In March of 2011 I rode across East Texas and Louisiana. I wanted to ride through south Louisiana into New Orleans but it was difficult to find information about cycling routes and the possibilities of getting stuck and lost in the swamps was a little too daunting and so I stuck with the Adventure Cycling maps of the Southern Tier. Since then I came across this guide originally posted on crazyguyonabike by Don Weinell and he kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. I really appreciate Don’s well researched and documented article. Sounds as though this could be a nice little adventure. So without further ado:
Note – 25 Apr 2011: I made a correction regarding the Wisner Boulevard Bike Path in New Orleans. It stops before the I-610 bridge, not the I-10 Bridge.
Note – 22 Feb 2011: I’ve changed the name of this article so that it will be more easily found by non-CGOABers doing a Google or Bing search.
I recently posted a link to Google Maps for an alternate route across south Louisiana. Unfortunately sometimes this link worked, sometimes it didn’t. So I’ve decided to embed the maps here and add more detailed explanations of the route. I’ve also deleted the other posting.
First, a few general comments about riding in south Louisiana:
While most of our federal highways have shoulders, very few state and parish highways do. If shoulders are present, they are usually poorly maintained.
Riding on the Interstates is illegal. The other main US highways across south Louisiana are US 190 and US 90. Both are busy roadways and should be avoided as much as possible by cyclists. East of New Orleans, however, US 90 is your only option.
Unless you are riding on the Southern Tier, chances are you will the first bicycle tourist most drivers here have ever seen. As a whole, our drivers are no less courteous than drivers elsewhere; they’re just not used to watching for cyclists. This means you have to be extra cautious around traffic.
Free roaming dogs are not nearly as common as they used to be, but in rural areas you still might get chased from time to time.
This may sound like a cliche’, but in south Louisiana, especially in southwest Louisiana, alligators really do cross the road (to get to the other side, of course). I can’t even remember the last time someone was actually attacked by a gator. Like all wild animals though, you should not provoke them. They are quite fast over short distances. Don’t try to get close to take a picture. Just let them cross and then you can be on your way.
Mosquitos, on the other hand, will chase you mercilessly. DEET is your best friend.
In southwest Louisiana there are still areas where cell phone service is not available.
I’ve divided the route into two separate maps; one for southeast Louisiana and one for the southwestern section. My comments are arranged as you ride from east to west. In downtown New Orleans, and in a couple of smaller towns, many of the streets are one-way. If you’re travelling from west to east, you may have to deviate one block to either side of the mapped route to accommodate the one-way traffic patterns.
Pearl River: The Pearl River forms the eastern boundary of this part of Louisiana. The US 90 bridge is located just west of Pearlington, Mississippi. The bridge doesn’t have shoulders, but luckily it’s flat, not very long, and usually doesn’t have much traffic.
The Rigolets: The Rigolets is the main water connection between Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. Google Maps’ Street View still shows the old (and dangerous) drawbridge that was replaced after Hurricane Katrina. The new bridge is taller, but has nice wide shoulders and is much safer for cyclists.
Fort Pike: Built in the 1820s, Fort Pike protected New Orleans from potential invasions through Lake Pontchartrain. It is now a State Historic Site. Recent budget cuts have forced the closure of the park to visitors except by appointment, but you can get a good view of it from the highway.
New Orleans: Like any large city, there are good areas and not-so-good areas of town. My route through New Orleans will keep you out of the rougher neighborhoods, and still let you experience the flavor of the city that is uniquely New Orleans. The only way to enter the city by bicycle from the east is along US 90. This highway is really not too bad until you get into the city. The closer you get to New Orleans, the more congested it gets and the more seedier the surroundings become. The east side of New Orleans was flooded during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the scars (more like open wounds) are still very visible.
Bullard Avenue: There are several main roads that turn north from US 90. Bullard Avenue is busy, but it’s much better than Read, Crowder, or Downman. A couple of new chain hotels (Holiday Inn Express, La Quinta, and Comfort Suites) are located where Bullard crosses under Interstate 10.
Morrison Road: As your bones get jarred by the poor pavement of Morrison Road, you’re bound to think “There’s gotta be a better way!” Trust me, there isn’t. All of the roads in this area are bad. They were never great, but being under water for a week or two made them even worse. Also, for some unknown reason that defies logic, Morrison Road between Read and Bullard is one way (west) on the north side of the canal, but two-way on the south side of the canal.
New Orleans Industrial Canal: Three bridges cross the New Orleans Industrial Canal. One is the I-10 bridge, so that won’t do you any good. The second is the US 90 bridge. It has a pedestrian walkway, but the risks involved with just getting to the bridge far outweigh the benefits of the walkway. Your safest choice is the bridge on Leon C. Simon Drive, the one I’ve plotted on the map. It doesn’t have shoulders or a walkway, but it has less traffic and is in a somewhat safer part of town.
Leon C. Simon Drive: Normally I would have recommended you ride along Lakeshore Drive after crossing the Leon C. Simon bridge. Currently, however, there is so much construction around the University of New Orleans and Southern University that it’s impossible to get to Lakeshore Drive. So, for the time being, it’s better just to stay on Leon C. Simon Drive until you get to Robert E. Lee Boulevard. Continue west for a short distance on Robert E. Lee Boulevard until you get to Beauregard Avenue.
Wisner Boulevard Bike Trail: As you turn south onto Bearegard Avenue from Robert E. Lee Boulevard, the road changes names to Wisner Boulevard. You’ll see a well-marked, paved bike trail that runs between Wisner Boulevard and the canal. It ends right before the Wisner Boulevard bridge over I-610.
City Park: One of the great urban parks in the country. It was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but private contributions are helping it to recover. The New Orleans Museum of Art is located within the park.
Esplanade Avenue: As you leave City Park and head towards the French Quarter, you’ll ride along Espanade Avenue. This road, like most of the roads you’ve been on so far, has two lanes in each direction separated by a median. On Esplanade, however, the outermost lane in each direction is pretty narrow. Most vehicles stay in the left lanes. Cars park along the street, so your biggest danger is probably from doors opening. There are sidewalks on both sides, but given the amount of pedestrians, it’s usually safer and faster to stay on the road.
French Quarter: What can I say about the French Quarter that hasn’t already be said by many others? As you ride through this part of the city, make sure you visit the French Market. You may also enjoy seeing the rare white alligators at the Aquarium of the Americas.
St.Charles Avenue: This is likely the second most well-known street in New Orleans (behind Bourbon Street). Downtown, St. Charles is one-way, but after a traffic circle it becomes two-way. Like Esplanade, St. Charles Avenue west of the circle has two lanes going in each direction separated by a median. In this median you’ll see the famous New Orleans streetcars travelling down the tracks. St. Charles Avenue is lined with restaurants, shops, and old homes. A lot of joggers use the median, dodging the streetcars occasionally, so most of the drivers are on alert.
Audubon Park: Another great greenspace of the city. It is home to the Audubon Zoo and Insectarium.
Mississippi River Levee Trail: This is the longest true bike path in the city, and the easiest way to leave New Orleans heading west. It begins at the south edge of Audubon Park, is paved, and extends 20 miles to Ormand Boulevard in Destrehan. As you leave Audubon Park on West Drive, it becomes one-way out of the park. Immediately after you cross the railroad tracks, you’ll see the start of the bike trail on your right. Pay attention; it’s not marked and if you’re watching other traffic you might miss it.
Bonnet Carre Spillway: While riding on River Road, you’ll pass to the north of the Bonnet Carre Spillway floodgates. During times of exceptionally high water levels on the Mississippi River, the floodgates are opened to divert water to Lake Pontchartrain. The idea is to reduce pressure on the levees of New Orleans. During dry periods, motorcyclists, ATVers, and mountain bikers enjoy riding on numerous trails within the spillway.
Reserve-Edgard Ferry: The Reserve-Edgard Ferry is the easiest and safest way to cross the Mississippi River. Unfortunately it only operates on weekdays from 5:15 AM to 8:00 PM. The ferry is closed on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes due to weather or mechanical issues.
Gramercy Bridge: Heading east to west, the Gramercy Bridge should be your second choice for a river crossing. It is tall and long, but it does have wide shoulders. The shoulders, however, have diagonally placed reflectors on the pavement (obviously designed to force cyclists to play in the traffic). I would definitely consider walking my bike over this bridge. If, on the other hand, you are travelling west to east, do not pass this bridge by without first checking the status of the Reserve-Edgard Ferry. To get the latest ferry status, call 1-888-613-3779 for recorded information. Also, don’t get suckered into trying to cross the Sunshine Bridge at Donaldsonville; it’s a much more dangerous bridge for cyclists!
Oak Alley Plantation: Oak Alley is perhaps the most photographed plantation home in Louisiana. As you ride by, you’ll understand why. They have an inn on-site, and I’ve heard that they occasionally allow cyclists to pitch a tent on the grounds.
Cane Row RV Park and Truck Stop: Located west of the intersection of LA 70 and LA 3127, I normally wouldn’t consider camping at this spot. If you’re running short on daylight, though, this is the only campground anywhere nearby. Most of the campers appear to be semi-permanent residents or snowbirds. On the plus side, there is a restaurant and convenience store on-site.
Cajun Cabins: These cabins are on LA 70 at Bayou Corne (east of Pierre Part). They are mainly used by fishermen, but they have a few RV spots next to them. I’m sure tent campers would also be welcomed. The cabins are clean, and there’s a fishing pier that makes a nice place to relax after a hard day’s ride.
Pierre Part Store: This is one of the few small town general hardware stores that hasn’t been crushed under the heels of you-know-who. That in itself is worth a visit to buy something.
Lake End Park: A small, privately owned, well established campground on the west side of Lake Palourde. It might seem a little expensive (around 25 dollars I think), but it’s the only such campground near Morgan City.
International Petroleum Museum: If you’ve ever wanted to see an offshore drilling rig up close and personal, this is the place to do it. The musuem is located on the east bank of the Atchafalaya River in downtown Morgan City.
Lake Fausse Point State Park: This state park is located within the Atchafalaya River basin (the largest freshwater river swamp in the US). In addition to camping, they have excellent waterfront cabins. You can also rent a canoe and follow well-marked paddling trails in the swamp.
St. Martinville: This is the legendary home of Longfellow’s fictional heroine Evangeline. A monument and museum on the banks of Bayou Teche tell her story. Just north of town on LA 31 is the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park. Here you can learn about the origins of Louisiana’s Acadian culture.
Avery Island: When you think of hot sauce, you think of Tabasco. And when you think of Tabasco, you think of Louisiana. Avery Island is the home of Tabasco. Here you can visit the actual factory and, depending on the time of year, watch the various stages of production. Across from the Tabasco factory is Jungle Gardens. The gardens are a great place to bird watch and see alligators. A 900 year old statue of Buddha forms the centerpiece of the gardens.
Delcambre: At Delcambre, you can go straight west on LA 14 to Abbeville, or you can follow my route south and back around to Abbeville. LA 14 is a four-lane highway with lots of traffic and a 65 mph speed limit.
Palmetto Island State Park: Louisiana’s newest state park, Palmetto Island is also slated to close in June, 2011, due to state budget cuts. Hopefully additional funds will be found to keep it open. Until then, camping, hiking, and cabins are available in the park.
Intracoastal Waterway: This man-made canal allows ocean going vessels to sail between New Orleans and Houston without actually getting into the unprotected water of the Gulf of Mexico. The bridge over the ICWW is long and tall, but a wide shoulder is present.
Pecan Island: Even though it looks like a town on maps, Pecan Island is actually just a concentration of homes and hunting/fishing camps that extends five or so miles along LA 82. One convenience store and several small RV parks are located in this area. Even though they are called RV parks, some are well suited for tents due to the parking spots being grassy.
Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge: I’ve been visiting Rockefeller Refuge off and on for over 30 years. It is a remarkable place. Hurricane Rita (the other hurricane) in 2005 severely damaged most of the buildings. A few have been repaired, but many are still awaiting renovation or demolition. The refuge normally doesn’t allow camping, but if you visit the headquarters near the western boundary, and ask nicely, they will probably let you to pitch a tent overnight. Just remember that there are no amenities available. Also, if you get permission, try to ride out to the end of Price Lake Road. Depending on the season, numerous species of waterfowl may be seen.
Rutherford Beach: Where LA 82 turns sharply to the north towards Creole, you can cross the canal and continue west for one mile. Turn south onto Rutherford Beach Road and follow it around for 2.5 miles to the beach. Not much is left here since Hurricane Rita, but you have access to the beach. All beaches in Louisiana are considered public, so if you’re looking for a free place to camp, this is as good as any.
T-Boy’s Cajun Grill: Return back to LA 82 and head north to Creole. Located at the intersection of LA 82 and LA 27, this restaurant is very popular with the locals for two reasons. First, it’s the only place to eat for miles around, and secondly, the food is really good. My recommendation is the chicken and sausage gumbo. It’s among the best I’ve ever had.
Cameron: Cameron is the closest thing to an actual town in this area. It was almost wiped away by Hurricane Rita. A number of new buildings have been constructed, but the population is still far less than before the storm. Many empty foundations are visible. There is one motel in Cameron, appropriately named the Cameron Motel. There are no other motels within possibly 40 miles. I have heard, but I’m not personally familiar with this, that free camping is allowed south of Cameron near the jetties.
Cameron Ferry: This ferry is the only way to cross the Calcasieu River south of Lake Charles. North of Lake Charles there are two bridges along US 171, but neither have shoulders. The Cameron Ferry runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Holly Beach: At Holly Beach you have another major choice to make. You can continue riding west on LA 82 for another 26 miles to the Texas state line. This route through Louisiana is fine, but you run into a problem eight miles into Texas. The bridge over the Port Arthur ship channel is old, tall, long, and dangerous for cyclists. There is no shoulder at all, and the ramps are steep. This bridge is the only way to cross the channel. Unless you have a real reason to enter Texas here, you should definitely avoid this route. My recommendation is to turn north onto LA 27 at Holly Beach and cross into Texas further up at Deweyville. At Holly Beach, there is a small RV park, but no stores.
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge: Assuming that you chose to follow my advice, as you head north from Holly Beach you will soon enter the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. About 2.5 miles into the refuge from the south, you will find a paved nature trail that leads westward into the marsh to an observation tower. Along this trail I’ve seen all sorts of snakes, alligators, nutria, rabbits, and a variety of birds. Again, make sure you have plenty of bug spray.
Hackberry: I’m not aware of any camping near here, but there are several small hotels in Hackberry that cater to hunters and fishermen. Some are nicer than others.
Delta Downs: This is a horse racetrack and casino, and not someplace you would normally think about staying. They do, however, have a nice hotel on-site. Delta Downs is located on LA 3063, about 2.5 miles west of Vinton.
Niblett Bluff Park: Niblett Bluff Park is the last good camping area before you leave Louisiana. It is a small community owned and maintained park located on Niblett Bluff Road, about 2.5 miles west of the intersection of LA 3063 and LA 109.
Sabine River: As you cross the Sabine River, you’ll leave Louisiana and enter Texas at Deweyville. The LA 12 bridge over the river has no shoulders, but it’s short, flat, and has only minimal traffic. If you continue west from Deweyville on TX 12 for three miles, then turn north on TX 87 and ride 31 miles, you’ll connect with the Southern Tier just east of Kirbyville, Texas.
So, that’s the grand tour of south Louisiana. I hope you enjoy your ride through some of the most ecologically and culturally unique areas of our state. From New Orleans in the east, to the marsh prairies of the west, south Louisiana has a lot to offer if you take the time to look. If you have any questions, post them in the guestbook and I’ll do my best to answer them.