Spending a couple of days in the historic and party-centric city of New Orleans, Louisiana, is always a treat. But the Big Easy doesn’t always go easy on us; recharge by seeking out some of the best day trips from New Orleans, LA. From national forests to quaint towns and cities, there’s plenty more fun just a short drive away from Louisiana’s biggest city.
A New Orleans side trip might mean a day at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve to experience the wildlife and history of the area. Or maybe you’d prefer to dig into Lousiana’s Cajun and Creole culture in Lafayette or some of the state’s finest museums in the state capital of Baton Rouge.
Looking to kill some extra time in the Big Easy? Go beyond jazz and party beads with this guide to the top-rated New Orleans side trips!
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Take a drive two hours and 10 minutes west to the city of Lafayette, home of some of the tastiest Cajun and Creole in the South. The historic city is also a fantastic spot for history buffs, with plenty of museums, buildings, and artifacts hailing back to the 18th century.
Start your day at the LARC’s Acadian Village. The living museum & cultural park offers a mix of authentic and replica 1800s buildings, including blacksmiths, artisan workshops, and historic homes. Learn more about this era, speak with costumed experts, or get a bite to eat.
Next, wander over to the University of Louisiana campus and peruse the diverse collections at The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum. With a series of rotating exhibitions, there’s always something new to explore and enjoy. There are also exhibits dedicated to displaying work from the university students themselves; you might even find an undiscovered gem or two here!
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite while exploring all the fun tourist attractions in Lafayette meander over to Don’s Seafood, a Lafayette staple. Cooking up traditional Louisiana fare in a simple, unpretentious way, Don’s Seafood is somewhere you’ll want to return to time and time again—if only for the fish tacos alone!
Abita Springs, LA
If you’re seeking out that small-town feel, drive just under an hour north over the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway to the quaint town of Abita Springs, LA. Known for its brewing prowess, this is a New Orleans side trip that should probably be for adults only!
Any day in Abita Springs should begin with the gorgeous Tammy Trace Trail. An old railway line, the Tammy Trace Trail has been renovated into 31 miles of biking and hiking trails. Some sections are even suitable for wheelchair use. Surrounded by trees and lake views, walking the trail is a beautiful way to spend a morning out in nature.
After your exertion, return to the town to explore the Abita Mystery House. This quirky museum certainly lives up to its name, as it’s filled with all kinds of curiosities. Mixing folk art with homemade oddities inside an old gas station, the Abita Mystery House is quite an experience for visitors.
Need a tipple to end your Abita Springs trip? Bring your thirst over to Abita Brewing Company and let the friendly staff take you on a tour of the facilities before sampling the local brew for yourself.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, LA
Need a New Orleans side trip that’s not too far from the city itself? We’ve got you covered. Located just 25 minutes south of the city center, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve feels worlds away from Bourbon Street.
Begin by exploring the vast wetlands by boat. At Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, there are plenty of boat tours filled with knowledgeable guides to help share points of interest as well as spot hard-to-see wildlife.
After that, bring your curiosity over to the alligator experts. These fear-free pros and tour guides will show you what to do if you spot an alligator and, more importantly, what not to do! It’s a delightful interaction for adults and kids alike as you see their giant teeth up close.
All this exercise and exploration got you beat? Grill up a storm at the designated barbecue areas and bring some deep south flavors to the table before driving back to the city.
De Soto National Forest, MS
With the border with Mississippi so close, it’d be a shame not to explore two amazing states in one trip! Just under two hours’ drive away from New Orleans is the majestic De Soto National Forest.
If you’re looking for an outdoor space with a little something to suit everyone’s taste, De Soto National Forest is just that. With miles upon miles of hiking, horseback riding and biking trails, canoes for rent, campsites, and more, it’s an adventurer’s paradise.
Start by hitting the water with Black Creek Canoe Rentals. Pick up your craft and life preserver and wind down the creek as it gets progressively wetter and wilder. The Black Creek is considered by many as the best canoeing stream in the whole of the state!
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After you’ve dried off and given back your canoe, grab a rod and catch yourself some tasty dinner. Cook it creekside, take it back to the campsite to grill up, or bundle it up and take it back to New Orleans and eat it there.
Baton Rouge, LA
If you want an injection of history, politics, and culture, drive an hour and 15 minutes northwest to the Louisiana state capital, Baton Rouge. Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge is a beautiful city filled with poignant museums.
Start with an exquisite architectural building, The Old Louisiana State Capitol. Of course, it’s a hugely historic building and full of political relevance, but if you’re into art, architecture, or just love grand buildings, you have to visit. From the fortress-like exterior to the dazzling, light-catching stained glass-domed roof, the Old Louisiana State Capitol is a design marvel.
Next up, gather up your troops and march over to the USS KIDD Veterans Museum. This World War II-era warship was used during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Now, it’s a military museum permanently docked in Baton Rouge. Learn more about the naval history of America and the impact the ship had.
Avery Island, LA
Like your cuisine a little spicy? Well, boy, do we have the day trip to tingle your tastebuds! Leave your spice-hating friends at home, and drive two hours and 20 minutes west, to Avery Island, LA, home of Tabasco hot sauce and its factory tour.
Thanks to the salt dome here, the McIlhenny family has been able to make and sell the hot sauce we all know and have loved for five generations. Take a tour around the famous Tabasco Factory and learn the process behind this tasty and tingly condiment. At the end of the tour, sample some of Tabasco before going crazy in the gift shop.
Enclosed by wetlands on each side, Avery Island isn’t actually an island but a salt dome. It lies three miles inland, but it can feel like an aquatic adventure to reach the mystical factory. It’s all part of the fun of a side trip to the Louisiana wetlands!
Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, LA
If you’re interested in the heritage of southern Louisiana or are simply interested in the flood relief process, a visit to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area should be on your itinerary. It’s only an hour and 50 minutes west of New Orleans by car.
The primary directive of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is to protect and preserve the culture and heritage of the area. That includes everything from food to language to landscapes to traditions, music, and much more.
As America’s largest freshwater swamp, Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is packed with areas to explore. Hire a canoe and take it to the water. Marvel at the wildlife that calls this region home and learn more about this unique ecosystem.
With plenty of events and workshops throughout the year, Atchafalaya National Heritage Area offers everything from world gumbo cook-off championships, to canoe races, to cultural celebrations. It’s a perfect way to culturally enrich your stay in and around New Orleans.
Grand Isle, LA
After a couple of days in the Big Easy, you might be looking to reset and get back in touch with nature. Just two hours south of New Orleans lies an outdoor paradise that’s relatively quiet: beautiful Grand Isle, LA.
Start your day trip to Grand Isle with a wander along the Grand Isle Birding Trail. As a world-class birding spot, the Grand Isle Birding Trail is a must-visit for any twitcher. Don’t forget your binoculars and bird-identifying books for the area. Feathered residents of Grand Isle include orioles, thrushes, flycatchers, and many, many more.
Looking to up your heart rate? Get your swimmers on and unleash the madness at Wake Side Cable Park. Filled with ramps and jumps, Wake Side Cable Park is the perfect playground for waterskiing and other water adrenaline junkies looking to catch some air.
Slow down your day by ending with some angling. Grand Isle State Park is famous for its fishing facilities and delicious catches. Bring or hire a rod, set up camp, and wait for those all-important bites!
Need a city vibe that’s a little more kid-friendly? Jump in your car and head an hour and a half northeast to Biloxi in neighboring Mississippi. With family-friendly attractions alongside waterfront activities and historic landmarks, Biloxi is the ideal day trip to make from New Orleans.
Start your day in Biloxi with some education and history at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. As it’s located on the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi has long been reliant on the fertile waters here to keep the city and its economy going. Learn about the importance of this maritime and seafood industry here and gain a new appreciation for this hardworking group of people.
Next up, take a gander at the coast in person. Biloxi Beach has long been a popular spot with families, with its soft white sands and plethora of jet skis and water crafts to hire. Frolic in the warming waters, or take a walk along to the 19th-century Biloxi Lighthouse.
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Once you’ve tucked yourself and the kiddos out, take your pick from the host of seafood restaurants located along the beachfront.
If you’ve come to New Orleans outside of Mardi Gras season but still want to experience the carnival vibe, you’re in luck. Mobile, Alabama, located just two hours and 10 minutes east of the city, is home to the Mobile Carnival Museum.
Begin your day trip in Mobile at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Filled with floats and vibrant colors, this niche museum is a celebration of Mardi Gras and educates visitors on the history and importance of this well-beloved festival.
Once you’ve had your fill of the festival vibe, journey over to Battleship Memorial Park. Here, you’ll find the USS Alabama battleship, a World War II-era ship that’s now a museum. Learn all about the role of this magnificent ship in the wars and what life on a ship looks like.
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Finish off your day in this wonderful city at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This Germanic-inspired cathedral features some outstanding stained glass that dates back to the 1850s.
In need of a historic injection into your vacation? Hop over the border into Mississippi and visit Natchez, MS. It takes just shy of three hours to drive up from New Orleans, so you’ll want to get an early start to make the most of the day.
Get your fill of Southern hospitality in this historic place. In fact, Natchez is the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River! Start by touring the many Antebellum houses in the city, including Longwood. This octagonal building is an architectural and design marvel that’s unlike any other place you’ll see. Although it’s an unfinished mansion, it’s a wonderful place to wander around, especially if you’re into architecture.
Keep your historic tour going with a visit to the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. Featuring a museum, prehistoric burial mounds, and woodland trails, this popular attraction is inspiring and educational and offers a chance to explore the great outdoors of Mississippi.