Gators, Gardens and More: Fun Things to Do in Natchitoches LA

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Things to do in Natchitoches LA include walking down historic Front Street.
Historic Front Street in Natchitoches. Photo credit: Natchitoches Tourism

Named for the Natchitoches Native American tribe, the endearing community of Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-Tish) was incorporated on February 5, 1819, making it the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase.

In this Northwest Louisiana gem, you’ll find a bit of everything from Creole food and culture to Civil War history to a film trail that highlights places featured in the beloved movie, Steel Magnolias – which was based on a true story of a Natchitoches resident. It’s a definite stop to add to your next southeast US road trip.

Located along the riverfront of the Cane River, Natchitoches boasts three state historic sites, Creole plantations and museums that make up the Cane River National Heritage Area. You’ll also find plenty of that legendary Louisiana cuisine including crawfish, gumbo and the famous Natchitoches meat pies. There are so many things to do in Natchitoches you may never want to leave.

Take a Free Walking Tour of the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District

At the heart of town lies the  Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District. This 33-block area is a hub for dining and shopping. It’s also filled with historic homes and stories dating back centuries. A collaboration between the Cane River National Heritage Area and the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission led to the creation of free guided tours.

An ideal introduction to this charming town, the tours are available Wednesday through Sunday at 10:30 am. Tours begin at the Natchitoches Area Convention and Visitors Bureau located at 780 Front Street.

Things to do in Natchitoches LA include visiting the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site.
Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Step into History at Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site

Immerse yourself in the cultures and customs of the early inhabitants of Natchitoches at the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. Founded in the early 18th century, the location became the first permanent European settlement in the territory later known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Later, the fort served as a military outpost and commercial trade center until 1762, when France’s defeat by England in the French and Indian War forced her to cede the Louisiana colony to the Spanish. Daily tours are offered, with an interactive visitors center, picnic areas, and historical programs.

Beau Jardin

Idyllically situated on the downtown riverbank in the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District, Beau Jardin is a newly-constructed water feature and garden area. Beau Jardin features a series of spectacular waterfalls flowing down the hillside with a series of smaller waterfalls, eventually flowing into a stream bed that flows into Cane River Lake. Popular for weddings and special events, Beau Jardin also makes an ideal background for those important selfies!

Things to do in Natchitoches LA include checking out the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Inside the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Celebrate Superstars at Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame

Louisiana’s sports heroes include Archie Manning – the patriarch of the Manning football family – and 4-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal. Learn more about these Louisiana superstars and many more at the 27,500-square-foot museum complex housing the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Natchitoches.

This impressive museum provides the permanent home for the Sports Hall of Fame and its collection of memorabilia and portraits celebrating the achievements of more than 300 Louisiana athletes, coaches and other sports figures.

The second floor of the complex houses the Northwest Louisiana History Museum. Here exhibits explore the area’s unique cultural traditions dating from the Native Americans to the present day.  

Things to do in Natchitoches LA include visiting Melrose Plantation, a National Historic Landmark. This photo is of the African House.
African House at Melrose Plantation. Photo credit: Natchitoches Tourism

Experience History and Art at Melrose Plantation

Two-hundred years of history await at Melrose Plantation. Located in Natchitoches Parish, this historic plantation shares the story of how the birth of a slave, Marie Therese Coincoin and her ten Franco-African children with Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer left a legacy still celebrated by descendants of the Metoyer family that live along Cane River today.

A National Historic Landmark,  Melrose Plantation features nine historic buildings including the African House, Yucca House, Weaving Cabin, Bindery and the Big House.

A highlight of Melrose Plantation is the story of the African American folk artist Clementine Hunter. A one-time Melrose Plantation cook, she emerged to become Louisiana’s most celebrated primitive artist. A collection of her work including her popular African House Murals is on display at Melrose.

The Melrose Plantation occupies 18.75 acres of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park along with its neighbor Oakland Plantation.

Things to do in Natchitoches LA include checking out Oakland Plantation.
Scenes from Oakland Plantation. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

More to Discover at Oakland Plantation

Founded by Jean Pierre Emanuel Prud’homme who began farming the area in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789, Oakland Plantation continued for eight generations of his French Creole family. Oakland Plantation is one of the most intact plantations left in Louisiana. Many of the original outbuildings are still standing. Guided tours are scheduled for the main house. And self-guided tours of the grounds and outbuildings are available during park hours.

Shop at Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile

Don’t miss a visit to Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile Store in downtown Natchitoches. Established in 1863, Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile is Louisiana’s oldest general store and a community landmark. Founded by Jewish Prussian immigrants Adolph and Harris Kaffie, the store retains much of its old-time charm.

From hardware to cooking tools and Radio Flyer little red wagons, a step intoKaffie-Frederick General Mercantile delivers a blast of nostalgia. Among its impressive connections to originality are the still-working original freight elevator and a 1910 cash register still used for every sale.

Cane River Lake

Abundant opportunities for recreation along with a rich cultural heritage define Cane River Lake. An oxbow lake that once was the primary channel of the mighty Red River, is ideal for swimming, kayaking, skiing, boating and sport fishing. But, as part of the Cane River National Heritage Trail, you’ll discover the contrasts of history and vibrant cultural traditions.

Cruise Through History on the Cane River Queen

Offered Wednesday through Sunday, a leisurely boat tour aboard the 49-passenger Cane River Queen provides groups and individuals the opportunity to explore Cane River Lake in the heart of historic, downtown Natchitoches.

Play with Reptiles at Gator Country Alligator Park

Housing over 250 American Alligators, Gator Country is the largest alligator park in Louisiana. If you’re up for a bit of playtime with reptiles, this seven-acre park delivers. You can wade with gators, watch the feeding show of the largest gators and even feed some of the gators and tortoises yourself.

The park includes a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, reptile house, jungle, tortoise exhibit and Cajun music. Because you are in Louisiana after all!

Things to do in Natchitoches LA include seeing the Steel Magnolias House Bed and Breakfast.
The Steel Magnolias Bed & Breakfast Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Walk in the Footsteps of Hollywood on a Film Tour

Almost 30 years ago, the classic film, Steel Magnolias, won the hearts of many women across the country. Who doesn’t love Dolly Parton, Sally Fields, Julia Roberts and the other stars of this women-focused story? As it turns out, Natchitoches plays a crucial role in this beloved film.

First, the story is based on a young woman from Natchitoches whose brother wanted her story preserved. Second, the movie was filmed in this priceless town utilizing a blend of movie stars and locals. On a self-guided film tour, you can walk through the places the film focused on including the home of Sally Fields and Julia Roberts which is now the Steel Magnolias Bed & Breakfast.

Celebrate at the Natchitoches Christmas Festival

With a history dating back to 1927, Natchitoches is home to one of the oldest community-based holiday celebrations in the US. What started as a one-day festival, Natchitoches Christmas Festival has evolved into a six-week-long Christmas Season. During the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, you’ll experience parades, fireworks, festival cuisine and Christmas queens.

Whenever you choose to visit Natchitoches, you’re guaranteed to uncover a wealth of discoveries and have a fabulous Louisiana-style experience!

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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