Need an escape from the never-ending news cycle? Wish your kids made eye-contact with you instead of their phones? Desire a few days to de-stress from the frantic pace of work/school/carpool/adulting and reconnect with your family? It’s time to head to the land of southern hospitality and serenity and enjoy fabulous things to do in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
7 Great Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana
I’ll admit—I’m a stressed-out, anxiety-ridden mess. There. I said it. It’s not that anything bad happened. In fact, there’s so much good in my life right now—a book contract, an upcoming press trip, client jobs, kids thriving in their schools and sports—you’d think I’d be savoring it all.
Nope. That’s not how my brain works. Instead, it spins mercilessly, particularly at 3 a.m., where it taunts me with loads of self-doubt and teases me with those nasty thoughts: “How will you possibly get it all done?” I’ve been keeping it bottled up, trying to work past my worries, making lists, organizing, and plugging away. But as my neck and shoulders become increasingly tense and my brain won’t shut off, I know it’s time. It’s time to leave the computer, shut the door to the office, and get back to nature.
Just as I was nervously awaiting word from my soon-to-be editor, Kismet paid a call—and I was invited to explore Southwest Louisiana, particularly the Lake Charles area. The timing was perfect—the trip promised a mental escape, offering an itinerary filled with outdoor activities. I needed to ditch my phone, reconnect with nature, and mentally refresh. Here are my 7 favorite things to do in Lake Charles, Louisiana that helped me regroup and regain a positive attitude.
Time to Get Outside!
Nature is an amazing cure to quiet imposter syndrome, to loosen aching muscles, and to exhaust anxiety. A three-mile morning walk, a few hours in the garden, or a vacation destination geared to outdoor adventures provide a perfect path to rejuvenate my spirit.
1. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
“Preserving and protecting wintering waterfowl and their habitats” serves as the mission of Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, it was the first refuge established under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
Located approximately 25 miles southeast of Lake Charles in north central Cameron Parish, the refuge contains 9,621 acres that include fresh marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields. Because the refuge is situated at the meeting point of two major flyways, it plays a significant role in management for migratory birds.
Our visit began with a lesson about the region, as told by Tante Marie and T’Maurice, animatronics characters. The refuge hosts many school groups and considers education about wildlife and natural resources as part of its mission—much like I try to teach kids about gardening and developing habitats for wildlife. I knew I liked these people! (I’ll admit, my children harbored a fear of all Chuck E Cheese-type characters when younger. I once carried my sobbing girl out of our library’s story time due to a man dressed in a bumblebee costume. My kids would not have enjoyed the animatronics, although I thought they were charming.)
What I found more charming, however, was our birding expert, Irvin Louque.
After all, we planned to spend much of the trip in search of wildlife, so starting our journey learning from a wildlife expert seemed important.
I’m not sure what I expected—perhaps a 70-year-old man with binoculars hanging from his neck, accessorized with a fanny pack—but instead, our expert looked like he’d just graduated from college, or perhaps landed a gig with the refuge as an intern.
Boy. Was I wrong.
Irvine is a birding guru. Birding is his passion. His contagious enthusiasm as he described “life lists” and “nemesis birds” made me want to grab my family and embark on birding adventures. As a master naturalist, Irvine not only teaches refuge visitors about the area wildlife—he’s also out in the community, leading banding efforts and showing environmental enthusiasts how they can make a difference in protecting wildlife.
A few recommended items Irvine shared to help jump-start a birding adventure:
- A field guide or birding app, preferably one based on evolutionary relationships.
- Checklist of local birds in the area (which the refuge kindly provided.)
- A “Life List”—a document to keep track of all the birds seen—as well as those the birder hopes to see.
Honestly, I’d love to listen to Irvine for hours—he was such a wealth of knowledge, and his passion made me happy that there are people like him taking care of our environment. Sadly, though, it was time to move on—and put his guidance into practice.
2. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Gross Savanne Eco-Tours.
In a land known for oil rigs and pipelines, some of the most beautiful natural areas in Louisiana are found on land owned by private oil companies. To be honest—I was surprised. The environmentalist in me always thinks negatively of land ruined by pipelines and drilling. I’ll admit, the gorgeous natural surroundings during Gross Savanne Eco-Tours’ outing amazed me.
With more than 50,000 acres of private lands, we took off by boat to explore the marshes, levees, and bird rookeries.
De-Stress Among the Marshes.
Oh. My. Gosh. I could feel the stress melting away from the moment we slipped from the dock and headed out to find wildlife.
It’s a challenge to know where to look—not for lack of wildlife, but because there’s so much. Eyes on the water to spot alligators, fish, and turtles. Eyes to the skies to spot the herons, spoonbills, egrets. Of course, the garden geek in me snapped as many photos of flowers as I did of birds. Our guide helped find and identify wildlife, humoring me by angling the boat in closer when I couldn’t get just the right shot.
I mean, look at the babies!!!
Really, the most stress I felt involved whether my camera focused properly.
Our two-hour tour sped by, and I wasn’t ready to leave. It was bliss. No emails. No social media. Just nature, a great guide, and a good camera. A perfect way to learn about the local wildlife!
3. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail All-American Road
Did you know there are 43 All-American Roads in the United States? I didn’t. But now I do, as my travels took me along the lovely Creole Nature Trail All-American Road.
There’s nothing I like better than exploring a new destination at my own pace, and the Creole Nature Trail provides the perfect opportunity. Want to add more birds to your “Life List”? Let’s pull over and take a look by Calcasieu Lake. Look! Warning signs about alligators! Let’s see if we can spot one! Getting hungry? Let’s stop for some boudin!
I love a good road trip.
Wildlife lovers will adore the Creole Nature Trail. With more than 400 species of birds, 28 kinds of mammals, 35 amphibian and reptile species, 132 types of fish, and thousands of butterflies, the trail puts the “eco” in eco-adventure.
We began our journey at the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point—a perfect introduction to what we could expect during our journey. It’s a very cute attraction, with interactive activities to entertain kids—but with well-done, interesting displays to educate adults about Southwest Louisiana’s culture, history, and ecology, as well as points of interest along the trail.
If the kids are getting itchy for technology, let them download the app for the Creole Nature Trail. They can learn a bit and help decide where to explore.
Timing the Trail.
We only explored a bit of the trail on our way to other destinations. However, a typical agenda includes traveling the main loop from Sulphur to the Gulf of Mexico and returning to Lake Charles. Plan on four to six hours for the loop, depending on how long you like exploring the many stops along the way.
A Word of Warning…
When you see a marshy area with a sign about alligators, please don’t get too close for a photo op. Alligators are fast—really fast. I may, perhaps, have given my friends a panic attack when I was taking photos.
4. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Pintail Wildlife Drive
If you’re looking for a terrific place to set up a tripod and capture fantastic wildlife photos, Pintail Wildlife Drive is a perfect destination. Hop out of the car, though, and head out to the half-mile boardwalk, where there’s plenty of space for tripods and good cameras to capture wintering waterfowl or native birds and alligators.
The boardwalk is a great place to let the kids roam with their cameras. Our family gets a little competitive with our wildlife photography—it’s a good use of the kids’ phones, instead of watching them playing Pokémon Go!
5. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Put Your Toes in the Sand.
Really, is there any better way to de-stress than by visiting the beach? While the premise of our outing to Rutherford Beach was to view shoreline birds as another stop on the Creole Nature Trail, I spent my time walking the beach, breathing, collecting a few shells, and generally decompressing.
It was divine.
6. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Big Lake Guide Service
I’ll admit—I’ve never fished. When I heard we had a fishing outing planned, I experienced my only moment of anxiety. I love eating seafood and think of myself as a locavore, but I’ve never caught my own meal (unless you count the heirloom tomatoes from my garden.) Still, I decided to expand my horizons and give it a try.
My friends offered advice: “Don’t talk too much!” they warned. “You’ll scare the fish!” Well, thank goodness my fellow fisherwomen and our fabulous guide didn’t pay attention to the rules.
Let me tell you, my guide was the most patient person on Earth. I’m not kidding. He showed me the ropes, taught me how to cast, realized I had no idea what he meant when he said, “Set the hook!” and basically held my hand all six hours on the boat.
It was so much fun!
Yes, I lost a lot of fish. Yes, I almost threw my fishing pole over the side—but I caught it in time. And yes—I even caught a fish!!
However, the most fun of all involved dolphin spotting. I adore dolphins, and we saw them everywhere—and very close to our boat. There’s something about watching dolphins that makes stress melt away.
7. Things to Do in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Eat All the Seafood.
Oh my word. When in Louisiana, it’s a rule that you must gorge on seafood. I could eat seafood at every meal, and I did. I’m probably growing gills now.
That mackerel I caught? Chef Lyle Broussard of Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill turned it into this:
In fact, he and his staff prepared an amazing “water-to-table” meal for us, creating incredible dishes from all of the fish “we” caught. (Thank goodness my friends fared better than I did!)
Chef Broussard promised to share a recipe with me for something delicious we can all create at home, so stay tuned!
With a belly filled with seafood, slightly sunburned shoulders, and a new, stress-free attitude, I left Lake Charles and returned home to my cluttered desk and deadlines. Still, communing with nature worked its magic—those aching shoulders and sleepless nights disappeared. (Well, at least for a few days!)
I think I need to plan a return visit to Lake Charles, stat.
Julie Thompson Adolph is a garden and travel writer, organic grower, nature lover, Master Gardener, ecoadventurer, and local foodie…who still has to convince the kids to eat their veggies. She is the author of the blog Garden Delights, where she shares her love of all things green and helps readers learn to grow their own organic gardens. A former PR executive, Julie travels throughout the world with her Swiss husband and dual-citizen children, visiting European family or searching for botanical treasures. Follow along as she experiences beautiful gardens, ecoadventures with kids, and fabulous local food.