Creole Nature Trail - Louisiana Outback
So, you’ve arrived at your newest assignment, Fort Polk, and you’re wondering if all those myths you’ve heard about Louisiana are true. You know, the ones that say everyone has a boat in their backyard, every meal has a bit of a kick to it, and alligators ... not dogs ... chase cars down the road.
While those tales might be a bit tall, if you spend a day traveling the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road through the “Louisiana Outback,” you could very well see why those stories were started.
The trail is convenient to those who call Fort Polk home. If you head south on U.S. Hwy 171, then take La. Hwy 27 in DeRidder, you’ve entered the northernmost realm of Louisiana’s Outback, although it’s not until you pass through Sulphur that you really begin your South Louisiana experience.
The first clue that you’ve entered a unique area comes as you cross the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Hackberry. When you approach the crest of the bridge that spans the heavily traveled shipping lane, a panoramic view of Louisiana’s coastal marsh and prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. As you descend, the marsh, with its canals picking their way through the tall grasses, comes right up to the shoulder of the road, forming a barrier that seems to say, "Enter at your own risk".
A few minutes later, as you approach the town of Hackberry, you realize there might be a shred of truth about the boat myth as shrimp and charter boats fill every available space along the canal that passes through town. The small town is a center for commercial crabbing, fishing and shrimping, and is home to some of the first oil wells drilled in Louisiana.
If you stop and sample the fare at one of the small restaurants in Hackberry, you learn that the second myth is true: The food can be spicy. Hackberry also serves as a rest stop before you enter the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re low on gas, need a restroom stop or something to drink, now is the time to stock up. While the refuge has a couple of restroom stops, there’s little else but nature.
Then again, nature is what the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and the Creole Nature Trail are all about. They also offer proof that the alligator myth has a ring of truth to it. All along the wide ditches — or canals — that line La. Hwy 27 one can see alligators sunning themselves. The area is probably one of the few places you’ll ever see an “Alligator Crossing” sign on a state highway.
The refuge offers two opportunities to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of South Louisiana: The Blue Goose Walking Trail and The Sabine National Wildlife Refuge Wetland Walkway. The Blue Goose trail is a 1-mile roundtrip hike to the shore of Calcasieu Lake along a canal. Butterflies and birds are the main sights along the path.
The Wetland Walkway offers hikers a chance to get a bit closer than they might wish to Louisiana’s largest reptile — the American alligator. The marsh area through which the walkway weaves teems with alligators of all shapes and sizes, from babies to behemoths that top 12 feet in length. The gators seem intent on soaking up the sun’s rays for the most part, although park rangers are quick to point out that visitors should keep their distance and never — ever — feed the voracious eaters.
Alligators aren’t the only sights along the walkway. Migratory birds, including ducks, geese, coots, pelicans and the flamingo-looking rose breasted spoonbill call the marsh home during different times of the year. Also, you’re likely to catch a glimpse of turtles, rabbits, nutria and that scourge of Louisiana’s waters, the water moccasin.
It takes about 40 minutes to complete a leisurely trip along the walkway, a must-see for anyone traveling the Creole Nature Trail.
Once you’ve resumed your trek along the trail, you’ve got a decision to make — do you continue east on La. Hwy 27, or do you head west on La. Hwy 82, the western spur of the Creole Nature Trail?
The western spur takes visitors to Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary, as well as five of Louisiana’s beaches: Constance, Gulf Breeze, Little Florida, Long Dung and Martin-Erbelding beaches.
The Peveto Sanctuary is open year-round for self-guided excursions.
Should you decide to head east, you’ll continue on the main route of the Creole Nature Trail. After passing through Holly Beach, a ferry takes motorists across a shipping channel leading from Calcasieu Lake to the Gulf of Mexico. Be sure to watch for dolphins playing in the channel as you ride the ferry.
The next stop on the Creole Nature Trail is the Port of Cameron, one of the leading seafood and offshore oil industry supply ports in the U.S. Cameron offers a chance to refuel both your automobile and your body.
About 10 miles east of Cameron, motorists are faced with another decision — continue east on La. Hwy 82 (eastern spur of the Creole Nature Trail) to the Rockefeller Refuge, or stay on La. Hwy 27 and the main route.
Should you opt for the eastern spur, the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge offers opportunities for fishing, crabbing and birding. To visit the refuge you must purchase a Wild Louisiana Stamp or a Louisiana basic fishing license.
If you continue on the main trail, you’ll soon reach the Pintail Wildlife Drive in the Cameron Prairie Refuge. This 3.5-mile driving tour allows another up close and personal view of alligators and birds. A sign at the entrance warns visitors to stay in their vehicles as the opening and closing of doors might scare off the refuge’s birds.
However, it’s not long before you realize the real reason for the warning is to keep visitors from becoming lunch for alligators. As you slowly motor along the path, it’s not unusual to see alligators cross the road or ease up to the side of your car, mouths agape showing long rows of big, sharp teeth.
The drive also offers views of birds that seem more at home in the African savannah. When thousands of birds lift off from the water in flight, it’s an awesome sight to behold.
Just north of Pintail Wildlife Drive on La. Hwy 27 is the Cameron Prairie National Refuge Visitors Center. The center offers restrooms and a boat launch.
Once you leave the refuge, you begin your trip back to civilization, or in this case, Lake Charles. La. Hwy 27 turns into La. Hwy 14, which then merges with U.S. 171 and soon you’re on your way home.
All along the Creole Nature Trail are designated places for visitors to fish, crab or shrimp. There are also plenty of places to stop for a picnic or just enjoy a view of nature.
When planning a trip along the Creole Nature Trail, allow plenty of time to soak in the scenery and wildlife. Take your time and enjoy a part of Louisiana you might have always wondered about. Along the way, you might learn that in all myths, there are grains of truth.