Owl at the Jean Lafitte Preserve

Photo above: Owl resting at the Jean Lafitte Preserve. Right: More wildlife of the alligator kind that you might see while hiking along the boardwalks and trails. Photos courtesy National Park Service.

Alligator at Jean Lafitte NHP and Preserve

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

For most when they think about a New Orleans vacation, they don't think about a national park. But, yes, there's one there. And it covers a variety of topics so broad, it can be somewhat confusing and fascinating at the same time. Six units here cover nature and preserves and swamps and New Orleans history and the War of 1812 where a battle was fought after the war was over. No, that wasn't a good idea. And by the time you finish your visit to the six units, you'll have wandered past alligator habitat and by French Quarter architecture. Well, there was always a whimsy involved in a New Orleans vacation anyway, right? It's just that now there's a national park included amidst all that unique New Orleans flair.

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Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812

Jean Lafitte NHP Then

So Who Was Jean Lafitte - Shiver me timbers. He was a pirate who roamed the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century with his brother Pierre, and ran a warehouse in New Orleans, and later Barataria Bay, to store the goods. In 1814, the later Barataria base was invaded by the U.S. Navy, but the brothers pardoned to help Andrew Jackson defeat the British in the final battle of the War of 1812, in 1815. But don't think of them as true patriots. After that war, they moved to Texas and became spies for the Spanish in the Mexican American War, plus returned to piracy.

Battle of New Orleans - British troops attempt to capture the city of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 during the War of 1812. This battle was needless as the peace treaty ending the war had been signed fifteen days before. The attempt by the British was thwarted at the Battle of New Orleans at Chalmette by General Andrew Jackson and his U.S. troops, who killed two thousand British soldiers, including General Pakenham. This land is now the Chalmette Battlefield section of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

Photo above: Lithograph of the Battle of New Orleans. E. Percy Moran, 1910. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Malus-Beauregard House on the Chalmette Battlefield within Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

Jean Lafitte National Park

Jean Lafitte NHP Now

And you thought there was already so much to do in New Orleans, but with the addition of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, you've just added in a whole lot more. Surrounding the city with five sites that spring to its south and west, you'll explore Acadian, Cajun, culture in three centers with walks, talks, and exhibits, get to relive the Battle of New Orleans, and walk amongst the creatures that live in the swamps around the entire state. Start your journey at the French Quarter Visitor Center, then venture out to the outskirts of town. The units are not far away, but the experience may just well be. Take a boat tour. Take a paddlewheel to one of the sites. Walk with a ranger on boardwalk trails amidst swamp creatures of the actual kind. You'll be amazed at just how much history sits just outside the city and how the French Quarter, while still New Orleans most treasured area, sure has some interesting cousins around its border.

Acadian Culture - Three of the sections of the park focus on the Acadian culture of the region; in Lafayette, the Acadian Cultural Center; in Eunice, the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center; and in Thibodaux, the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center.

Nature - The Barrataria Preserve has walks and canoe trips through swamps as well as an education center and visitor center. This is where nature and the Louisiana culture show their convergence. It's a nice change from the center of New Orleans and its man-made culture. Beware of alligators here.

Chalmette Battlefield - Six miles south of New Orleans, the battlefield tells the story of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. There's a new visitor, constructed after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the former, an obelisk battleground monument, and driving tour.

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Jean Lafitte NHP, Baratara Preserve

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take a stroll down a boardwalk trial in Barataria Preserve. Be wary of the creatures here, and marvel at them at the same time. Yes, there's alligators and swamp things all over. You can do this on your own or, if available on the day of your arrival, with a guided ranger tour.

2. Catch the film, The Cajun Way: Echoes of Acadia, at the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette. 35 minutes.

3. Climb the steps of the Chalmette Battlefield monument. It's 122 steps and gives you a good view of the terrain of the battlefield here.

Photo above: Scene along the auto tour at Barataria Preserve. Courtesy National Park Service.

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