Louisiana has abundant birdlife. American’s WETLAND Birding Trail offers access to this great, world class natural resource. The trail follows seven scenic byways through 22 coastal parishes. The 115 sites along the trail introduce visitors to a variety of Louisiana’s coastal habitats including fresh and salt-water matches, cheniers, upland pines, riparian hardwood forests, cypress-tupelo swamps, bottom-land hardwood forests, open meadows, lagoons, canals, borrow pits and natural bayous, to name a few. Associated with these diverse habitats are an exceptional array of birds and other wildlife.
Much of the region’s bird life can be found right within city limits, in the parks and gardens, on the bayous, ponds and lakes. Keep your eyes open on any roadway for the ubiquitous snowy egrets that remind you constantly that you are in America’s WETLAND. To learn more about the birds of Louisiana, visit the Audubon Zoo. As a result in part of the Audubon Institute’s Species Survival Center at the end of the Mississippi River, the Zoo contains exhibits, in natural settings, of many endangered bird species.
Artist John James Audubon, whose legendary paintings of American birds are a beautiful and remarkable record of our bountiful birdlife, painted most of his work in New Orleans while living in a French Quarter cottage now part of the Maison De Ville Hotel. Consequently, many homes, museums and public spaces exhibit copies and originals of his work.
More ambitious birding enthusiasts can use New Orleans as a departure point to access the 12 mapped out ‘loops’ of America’s WETLAND Birding Trail. Chances are you will encounter thousands of migratory waterfowl that flock to the region every year, or you can revel in the area’s resident herons, ibises, eagles, osprey and many more. Visit Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge on the Louisiana Scenic Byway/Florida Parishes Loop to see the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, one of our nation’s officially endangered bird species.
Don’t be surprised to look out your hotel room window in the heart of New Orleans to see an avian visitor from Louisiana’s swamps or a migratory flock looking back at you. If you were flying over New Orleans and spotted any one of its myriad lush gardens, you might stray just as so many birds do…all year long.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories toNew Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com. Revised 2009.