Southwest Louisiana is an eclectic sensory experience, and Lake Charles is the hospitable hub. Whether you visit the Cypress Swamp along the Calcasieu River or observe wildlife along the Creole Nature Trailleave Lake Charles with an authentic immersion in Louisiana’s rich culture.
History buffs will appreciate the historical flavor of Lake Charles. Walk through the neighborhoods to take in the stately Southern homes, and if you’re a foodie, you’ll want to seek out some of the small local eateries that serve the best Cajun and Creole dishes from generations-old recipes. If you’re a fan of Mardi Gras celebrations, then it is Mardi Gras Museum you’ll get up close to the elaborate costumes, floats and rich history of this important piece of southwestern Louisiana culture.
1 Creole Nature Trail & Adventure Point
Enjoy the outdoor beauty of southwest Louisiana along the Creole Nature Trail. One of only 43 designated All-American Roads in the United States, the trail is 180 miles of Cajun culture and nature and more than 26 miles of Gulf Coast beaches. The Creole Nature Trail is actually a series of hikes and trails that you can do at your own pace. You’ll enjoy world-class experiences while viewing preserved alligator populations and more than 400 bird species. This pristine experience is prized by wildlife photographers and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy fishing, crabbing and boating. Make sure you start the Creole Nature Trail at Adventure Point, which is a free, hands-on experience that teaches you how to look for alligators and experience local Zydeco music. The trailhead is just a 10-minute drive from nearby properties like SpringHill Suites by Marriott, so you can make a full day of the trail. Maps of the route are available online.
Address: 1205 N. Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, Louisiana
2 Grosse Savanne Eco-tours
One of the most spectacular ways to experience the natural environment surrounding Lake Charles is through an ecotour. Get up close to wildlife on a guided trip with Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours, a small group that takes you to pristine natural swamps, marshes and coastal provinces. Keep your camera ready as you get an intimate look at the natural habitat of herons, birds of prey, alligators, bobcats and other wildlife. The ecotour takes you deep into 50,000 hectares of protected habitat, allowing you to see plants and animals in freshwater and saltwater wetlands with uninterrupted access.
Address: 358 Chalkley Road, Ball City, Louisiana
Official site: https://www.grossesavanne-ecotours.com/
3 Mardi Gras Museum
The extensive Mardi Gras Museum in Lake Charles is the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the world. It is worth a visit during your stay for an understanding of the area’s important history. There are only six rooms in the museum, but you will leave with a colorful and detailed history of Mardi Gras traditions. Learn about the meaning of the festival, costume design, the 12th night celebrations and parades. You can even climb aboard a Mardi Gras parade fanatic in one of the rooms. If you’re lucky, you might stumble across a King Cake class and sample some of the leftovers.
Address: 809 Kirby Street, Lake Charles, Louisiana
4 Sam Houston Jones State Park
Sam Houston Jones State Park and Conservation Area is one of the best stops if you want to get outdoors during your visit to Lake Charles. With over 1,000 natural hectares of trees, lakes and rivers surrounded by a hardwood pine forest, it is a peaceful natural environment to explore. Enjoy a round of disco golf, walking the trails or a picnic lunch while observing the wildlife. Sam Houston Jones State Park is known for the duck and geese in the ponds and the abundant populations of alligators, otters, deer, bobcats and many species of birds.
Address: 107 Sutherland Rd, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Official site: https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/parks/sam-houston-jones-state-park/
5 Charpentier Historic District
The historic Charpentier district is a relaxing way to explore Lake Charles and admire the beautiful architecture of some of the most elaborate homes in southwest Louisiana. There are more than 400 buildings and homes spread throughout parts of Lake Charles. You can download a free app and take a walk at your own pace. Along the way, discover the history of the area, including ghost stories and the Great Fire of 1910. For a romantic day out exploring the streets and historic houses, take a horse and carriage ride with Lake Charles Carriages. For an extra treat, stop for a bite at one of the many downtown restaurants in converted historic buildings.
6 USS Orleck Naval Museum
A visit to the USS Orleck Naval Museum gives you hands-on access to many important naval histories. The museum features the USS Orleck DD 886 WWII destroyer. Explore the restored ship that saw combat service in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and stop at the scale model gallery to view replicas of ship machinery used during various conflicts. This tourist attraction holds important pieces of history that military personnel and historians can appreciate. It raises funds for artifact preservation through merchandise sales and even on-site lasagna activities.
Address: 604 N. Enterprise Blvd., Lake Charles, Louisiana
Official site: https://orleck.org/
7 SWLA Tours
The wildlife in Lake Charles is one of the top attractions, so it is advised to take the opportunity to explore the natural environment during your visit. For a personalized tour, Southwest Louisiana Tours can arrange for you to see what suits your interest in the area. Do you want to see alligators in the swamp or the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico? You may want to photograph pelicans up close. A customized tour to reach the area’s best wildlife, botanical gardens, and nature is one way to ensure you see what you want during your stay.
Address: 900 Ryan Street, Lake Charles, Louisiana (meeting place for tours)
Official site: https://www.swlatours.com/
8 The Velvet Pig Cooking Classes
Channel your inner Cajun chef and explore Lake Charles through a cooking class at the Velvet Pig, located in the Cash & Carry Farmers’ Market. This is a flavorful way to learn about the area’s culinary culture, which is a mix of French, Cajun, German, and Native American influences. Prepare your own homemade meal of gumbo, eggs benedict or another southwest Louisiana favorite under the guidance of local chefs. Most ingredients are locally sourced, which is a broader mission of the farmers market. The lessons last three hours.
Address: 801 Enterprise Blvd., Lake Charles, Louisiana
9 Prien Lake Park
Prien Lake Park is a public park on the coast of Indian Bay, where you can take advantage of the amenities and enjoy the area’s nature without having to go to the bayou. One of the park’s best features is its boardwalk, with great views of the expansive I-210 bridge over the waterway. The park has canoe launches and picnic pavilions, as well as a popular water playground for children in the summer. With its fountains and flowers, the park is a perfect location to relax, picnic or rest between other activities.
Address: 3700 West Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles, Louisiana