On a recent trip to New Orleans, we decided to rent a car and drive to Barataria Preserve Near New Orleans. Just 30 minutes outside of town, this swamp boasts a trail that lets very little get between you, the swamp, and all the life within it. We were intrigued and had to check it out!
Barataria Preserve consists of several trails, but we settled on The Palmetto Trail, a .9 mile point-to-point trail taking you right through the heart of the swamp. Please note this trail does not loop around, you’ll learn this is an important detail as you read on!
Tip: Did you know there is a visitor center for Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in the French Quarter on Decatur Street? Get a glimpse of the park while drinking a hurricane and eating some beignets!
Check out the website for Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve for the most up to date info on closures and other pertinent info.
First Breakfast, Then Off To Barataria Preserve
Mardi Gras Floats, Kitschy Decor, And The Garden District
Our hotel on this trip was in the Central Business District and our rental car agency was within walking distance. We started our day walking to the agency to pick up our car opting to rent for one day to avoid hotel parking fees. Once we picked up our car, we headed to the Garden District where we decided to stop at Molly’s Rise and Shine, a kitschy decorated spot with a rumored delicious breakfast. On our drive, we were delayed due to dozens of Mardi Gras floats pulled by tractors passing by. This was so exciting as this trip was our first time in town during Mardi Gras and we’d be seeing our first parades that evening.
Planning a trip to New Orleans? Check out my post on Photographing New Orleans, 15 Things You’ll Want to Capture to plan ahead all of the amazing photographs you’ll be taking and what to look out for.
We get to Molly’s Rise and Shine and have a seat. The place is super cute and full of nostalgia and fun, thoughtful details. I was enamored by the home I saw across the street! We planned to explore the Garden District more later that evening and I couldn’t wait. After our delicious breakfast, we decided to try and get a slice of King Cake at La Boulangerie. Unfortunately, they only sold full cakes so we opted for a King Cake-inspired treat. Once finished, we were on our way to Barataria Preserve near New Orleans only roughly 30 minutes away.
Who is Jean Lafitte?
An early 19th-century French pirate operating in the Gulf of Mexico with ties to New Orleans and the Barataria area. He’s most famous for helping General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British in the final War of 1812.
A Swampy Hike
We mapped our drive to the Barataria Preserve Visitor Center, about a 30-minute drive from the Garden District. We pull into the lot and notice there were plenty of parking spaces which is always nice to see. The other end of the trail lets out into the Bayou Coquille Parking Lot where you can park if this lot is full and start the trail on the other end.
We park our car and walk up towards the visitor center. We decided not to visit inside and just made a quick restroom trip before continuing onto the trail. The first part of the trail is called the Visitor Center Trail. This is the short version that guests can visit if they just want a quick little view of the swamp and not do a full hike. As you continue, you’ll notice railings for a brief time, and then the railings slowly merge down into the path until they are gone and now nothing separates you from the swamp.
Most trails go off into the distance and curve slightly which is what makes this particular spot in this trail really photogenic. You won’t see another spot like it on the Visitor Center and Palmetto Trails. You can get the best shot shortly after the trail railings go away and you pass the first curve on the trail.
Keep walking until you reach a hexagonal-shaped break in the trail and take a moment to soak it all in here. There are benches to rest on and just listen to the sounds of the swamp. I recommend doing this as sometimes when hiking you don’t always get to just soak it all in like this.
If you are with someone, consider photographing them up ahead to show the scale of where you are. It always helps give more context and makes for a good memory. If you’re not with someone, you can photograph others on the trail but be respectful of their privacy. I always try to not get any identifiable traits in my photos when shooting others.
Now that you’ve had a moment to take it all in, keep on hiking through the Visitor Center Trail. You’re going to be in awe as you’ll have a 360-degree view of the swamp and as you look down, it’s right there on the left and right of you. Such a surreal trail and it’s really awesome to be surrounded by this much nature as you continue to hike.
Tip: Watch your step as some of the wood planks on the trail raise up or feel squishy and waterlogged which can catch you off guard or trip you. You don’t want to fall into these swampy waters!
▸▸▸ Use the awesome curves of the trail through the swampland to draw your viewers’ eye into the scene. You’ll have plenty of opportunities and unique trail curves to capture the perfect shots throughout your hike.
▸▸▸ Stop walking now and then and take a look up to the sky! Spanish Moss drapes from the trees giving them an eerie yet ethereal look and making for awesome photo ops.
Alligators, Snakes, and Spiders Oh My
After a short time walking you will see a fork in the trail. This is where the Palmetto trail begins and the Visitor Center Trail completes. You’ll notice the different types of wood patterns in the trail where the Visitor Center Trail wood planks all go vertical and the Palmetto trail planks are smaller and go horizontal.
We continued on the Visitor Center Trail to see what else was there and it eventually just comes to a stop and you’ll have to turn around to walk back. We walked back to the point the Palmetto Trail began and started that hike. This part of the trail is more narrow than the Visitor Center Trail so you’ll need to watch your steps even more.
FYI: While exploring the swamps we learned that alligators use a survival technique in colder months called brumation. This technique helps them regulate their body temperatures and slow down their metabolism until they become lethargic. When the weather begins to warm, they go through thermoregulation which will bring their bodies back to their normal temperature. We visited in mid-February and noticed the alligators were still on the smaller side and appeared to be brumating. Consider this when planning your trip as you may not see as many gators during the cooler months.
Spotting our first alligator in Barataria Preserve!
Being near New Orleans, Barataria Preserve is a great spot to go to see some wildlife and get away from the city. It wasn’t long before we encountered our first alligator, about 10 minutes into the Palmetto Trail. We were so excited! There it is, literally a few steps away from us just floating in the swampy water. This one was really close to the trail, almost partially under it, and oddly this didn’t make me afraid of its proximity. We took some time to observe it as it stayed still. We took photos and continued on our way. I made a joke about “what happens if an alligator is on the trail?” Thinking it probably wouldn’t happen as we continued to walk down the trail.
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▸▸▸ Focus on details – the moss growing on this tree trunk made such a cool pattern and thought it would be great to capture this detail to give viewers a closer look at the textures and colors you’ll see in the swamp.
There’s an alligator on the trail ahead, now what!?
We see a few snakes, a couple more alligators, and other small critters. Thankfully we do not see any spiders, I’ve seen photos of them from this area and they are as large as your hand. We finally get to the end of the trail which releases into the Bayou Coquille Parking Lot and turned around to make our way back to the Visitor Center Parking Lot.
I’m getting a bit whiny at this point as it happened to be the warmest and sunniest day of the whole trip and it was starting to feel like too much heat and sun for me. Anyway, we keep going and I am daydreaming about being in the air-conditioned car and finally relaxing when we encounter a group of people walking our way.
“Trails closed ahead, alligators climbed on the trail and the rangers can’t touch them and had to call in special help”. Well, crap. Remember how I made the joke about what would happen if an alligator was on the trail? Well, we’re about to find out. Turns out we had to walk back to the Bayou Coquille Parking Lot and then walk over to the highway and walk back to the Visitor Center Parking Lot.
▸▸▸You don’t always have to show the whole picture. I zoomed in on these moss-covered tree trunks because the texture was so cool and they kind of looked like waves. Consider capturing the details of your walk to mix up your photography.
The Downside of Hiking with Alligators
▸▸▸ Don’t forget to document the not-so-pretty stuff. This photo I took of us walking back to the other parking lot after an alligator got on the trail. Not really pretty but it helps tell our story.
This part was rough
This is the part of the trip I really didn’t like. As mentioned above, I was already feeling overheated from the sun and my feet hurt from the boots I wore, and now we had to walk almost a mile back to the other parking lot on the highway. There are no sidewalks here and the side of the road was swamp-like along the way which made it hard to get too far out of the way when a car drove by. Thankfully, almost every car that drove by us went towards the middle of the road as they passed but it still made me very nervous.
Being near New Orleans made Barataria Preserve a quick destination to see some wildlife and get out of the city. We really enjoyed the experience and the trial. Walking through the swamp was such a unique experience. While it was all beautiful, if short on time you could probably do half the trail and get the full experience. Once you get a bit past the Visitor Center the views don’t differ drastically. Definitely worth the drive and the visit.
Fees & Passes
No fees or passes are needed to enjoy the park. Donations are accepted at the Visitor Center.
Visitor Center is open Wednesday-Sunday 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed on federal holidays. Preserve parking lot gates are open daily for access to trails 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., including on federal holidays. The preserve is completely closed on Mardi Gras.
Your pet is only allowed in the parking areas and on the visitor center deck. They must stay on a leash with you holding the leash. Service Animals are allowed on the trail, however, the wildlife present may make your pet uncomfortable.
Know Before You Go
Near New Orleans and visiting Barataria Preserve? There’s a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park visitor center in Decatur Street to learn more.
The heat and sun can get pretty intense if you are out for long periods of time. Wear the proper protection for your activities. A hat, sunglasses, proper shoes, and sunscreen are all good ideas.
Never attempt to touch, capture, or bother any wildlife you encounter. Remember, you are in their home. Please be respectful of all life – plant or animal.
There are stinging insects in the park from mosquitos, caterpillars, and fire ants. Watch where you step and put your hands and wear insect repellant.
Always check out the park’s official page for the most up-to-date news on hours, closings, and other helpful information.