Image from Flickr
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: The streams and swamps of Louisiana Bayou territory are home to some of the prettiest scenery in the country. Indeed, nestled somewhere between downtown New Orleans and historic Plantation Country is a rugged wilderness boasting fantastic scenery that only Mother Nature can deliver.
Explore the wild and wonderful Delta on a guided New Orleans Swamp Tour for an up close and personal adventure into the wild! Always educational and entertaining, our New Orleans Swamp Tour guide will fill you in on the why, what, and how of this incredible excursion into the unknown!
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Why You Need to Take a New Orleans Swamp Tour
A Much Needed Escape into the Unknown
You may be asking why you need to check out the swamps when New Orleans proper has so much to offer. A fair question, for sure, but we assure you that taking a trip out into the peace and quiet is exactly you need to survive an extended stay in NOLA. As such, the first and foremost reason to get out to a New Orleans Swamp Tour is simply to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
We all know that life is hectic, and vacations can be the same way. It is therefore essential that you take a second for yourself to stop and smell the Magnolias. This is especially true in a destination like New Orleans where you are running around to all the restaurants that your friends and family told you that you needed to visit (we have a few suggestions for terrific eats, as well
Rest, Restore, and Rejuvenate
We believe that for every night spent partying the night away on a New Orleans Dinner Cruise
you should spend one unwinding and relaxing. A boat ride into the Louisiana swamps will leave you feeling inspired and invigorated with blasts of fresh air and beautiful displays light as the sun dances through the moss-covered Cypress trees. Many tour companies provide pickups from downtown, as well, so no need to worry about driving anywhere or getting lost. The time alone will give you a chance to re-energize and refocus so that you can tackle Bourbon Street and really enjoy some fresh beignets!
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Mother Nature in All Her Glory
Rest and relaxation aside, the number one reason to take a New Orleans swamp tour is the water and wildlife. As you explore the swamps and streams of the Louisiana Bayou you will encounter a variety of plants and animals, from mammals and reptiles, both terrestrial and aquatic.
Some of the more popular terrestrial species you will notice are Deer, Raccoons, and Wild boars. The Mink is another semi-terrestrial, semi-aquatic carnivorous mammal (think Ferret, but brown) that loves to munch on Crawfish and other small baitfish. You will occasionally see these animals on a New Orleans Plantation Tour
, as many of these magnificent estates were built on properties that border the Bayou's massive network of rivers and swamps.
Wings, Water, and Wild
With respect for the air and water species, a few of the aquatic birds you will notice are Darters, Ducks, Cormorants, Egrets and other herons. Herons are especially cool, as they stand almost one hundred percent still while waiting for their next strike on unsuspecting fish swimming at their feet! Also, if you are lucky, you may get to see an Owl or two or perhaps some great American Bald Eagles! Like the alligator (more on them in a moment), the Bald Eagle population has increased significantly due to years of local and national protective programs and policies.
And yes, speaking of alligators, these scaly swimmers can be seen floating up and down the swampy waters, lounging about, and waiting for their next meal. Truly a marvel to behold, these prehistoric reptiles are more or less used to swamp tours and are thus eager to swim up and around the bigger boats as many different tours and tour guides will actually feed the gators--a fantastic display!
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Airboats and Other Swamp Rigs
When you think about New Orleans Swamp tours and the wild Louisiana Bayou an image of an airboat cruising through the cattails probably comes to mind. Airboats are one of several boat designs you will encounter when taking a swamp tour (as well as smaller John Boats and Swamp Pontoons--or as we like to call them, Swamptoons) out and about and are one of the coolest rigs you will ever see! Basically, an airboat is a flat-bottomed vessel that is propelled by a massive, airplane-like propeller encased by a fan cage and powered by a monster of an engine.
Image from Wikimedia
Besides swamp tours, these Airboats are used as sports vehicles by fishermen, hunters, and conservationists alike as the lack of an underwater engine allows them to navigate the shallow Delta waters without getting stuck. A smooth ride and one with its own signature feel, an Airboat is one of the best ways to behold settings like Honey Island Swamp, Louisiana. Book a tour today and experience the magic for yourself! Trust us, this tour is an absolute must and something you will be super excited to hit every time you make it back to the Big Easy!
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Icing on the Cake: New Orleans Swamp Tour Guides
Animated, hilarious, and daring are a few words we would use to describe our beloved New Orleans swamp tour guides. If the wildlife and fresh air aren't enough to get you out of the city and on the boat then definitely make the trip to chat up an airboat tour guide. For real, these guys are fearless! They know the swamps inside and out and will confront snakes and gators like it "ain't no thang."
What’s really cool is that most tour guides and swamp tour companies are owned and operated by historic families that have lived among the swamps for generations. Step aboard one of several airboat tour offerings
from TripShock and enjoy funny stories, interesting factoids, and some serious Creole courage!
Extra Adventures and Tours
If you're looking for something even more extreme than airboats and animated tour guides, we recommend hitting the Bayou aboard a kayak or on foot. Each method offers it's own, unique experience.
Meander the Mud on a Kayak
Exploring the New Orleans swamps on a traditional airboat is always a ton of fun. Another waterborne method and one that has seen a tremendous uptick in popularity among adventurers are kayak tours. Nimbler than a big boat and more personable than a Creole swamp tour guide, kayaks are, for lack of a better pun, a boat load of fun (sorry, had to do it). Both active and exciting, be your own captain as you explore the waters, creeks, and swamps at your own speed.
Kayak adventures are the perfect idea for the adventurous couple or active family. An ideal way to burn off the excess calories from that last fried shrimp Po Boy, paddle away as you and your crew explore the untouched Bayou for all that it’s worth. Swerve through the Machnac or Honey Island swamps and beyond! Or, break out into the bigger, wide open waters of places such as Little Lake, the Pen, Lake Salvador and more!
Kayak tours and rentals give paddlers the incredible opportunity to watch wildlife from up close. Look down and see the fish swim around you, watch turtles lounge on logs, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the occasional American alligator. A beast that is not to be trifled with, please be aware of your surroundings at all times. And while the chances of being attacked by an alligator are similar to those of being struck by lightning, it is still a possibility. If you do see an alligator, please remain calm, give the gator his or her space, and paddle away. This is especially true in late spring during mating season.
Take a Hike into the Wild
Another way to embrace the natural splendor of the Louisiana Bayou is on foot. If you have been paying attention up to this point, then you probably understand that the wetlands can be precarious place—especially if you do not know where you are going. A clear path forward can quickly turn into marshlands, and with marshlands come critters like snakes, bugs, and of course alligators. Not fun! As such, the safest, most enjoyable way to explore is on one of several guided hikes by the National Park Service.
Image by Ken Lund via Flickr
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is one of the most popular destinations for nature lovers in the entire state and a great swamp tour option for families
. More specifically, the guided New Orleans swamp tours at Jean Lafitte will take you through the Barataria Preserve, which is on the southern side of the park. We love these tours because they are cost-effective (they are free), conveniently located (about 30 minutes south of the city center), and because the National Park staff really know their stuff!
The Barataria Preserve visitor’s center will be your home base for guided tours and wildlife education. There you will also find a variety of displays that explain how the park’s boardwalks were originally planned and built. You can also find informational literature on the local ecosystems, resident species, and maps of the park and its many incredible hiking trails. This will be the starting point of your tour(s) on foot with a Park Ranger.
Louisiana Swamp Wildlife: A Closer Look
A New Orleans Swamp Tour brings you face-to-face with a variety of incredible species, both aquatic and terrestrial. Moreover, this unique habitat also offers a bit of everything in terms of mammals, birds, and reptiles. The Louisiana swamp ecosystem itself is quite complex and features some very interesting coexistent behavior and symbiotic relationships.
One obvious characteristic of swamps is that there is more water than land. Moreover, the land that does exist may not actually land at all, and instead squishy patches of muck with only enough density to support the growth of vegetation like grass or moss. This can be a dicey situation for mainly terrestrial mammals. As such, those mammals that are native to the New Orleans swamps are mostly fleet of foot, good swimmers, or climbers.
Image by Pam McIlhenny
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Mammals that rely mostly on walking and running on land include the Louisiana Black Bear, the Nine Banded Armadillo, Virginia Opossum, Wild Boar, and the White Tailed Deer. Mammals that climb or fly to cope are the Eastern Fox Squirrel, Raccoon, and the Mexican free-tailed Bat. Finally, those mammals that love to get wet and swim include the beaver, mink, Northern River Otter, and Nutria.
|Image by Larry Smith via Flickr|
Plentiful and diverse, birds make up a large chunk of the animal population in Louisiana’s swamps. The list of resident birds in the swamps is many, as each genus features a number of species per taxon. A few of the more popular bird types include bitterns, cormorants, cranes, darters, ducks, herons, ibises, kingfishers, owls, perching birds (tree swallow), rails, stilts, storks, and woodpeckers.
The swamps are also home to several birds of prey. These majestic, carnivorous birds include the great American Bald Eagle, Red Tailed Hawk, Red Shouldered Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Osprey, and the Swallow-Tailed Kite (flies better than a kite and does not even need wind to do so
). Keep your eyes and ears peeled for these awesome avians. If you see a giant bird perched in the canopy striking a regal pose, chances are it’s a bird of prey. Many of these birds will also make an iconic shriek.
Warm waters, mild winters, and plenty of humidity make the swamps of Southern Louisiana the perfect reptilian habitat because it means ideal temperatures and plenty of critters to feast on throughout the year! Indeed, you will be amazed at how each different season offers a fresh and exciting take on a classic New Orleans swamp tour. For example, in the summer you will see plenty of gators as these cold-blooded beasts roam in the sun in search of food. In the winter, meanwhile, when reptiles are less active, birding becomes a major attraction as the leaves fall and improve visibility.
Image by Lance Cpl. Jackeline Perez Rivera
As we have mentioned throughout this article, the king of the swamp is without question the American alligator. The biggest reptile in all of North America, these fantastic beasts can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh as much as 800 pounds! Having endured a rough history of hunting and habitat loss, the American alligator was designated as an endangered species in 1967.
The collective impacts of laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and a variety of local laws and regulations helped the gator populations replenish to the point where they were removed from the endangered species list by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
(USFWS) in 1987. Today, Louisiana is home to more gators than any other state with right around 2 million. There are an estimated 5 million wild American alligators nationally.
Other reptilians you will find out on a New Orleans swamp tour include a variety of snakes and turtles. With respect for snakes, some are more dangerous than others. Among the most treacherous are both the Cottonmouth and Copperhead. Take a good look at the pictures and familiarize yourself with these species markings and colors so that you know to keep clear. A general rule of thumb when dealing with snakes is that if it has vertical pupils (rather than circular), the snake is probably venomous.
Image by Norbert Nagel via Wikipedia
You will also find one of two turtles: alligator snapping turtles and red eared sliders. Alligator snapping turtles are big, wicked carnivores. Big claws, a sizable tail, and the jaws to take off your finger, you can actually hear the smack of their mouth when they strike! Meanwhile, as the most popular domesticated turtle species, red eared sliders are much more along the lines of what you envision when you picture a standard turtle. These omnivorous species look and act much different than the snappers and are often found hanging out with their buddies soaking up the sunlight on a log. Be sure to bring your camera on your next New Orleans swamp tour and for incredible photography and maybe even share them with us on Facebook
Bayou Biology: A Delicate Balance
We will leave you with an incredible lesson about Louisiana swamp ecology. While at first glance it may seem that wading bird species like cranes and ibises are the ideal pray for hungry gators, this is actually not the case. In fact, wading birds such as herons and bitterns coexist and even thrive in gator territory and the reasons why might surprise you.
The biggest threat to birds in the Louisiana swamps are not alligators. It is another ambush predator—raccoons. Raccoons are nocturnal hunters that will ambush birds and their nests in the night. Raccoons also happen to be one of the favorite snacks for gators. As such, you will see many bird species roost around gator-infested waters as a means of keeping Raccoon encounters to a minimum.
This symbiotic system does not stop at raccoons, birds, and alligators either. In fact, an integral part of this eco-synergy are the fish. Fish like bluegill and crappie will congregate in areas where birds roost because they feed on the bird droppings. In turn, a concentration of fish makes for great hunting conditions for herons and ibises as well as gators! Bon appétit!
Image by Jay Carriker via Wikipedia
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