One of only a handful of All American Roads, the Creole Nature Trail runs in a loop of 180 miles, with numerous wildlife refuges, gulf beaches, and marshes along the way. Driving the Creole Nature Trail sounds like a lot of miles, but can easily be done in a day. It was the highlight of my trip to SW Louisiana.
Along the way, families will find wildlife refuges, beaches, piers, and even a local seafood diner, and view locals crabbing, fishing, and birding. The trail is located in rural Cameron Parish, where alligators far out number people, and during most of the drive, visitors will find themselves nearly alone in nature. There are 479 species of birds alone in Louisiana, and during our visit, we saw countless varieties, as well as alligators, porpoises, shore birds, turtles, and snakes.
How to plan your day driving the Creole Nature Trail:
Start at Adventure Point, a nature center located in Sulphur, just outside Lake Charles. Here, the helpful staff can give you a map and help you plan your route. You an also download the free app (search for ‘creole’ and it will pop right up.) Kids will learn more about the area’s eco-systems at several interactive displays at the center. For instance, you can try your hand at crabbing technique and ‘sample’ cajun foods via sniffing bottles. At Adventure Point, you’ll learn that there are few gas stations, restaurants, and bathrooms along the trail, and the staff can help you know where to stop!
You can access the trail from either Sulphur or Lake Charles, via I-10. Just follow the map given to you in the center. You can traverse it from either direction. We started in Lake Charles, so I’ll detail the best stops for the loop from that direction.
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge:
At Cameron Prairie, stop at the visitor’s center to learn more about bird species in the area. The Creole Trail is located under two major flyways, which means there’s opportunity to see the many birds that migrate across the Gulf of Mexico, especially in spring and fall. Behind the center, there’s a boardwalk out onto the marsh to spot birds (look for the cardinal that takes up residence here). On the boardwalk in front of the center, look for turtles in the pond.
Hit the bathrooms here if needed, because there aren’t more for some time. Next, check out Pintail Wildlife Drive and Boardwalk, right nearby. This three mile gravel driving loop is the ideal place to spot alligators (you’re not allowed to bike or walk it due to the number of alligators here). There is, however, a half-mile boardwalk you can walk; we saw alligators and snakes up VERY close here.
Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours:
As you head along the trail after Cameron Prairie, you’ll be driving toward the Gulf. First, however, Grosse-Savanne Eco-Tours is worth a slight detour. The only activity along the trail that will have a fee, Grosse-Savanne offers two-hour boat tours with knowledgable local guides. Out on the water, we were able to see numerous birds and animals up close and personal, and had someone with us who could tell us what we were seeing.
As a photographer, I was in heaven; I must have shot hundreds of images of egrets, warblers, ducks, cranes, alligators, water snakes, and beautiful lily pads. We navigated the canals of both fresh and saltwater marshes slowly, taking time to stop in hidden coves to spy birds’ nests and alligator slides. Tours cost $75/pp for two hours, and I do highly recommend budgeting for this activity. (Bring sunscreen and bug spray.)
Lunch at T-Boy’s:
By this time, you’re going to be hungry. Stop at one of the only restaurants in Cameron Parish, T-Boy’s. This diner in Creole is located where you’ll turn right onto the gulf shore. It’s rough-around-the-edges, but very friendly, and serves authentic cajun meals. You’ll find the usual fried foods, such as fish and shrimp, but also po-boys, grilled seafood, burgers, and homemade potato salad. Kids can get grilled cheese, too. The ladies who run this place are energetic and welcoming.
Take the five-minute Cameron Ferry ($5 per car) across the water where Big Lake meets the coast. Let the kids out of the car for a few minutes, and be sure to look for porpoises in the bay. Apparently there’s one called Pinkie, due to her pink coloring. We didn’t see her, unfortunately!
Cameron Jetty or Holly Beach:
If you want to spend some time at the beach, stop at Cameron Jetty to watch fishermen and play on the sand, or head to Holly Beach (more scenic). Neither beach will be great for swimming or wading; the water of the Gulf here is almost brown due to nutrients found in it. However, it’s a good place to see shore birds, look for porpoises, and stretch the legs. (You’ll find public bathrooms at Jetty Pier.)
Sabine National Nature Refuge:
If you want to look for more birds in a more wooded setting, take a detour to see Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary, further out the coast. However, I was told it can be hard for amateur birders to see as much here. If you don’t have time for it, head north at Holly Beach instead, and head to Sabine. You can walk on more boardwalks here, and see song birds as well as more alligators.
Note: The visitors centers, beaches, and refuges are all free along the Creole Trail. You’ll only pay for gas, lunch, and $5 for the ferry. Of course, if you opt for the eco-tour, that will be an extra expense (recommended).
Adventure Point is located at 2740 Ruth Street (exit 20) in Sulphur. The trail is accessed via I-10.