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Mississippi River towns, Louisiana

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Did You Know … ?

  • In 1938 the entire city of Vidalia was moved a mile inland because of a huge river-widening project.
  • Fully 78% of the world’s exports in feed grains and soybeans are produced in the Mississippi River basin.
  • Morganza featured in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.”
  • Louisiana’s Mississippi River delta has the world’s largest port district, measured by tonnage shipped.
  • The 3,000-plus-year-old earthworks at Poverty Point near Tallulah represent 5 million hours of labor.

Following a river

Just about anything that may attract tourists to Mississippi River towns and their environs is neatly knit together in a single package known as the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. The 3,000 or so miles of the byway are actually a designated collection of roadways that roughly follow the Mississippi’s winding course.

Great River Road maps, available from the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, contemplate self-drive tours, a good way for travelers to focus on things that interest them most. However, cruises offer another way to take on the great river.

In Louisiana, the attractions — for the driver or cruiser — include towns with preserved historic districts, numerous plantations (some still raising cotton or sugarcane), unique museums, plus events that range from balloon races to Mardi Gras.

The capital, Baton Rouge, and the fabled New Orleans are on the river, each with its own appeal but covered separately at http://besttripchoices.com/us-cities/baton-rouge-louisiana and http://besttripchoices.com/us-cities/new-orleans-louisiana. And, they are where the casinos are.

As for the rest, New Roads, Plaquemine and St. Francisville are part of Louisiana Main Street, a preservation and economic revitalization program for town centers across the state. They and other sample destinations follow:

  • Tallulah is near Poverty Point National Monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and location of a sophisticated culture of mound builders that flourished more than 3,000 years ago.
  • Vidalia, a river crossing point, promises iconic scenes of riverboats plying the Mississippi at their own stately pace.
  • St. Francisville boasts a nationally recognized historic district of 140 structures, plus access to seven plantation homes and gardens of potential interest to visitors.
  • Jackson boasts a designated historic district that covers two-thirds of the town and encompasses more than 120 structures.
  • New Roads is called the Little Carnival Capital of Louisiana because of its popular Mardi Gras. It has several plantations, particularly along the False River.
  • Plaquemine, adjacent to the Atchafalaya Basin National Wildlife Refuge, is home to the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site, where once the lock linked the Mississippi to the Bayou Plaquemine.
  • Venice, located where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico, is the place to go for game fishing.

Things to do for Venturers

  • In September, attend the Jim Bowie Festival and BBQ Challenge at Vidalia. The frontiersman is remembered here for a famed and bloody duel on a sandbar duel.
  • Attend either the autumn or spring Angola Prison Rodeo and Craft Show near St. Francisville. Inmates are the competitors in almost all events. Also, tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum at the prison, which stands on the grounds of a former plantation.
  • Enter a greased pig contest or the chicken chasing contest at the Lundi Gras festivities in Batchelor, near Morganza.
  • Get on waterskis at False River (New Roads). As the name suggests, this is not a river; it is a 15-mile oxbow lake that was once part of the Mississippi before the river changed course.
  • At Venice, charter a boat or join an excursion that lets you hope for a trophy fish and the best fish story.
  • Hike or ride horseback while spotting the birds in Tunica Hills at St. Francisville. The Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area offers options for tent campers, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Make plantation homes the theme for a driving tour in Louisiana, especially in the Baton Rouge area. Several offer daily demonstrations with costumed guides.
  • Put the Whitney Plantation at Wallace, La., less than an hour upriver from New Orleans, on the itinerary. It offers a unique focus on plantation life as it was lived by enslaved Africans. Also, the nearby Evergreen Plantation has one of the nation’s most complete intact collections of slave cabins.
  • Go bird-watching at Atchafalaya Basin National Wildlife Refuge, which sits minutes away from Plaquemine.
  • Get out for some boating or fishing in one or more of the 22 freshwater lakes in the Morganza area.
  • Attend Mardi Gras in New Roads.
  • Stop at the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City to learn about the history and process of drilling for oil. This is also the only place in the world where the general public can walk aboard an authentic offshore drilling rig. The offshore petroleum drilling industry was born in this area.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Attend a Civil War reenactment event, such as the annual Battle of Jackson Crossroads reenactment, held in the spring. Also, Port Hudson State Historic Site hosts living history events, including the Battle of Port Hudson reenactment annually at the end of March.
  • Sign on for a Mississippi River cruise for access to several towns. Or make that a land tour, driving the Great River Road at your own pace.
  • Time your travels for the annual Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, held in October, based in Natchez, Miss., but involving races that have balloonists flying over Vidalia and the mighty river in between.
  • Learn a few things with stops at any of several Louisiana Great River Road interpretive centers, including Poverty Point State Historic Site, Pioneer; Port Hudson State Historic Site, Jackson; West Feliciana Historical Society Museum, St. Francisville; LSU Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site.
  • At Baton Rouge, board a riverboat casino to try your luck at the tables.
  • Overnight at the Inn at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, enjoy the restaurants and tour the mansion once inhabited by sugar barons.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Louisiana Travel at www.louisianatravel.com