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  • Wildlife watching on the Creole Nature Trail near Lake Charles, Louisiana
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    Lake Charles, Louisiana: Cultural Discoveries in Creole Country

  • Kayaking excursion at Cane Creek State Park in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
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    Pine Bluff, Arkansas: Natural Discoveries and Country Music History

  • Historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
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    Hot Springs, Arkansas: Historic Bathhouses and Mountain Scenery

  • An autumn day at South Arkansas Arboretum State Park in El Dorado, Arkansas
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    El Dorado, Arkansas: Hidden Gem for Music and Art

  • A variety of wines to try at Landry Vineyards in West Monroe, Louisiana
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    West Monroe, Louisiana: Historic Town with a Pop Culture Twist

  • The ornate décor of the Hotel Bentley in Alexandria, Louisiana
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    Alexandria, Louisiana: Rich History and Creative Endeavors

View from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower in Arkansas
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Small Towns and Country Roads through Louisiana and Arkansas

By Zaida Rios

  • Route distance:
    1,691 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Driving down backcountry roads, cruising around historic districts and sampling the divine flavors of the South – come hit the open road in Louisiana and Arkansas.

When was the last time you got lost? Lost in fun. Lost in culture. Lost in the beauty of nature. You certainly will get lost (in the best way) when you embark on this journey through the small towns of Louisiana and Arkansas. Learn about king cake, soak in hot springs, hike across suspension bridges and munch on delicious shrimp po’ boys. Fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston, Texas; rent a car and drive two and a half hours to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to begin your road trip adventure.

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Wildlife watching on the Creole Nature Trail near Lake Charles, Louisiana
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Lake Charles, Louisiana: Cultural Discoveries in Creole Country

Lake Charles is many things. One thing it is not is hurried. Kick back and take your time relishing all the sights. Start on the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, which passes through marshland wilderness and Gulf of Mexico beaches in Southwest Louisiana. This area is known as Louisiana’s Outback, where you’re likely to spy alligators, marine life and some of more than 400 species of birds. Back in town, explore quaint streets lined with stately homes built by resourceful local carpenters in the Charpentier Historic District. Download the Charpentier Historic District Map app for an architectural tour that doubles as a history lesson. Notice the thoughtful details that give these abodes their signature Lake Charles-style from gables to turrets to wrap-around porches made for entertaining. Lake Charles folk adore a good party, and what’s a better celebration than Mardi Gras? Stop in the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu; if you can’t make the annual Mardi Gras celebration, you can at least get a taste of it. The museum is like an ornate jewelry box filled with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Wander from room to room exploring extravagant costumes, clever trinkets and a room devoted solely to the history of king cake, a colorful and traditional Louisiana dessert. Before you head north to Arkansas, pick a charming bed and breakfast or casino resort to stay in for the night. Lake Charles has plenty of options.

525 km
6 hours by car
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Kayaking excursion at Cane Creek State Park in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
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Pine Bluff, Arkansas: Natural Discoveries and Country Music History

Travel north along forested roads and through a series of tiny towns before you arrive in bucolic Pine Bluff. It’s ideally located for exploring the Arkansas River and Bayou Bartholomew, the world’s longest bayou. For a glimpse of the native species of the Arkansas Delta, check out the Delta Rivers Nature Center, which features hiking trails and an aquarium fashioned after an oxbow lake, where you can watch turtles, snakes, alligators and more. Venture downtown to spot more than a dozen murals depicting the town’s storied history. Next, make your way to the Arkansas Railroad Museum. Jump aboard a caboose, passenger car and a train at one of the state’s largest locomotive exhibits at this free and interactive museum. Add the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame (located in the Pine Bluff Convention Center) to your list of must-sees, where a life-size animatronic statue of Johnny Cash, a country music legend and Arkansas native, greets you. This tiny museum is packed with cool exhibits featuring memorabilia and costumes from Arkansas’ greatest country music stars. Get outdoors at Cane Creek State Park; bike, hike or walk through a cool trail system linked by three suspension bridges. The park also offers guided bird tours. Before you get back on the road, grab lunch or a sweet treat at Lybrand’s Bakery, a local institution since 1946, serving scrumptious baked goods and savory entrees like quiche and specialty sandwiches.

115 km
1.5 hours by car
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Historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas