10 Can't-Miss New Orleans Swamp Tours to Try

Get an intimate look at Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and their one-of-a-kind array of flora and fauna with eco-minded operators.

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October 31, 2019
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Photo By: Lost Lands Tours

Photo By: Lost Lands Tours

Photo By: Wild Louisiana Tours

Photo By: Wild Louisiana Tours

Photo By: Last Wilderness Swamp Tours

Photo By: Beyond the Bayou

Photo By: Beyond the Bayou

Photo By: Beyond the Bayou

Photo By: Beyond the Bayou

Photo By: Admire New Orleans

Photo By: Admire New Orleans

Go Wild With These Groups

If your idea of getting up-close-and-personal with the wildlife in and around New Orleans involves alligators snapping at junk food like marshmallows and hot dogs, then it's time for a fresh look at Louisiana swamp tours. Enlightened tour operators (like Louisiana Lost Lands Environmental Tours, who encountered the gator here and did not feed it, thank you very much) are introducing visitors to the landscape and creatures they love with a focus on appreciating and protecting rather than taming them — and they can’t wait to bring you along.

KNOW (Kayak New Orleans Wetlands) Tour

Louisiana Lost Lands Environmental Tours is an L3C — that is, a low-profit entity that’s legally required to “significantly further the accomplishment of one or more charitable or educational purposes.” For co-founder Marie Gould, that means kicking off six- to seven-hour kayak tours of the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area, a stunning cypress tupelo swamp 45 minutes outside of the city, with an informational session about local environmental issues (if you like your tourism with a serious side of science, this is the outing for you: Marie’s husband is Bob Marshall, an environmental columnist for The Times-Picayune who’s won two Pulitzer Prizes). “Our coast is not just important to us,” Marie says. “Our sacrifices have been huge for people all over the country to get lower gas prices.” If joining her team for a trip through the swamp inspires you to get more involved with local conservation, check out the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the oldest statewide nonprofit dedicated to the cause.

BOOK IT: Louisiana Lost Lands Environmental Tours

Swamp Landscape Photo Workshop

Shutterbugs fall hard for Wild Louisiana Tours’ year-round, sunrise and sunset photography-workshop tours: the group’s guides lead participants on three- to four-hour excursions to photogenic backwaters that are only accessible by boat (transportation to and from the city, which can be arranged, takes about an hour each way). “We go over in-the-field and post-processing techniques,” says owner and guide Joshua Hermann, a native New Orleanian who grew up exploring local wetlands (you can see some of his photography here). “We’ll bring you into some of the most scenic old-growth cypress swamps in south Louisiana. These workshops are open to all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.” Want to take your relationship to the next level? During the fall, the team also offers a three-day photo excursion to the virgin cypress forests of the Atchafalaya Basin.

BOOK IT: Wild Louisiana Tours

Manchac Magic Tour

A two- to three-hour kayak tour of Manchac Swamp is a crash course in both history and zoology. The area includes Ruddock, a once-vibrant logging community that became an overgrown ghost town after the 1915 New Orleans Hurricane, and Manchac Swamp Bridge (the third-longest water bridge in the world). Some say it’s also the subject of a voodoo princess’s century-old hex and prowling grounds for a Rougarou (a Cajun werewolf). More conventional denizens include alligators, snakes, turtles, egrets, heron, eagles and owls: Like each of the operators mentioned here, the Wild Louisiana Tours team doesn’t offer food to attract wildlife (in fact, it’s illegal to do so in their area), but they do encounter abundant animals. Bonus for the gator-shy: As locals well know, alligators who aren’t offered treats are much more interested in swimming and sunbathing at a safe distance than in interacting with kayaks.

BOOK IT: Wild Louisiana Tours

Atchafalaya Basin Tour

To say that Dean A. Wilson and his family know the Atchafalaya Basin (a watery wilderness two hours northwest of New Orleans) like the backs of their hands is a serious understatement. After working as a commercial fisherman in the area for 16 years, Dean formed Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a member organization of Waterkeeper Alliance that patrols and advocates for the area through education, monitoring and enforcement (it’s also the only group monitoring illegal cypress logging in southern Louisiana). Dean and his son, Al, captain environmentally-friendly small boats on two-hour tours through the largest contiguous forested wetland in North America. Their guests’ breathless testimonials speak for themselves. Visitors love Dean and Al's ecological expertise, the Basin's biodiversity, the kid-friendly nature of the tour and the fact that proceeds supprort conservation of the area.

BOOK IT: The Last Wilderness

Cane Bayou Guided Swamp Tour

Forty-five minutes from downtown New Orleans on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Bayou Adventure offers outings for explorers of all sizes. Along with adult kayaks, they rent junior boats for kids between the ages of five and eight and tandem boats so toddlers can ride along with their parents. Guided tours take place on lush Cane Bayou (one of the least-altered bayous in the state), which runs for a mile and a half between Mandeville and Lacombe and plays host to a dazzling array of wildlife. “We often hear from our visitors that kayaking the bayou was the best part of their trip,” says Shannon Bordelon, who owns Bayou Adventure with her husband, Jeff. The Bordelons’ business began as a small bait shop, and their fishing advice (and expertise) is second to none.

BOOK IT: Bayou Adventure

Cane Bayou Sunset Paddle

Gather at the water’s edge at half past four for a group tour of Cane Bayou, “my favorite place to paddle,” says owner and guide Jeff Bordelon. After the sun sets the sky on fire and dips past the horizon, you’ll strap on a head lamp and navigate the swamp with a solitary beam to light the way (and glint in the eyes of the nocturnal animals you’ll meet). If you can’t bear to leave the area when your excursion is over, don’t fret. The Bordelons operate a cozy waterfront cabin steps from Bayou Lacombe that accommodates up to four guests with an outdoor grilling area, a fire pit, a boat slip and more for $149 a night.

BOOK IT: Bayou Adventure

Paddle and Plantation Tour

Beyond the Bayou’s expansive, daylong Paddle and Plantation Tour has something for every taste. Guests are transported from the city to the region's complicated past where they will spend two hours at Whitney Plantation, the only plantation museum in Louisiana that focuses exclusively on the lives of the slaves who worked there. The day continues with lunch at memorabilia-filled B&C Seafood, where owner Tommy Breaux prepares Cajun cuisine with the catch of the day. The tour culminates in a two-hour guided swamp kayaking excursion — which should help you work up an appetite for dinner once the day is over and you return to downtown New Orleans.

BOOK IT: Beyond the Bayou

Honey Island Swamp Tour

A two-hour eco-tour in Beyond the Bayou’s lightning-fast, customized flatboat could be the most efficient way to visit Honey Island Swamp (celebrated as the most biodiverse region in Louisiana). The flatboat accommodates just six passengers and has the ability to skitter across the water like a bug. The company’s fuel-efficient craft provides access to seldom-visited corners (and inhabitants) of the area. Bonus: Because group sizes are so small, you’ll have plenty of time to ask the onboard naturalist in-depth questions about what you encounter.

BOOK IT: Beyond the Bayou

Manchac Swamp Kayak Tour

No motorized swamp tours operate in the Manchac (a wildlife management area about 30 minutes from New Orleans), so kayakers have ample opportunity to approach timid wildlife quietly and respectfully. The swamp’s calm waters are suitable for beginning paddlers, and the tours’ proximity to the city make it an ideal site for visitors who want to minimize time on the road and maximize time on the water. New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours operators take their responsibilities to their environs seriously, and they aren’t shy about what you can and can’t expect from their excursions. You will feel transported to another world (see stunning drone footage of the Manchac tour here), and you will not get the opportunity to cuddle a baby gator like a new puppy.

BOOK IT: New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours

Shell Bank Day Extended Bayou Adventure

This immersive swamp adventure offers visitors a more extended experience with the Manchac/Maurepas area. With four hours on the water and a bit of fancy gear (like binoculars for spotting dense barred owls and a dip net for catching and identifying aquatic life), New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours’ half-day trip is an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into America’s second-largest bald cypress swamp. Four hours is a lot of paddling, of course, so the excursion breaks for a lunch overlooking Lake Maurepas, prepared by David Barbeau, executive chef of Atchafalaya in New Orleans. Budding naturalists can’t live on scenery alone, after all.

BOOK IT: New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours

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