Revisiting the Bayou – Barataria Preserve

With so many amazing places to explore and experience, we don’t often return to the same place more than once. This past spring, as our travels east led us through New Orleans, we chose to return to a national park that we had visited on our 2012 roadtrip: Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. We hiked along the same bayou trail in the Barataria Preserve that we enjoyed more than 5 years earlier and discovered firsthand just how much seasons can vary in a part of the country that might not seem to have very distinct seasons.

Our first visit to the area was in the fall, and while we enjoyed the dense, beautiful plant life, wildlife was pretty scarce. We hoped in vain to spot an alligator from the boardwalk trail. While our kids were much younger then, and content to watch beetles and ants along the trail, we were also a little disappointed by the apparent lack of wildlife. Returning in the spring was like visiting a different park! We stopped so many times to watch different animals that it took most of the day to walk less than two miles on the Bayou Coquille and Marsh Overlook trails. All five of us were excited for each new discovery!

Okay, so maybe they are still content to study insects along the path…

It was warm enough for the alligators to be seen sunning themselves and swimming around the waters of the bayou. We also saw many varieties of turtles, frogs, fish, snakes, lizards, and all manner of birds, large and small. There is something special about discovering these creatures in their natural habitat! Rarely are turtles or frogs the most exciting animals we see at a zoo, but finding a frog hiding among the leaves was like a treasure hunt. The turtles weren’t doing much more than resting in the sun, but we borrowed a pair of binoculars from a kind passerby and watched them for as long as we could politely manage.

Barataria preserve
Just a few of the interesting creatures along our path!

The bayou was truly engaging for all our senses. As we observed the various animals among the lush, green vegetation, we heard the sounds of insects and birds, the movement of water and the wind in the trees. The air smelled earthy and damp. The bayou carried on with its magnificent ordinary day, and we were merely observers. After spending months in the desert, the contrast was startling.

Back at the visitor center, we learned about erosion and how deposits of soil brought by the muddy Mississippi as well as the force of hurricanes and tropical storms creates a constantly changing shoreline here where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. We also learned some of the rich history of the area, including more recent history about Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. Once again, the junior ranger program did not disappoint and the combination of exploring nature and a museum made for a wonderful day.

junior rangers
Studying the world around them and documenting it in their junior ranger packets!

We were just a short drive from the heart of New Orleans, but on this trip we decided not to spend any time in the city. Our spirits were craving calm and nature, so we chose the slower pace of camping in a state park and hiking a familiar boardwalk trail through the bayou. There are many amazing places to explore and experience, but that doesn’t mean we should try to see everything an area has to offer while we are there. We are still learning how to find a healthy pace for life and travel, and how to say no. It’s funny that the same lessons that eluded me in a more traditional lifestyle were not learned simply by transitioning to life on the road. And yet, being on the road is helping me to learn them. Sometimes being in new or remarkable places can bring new clarity to the same struggles. This combined with the intensity of living this close together makes the road an ideal classroom for many of the life lessons that I still need to learn. As it turns out, roadschooling isn’t just for the kids.

Anyone traveling to the New Orleans area should add the Barataria Preserve to their must-do list. It’s a beautiful escape from the city at any time of year, but we would definitely recommend visiting in the spring!

Barataria Preserve


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