The Creole Nature Trail –
The Creole Nature Trail is a 108-mile driving trail; one of the 43 designated All-American Roads in the USA. The road loops through Southwest Louisiana between Lakes Charles and the Gulf of Mexico in an area referred to as the Louisiana Outback. The Outback is an incredible mesh of natural ecosystems: marshes, prairies, and beaches providing an amazing opportunity for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat.
The area, with an abundance of fresh and salt water, is home to over 400 species of birds, 35 amphibians and 28 species of mammals. The trail is also home to many whose livelihood is dependant on the water’s bounty. Fishing and shrimping boats are in full production and several vendors offer fresh seafood for sale along the way.
As the trail is on many birds migration flyways, the inhabitants are ever changing making the trail a year-
round attraction. In fact, I drive the trail 4 times during my visit. Some early in the day some later, some days cool and cloudy and others warm and sunny. I see something different every time.
While primarily a driving trail, the few short paved or planked boardwalk trails provide for leg stretching and better immersion into the wild. I see the most wildlife including gators on the Pintail Wildlife boardwalk on the eastern side of the trail.
There are two entrances to trail the Eastern Entrance in Lake Charles and the Western Entrance in Sulpher. As I was staying in Sulpher, I always went from West to East.
Sulpher – Holly Beach
The southern route from Sulpher is pretty industrial for the first 15 miles or so until reaching a small community called Hackberry. Browns market is listed on the Boudin Trail and I always stop in there for water and some form of boudin for the road.
After continuing south, I begin seeing numerous herons and other large flying birds. I get a kick out of the cattle egrets working the cattle fields for the bugs that the grazing cattle stir up. Some of the white duck sized birds perch on the cattle for a “birds-eye” view of the fields below.
The Wetland Walking trail is a short loop. It is home to an anomaly of a mother gator who can’t quite shed her young hatchlings. With some of her brood sticking around for a year or two after their birth. I am photoing 5 little babies swimming when it dawns on me momma must be nearby. Once I get my head out of the viewfinder, I am shocked at how close she actually is. 8-10′ maybe. I count 10 little gators in total with several of them hitching a ride on mommas back. The planked boardwalk is raised about 2′ above the marsh, this gives a bit of a false sense of security of protection from momma. She could certainly get up there if she wanted too.
At the end of the western leg is Holly Beach. The numerous times I visit (In April) it is pretty deserted. The water was always pretty brown. Billed as a shelling destination, I never saw why as most I saw were some muscle shells and beat up whelks. The beach is billed as dog-friendly and it becomes a daily stop for Murphy and me.
Holly Beach to Rutherford Beach
This is a nice drive along the Gulf of Mexico. There is very little commercial activity here until you reach Cameron. Much of the area was leveled by Hurrican Audrey in 1957 then again in 2005 when Rita smashed the place.
Continuing East, a ferry crossing is needed to cross the intercoastal waterway. Ther crossing is free if traveling from west to east. It’s $1 if you are going the other way. The most you would have to wait would be about 20 minutes. If waiting, it’s a good time to keep an eye out for Pinky. An albino dolphin that presents as pink is known to frequent this channel. I never see Pinky, but knowing the story kept me gawking from side to side looking and made for a quick ferry ride.
Rutherford to Lake Charles
I see the most wildlife of my visits on this stretch of the trail. Primarily on the Pintail Wildlife Trail and boardwalk. The drive part is a 3-mile gravel loop through the Cameron Prarie. The prairie is teaming with birds and other wildlife: turtles, nutria, while the canal lined roads are full of swimming and sunning gators.
The boardwalk, much like the Wetland Walkway, winds through a marsh. Many wading birds are seen and there is always a rustling sound in the grasses. This keeps me on edge after my previous close encounter with momma gator. Gator beds are pretty easy to spot as the grass is matted down. The gators like the shade of the boardwalk and move from underneath it to the grassy beds throughout the day. I startled one and it bolted from its bed to get under the boardwalk with his tail striking the boardwalk piers. It made for a loud and jarring encounter. Although I consider the boardwalks very safe, they are not without a little concern for the squeamish.
If your short on time and can not do the whole route this is the leg to do.
Prior to visiting this Nature Trail, I consider the Florida Everglades the mecca for wildlife tours. This trail may just best that. It is an unassuming destination and well worth visiting.
Just some of the sights along the Creole Nature Trail: