Tucked away in a remote bayou Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in Louisiana is an unusual destination. As the crow flies it is only 30 miles south of Interstate 10, but a visit will make you think the state of Louisiana is busy moving the park further away as you try to find it. If there is such place as a thousand miles from nowhere, Lake Fausse Pointe just may be it.
Located in the Atchafalaya (pronounced AT-cha-fa-lie-a) Basin, Lake Fausse Pointe sits in one of the wildest and most scenic parts of the country. The Atchafalaya Basin is the only river-bottomed swamp in North America. The fragile area is packed with wildlife that live on the islands, marshes and around the cypress trees including bald eagles, river otters, cottonmouth snakes, nutria, armadillos, white-tailed deer, raccoons, painted turtles, massive snapping turtles, and of course alligators.
Prior to the Civil War agriculture shaped the area and rich sugar cane plantations surround what is now the park. Despite the decline of the plantation economy after the Civil War, visitors today still drive through a rat maze of roads surrounded by sugar cane to get to Lake Fausse Pointe. Although the sugar cane still grows, Tabasco peppers, tourism, hunting and fishing fuel the region's economy.
The park is also located in the heart of Louisiana's Acadian Cajun Country. French settlers were ejected from modern day Nova Scotia in the 1750's by the British and settled in this area. The combination of French, British and Spanish influences on the region has created a unique blend of language, religion, and beliefs found nowhere else in the world. But if there is one thing that Cajun Country is famous for, it is the unique food that has been influenced by the cooking styles of three different continents.
Cajun Country sits in New Iberia Parrish (Parrish is the word used by Louisiana for County). If New Iberia sounds familiar it should, it is the only place in the world where Tabasco peppers are grown, and where the world famous fiery hot sauce is brewed. A visit to this region requires sampling the local fare, including gumbo (which is Native American for fire water), boudin (pronounced BOO-dan), jumbalaya, etouffe (pronounced EHH-two-fay), fried alligator tail, stewed okra and tomatoes, fried pies, and mudbugs. All of this can be washed down with the house wine of any good Louisiana restaurant, sweetened iced tea. However visitors to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park should have more than good eating on their mind.
The park, and the Atchafalaya Basin it sits in, is best explored by boat. The park offers one marked canoe trail along the eastern side of the lake. A lazy paddle can also be taken through the Bird Island Chute, where eight cabins rest right on the waters edge (more on the cabins later). Although the thought of snakes and alligators is intimidating, during the summer month's local visitors can be found water skiing in the waters around the park's frontcountry. In reality confrontational alligator encounters are extremely rare, with the shy reptiles preferring to stay away from humans.
If you want to seek further adventure through the primeval waters of the backcountry, you should seek out the assistance of an experience guide. The Atchafalaya is a very unforgiving place. Submerged logs and stumps can ruin a powerboat. The tangled maze of canals, chutes, and bayous can be very confusing and people getting lost or stranded is a very common occurrence. Canoe rentals are provided at the park, and airboat charters can be found in the surrounding area.
The waters of Lake Fausse Pointe offers outstanding fishing. White bass, crappie, bream, and massive, prehistoric looking alligator gars troll the water. However it is largemouth bass that is the most popular catch, growing fat on a steady diet of frogs, crawfish, and smaller prey, including an occasional bird or hatchling that strayed to far from a watchful parent, or too close to the edge of the water.
Although Lake Fausse Pointe State Park is 6,127 acres, most of the park is swamp and bayou. The, "on land," experience is in a very compact region, with dense lowland forest sitting at the waters edge. The park offers three hiking trails that combined total 5.5 miles in length. Loop A and B can be found by crossing the Old Bird Island Chute Bridge to Bridge Island and are about 1-1/4 miles each. The twin loops weave their way through a forest of tangled bald cypress covered in kudzu, gnarled oaks, willow, and rock hard sycamore. Trail B passes by a large covered observation deck that overlooks the lake. It is an excellent place to look for wading birds, listen for kingfishers, and gaze down seeking out alligators hovering lazily in the water. The trails can be slippery after it has rained, and if you are hiking with children keep them close by, alligators freely roam every inch of the park.
Trail C was completed in early 2000 and is also located on Bridge Island. The three-mile loop leads to a brand new backcountry campsite that can be accessed by walking or paddling. It is one of only two backcountry trails in the Louisiana state park system, and provides a unique opportunity to camp in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin.
There is a modern, clean campground behind a secured access gate with 50 sites. Each campsite can accommodate recreational vehicles up to 35 feet in length, has water and electrical hookups, picnic tables and grills. The campground also has free showers in an air-conditioned building. Near by and within the park there is a dump station, convenience store, ice, laundry facilities, playground, picnic areas, public boat ramp and marine gas. Reservations can be made in advance by calling the park directly. Boat-in primitive campsites are available on a first come first served basis.
One of the nicest ways to spend time in the park is by staying in one of eighteen air-conditioned cabins. Eight cabins are built right on the edge of Old Bird Island Chute and provide guests with accommodations for six, large screen porches, and private piers. An additional ten cabins are located further east. Lake Fausse Pointe even has a conference center with an institutional kitchen.
Whether you are looking for a diversion while traveling down Interstate 10 or want to spend an extended weekend in a Cajun hideaway, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park offers a unique experience deep in the heart of the Atchafalaya. The black waters of the bayou are filled with life in a place where time seems to have stood still. Where the cypress trees, the water, and the land still belongs to the bald eagle, the river otter, and the alligator.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Lake Fausse State Park
Location: Southeastern Louisiana, Lafayette
Nearest Major Air Service: New Orleans, Louisiana
Fees & Permits: $2 per vehicle up to four people, 50 cents per person above four.
Why Visit: Atchafalaya Basin is unique to the North American continent. Wild, untamed destination where you can explore a deep swamp, and see the native wildlife up close. Outstanding destination for a unique paddling adventure. One of only two backcountry trails and campsites in the Louisiana State Park system.
When To Visit: September to June
Essential Gear: Depends on a wide variety of activity, minimum gear would include, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, camera, binoculars, and drinking water. Other gear is strongly recommended.
You Should Know: If you plan to explore the waters of the backcountry, we strongly recommend you work with an experienced guide. Children should be watched carefully, especially close to the waters edge. Alligators may appear to be docile and slow, but then can lunge short distances at incredible speed. Be prepared for insects of all sorts any time of the year. The Louisiana heat can be oppressive, especially from mid-June to mid-September, be sure to carry plenty of water. The area is close to the Gulf Coast and can be impacted by Hurricanes (Hurricane Andrew scored a direct hit in 1992), if you are ordered to evacuate the area follow the directions of state and/or federal officials.
More Information: Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, 5400 Levee Road, St. Martinville, Louisiana 70582, (337) 229-4764.