In Search of Gators
One of the first things visitors ask me when they land in Louisiana is where to find gators — well, second to the nearest drive-through daiquiri. Then they go all freaky like when I tell them we get up close and personal with our reptiles.
Visitors love looking at alligators. They’re exotic creatures not found in many places so spotting one in the wild will land on any wildlife enthusiast’s list. They also have those beady eyes and long mouth full of teeth, so even though visitors thrill at the sight of one, alligators can scare even the most fearless.
Here are some places to find alligators, but rest assured, if the gators are behind fences and bars you’ll be fine. If you spot them in the wild, chances are the shy gator will leave you alone, but please don’t tease or feed them. And don’t forget, unless it’s a big ole gator, you’re still at the top of the food chain. Just keep small animals and children safe.
Start with swamp tours, which are plentiful in Louisiana. There’s hardly a swamp excursion that doesn’t include spotting alligator. Some of the most popular places to find these tour boats are the Honey Island Swamp and St. James Parish outside of New Orleans, the Houma and Thibodaux area and the Atchafalaya Basin and Lake Martin near Lafayette.
The Natchitoches Alligator Park outside of the city of Natchitoches was originally an alligator farm and is now the largest gator attraction in the state with seven acres and hundreds of gators, in addition to large snakes, all behind protected walkways and platforms. Visitors will enjoy the hourly feeding shows.
Because of the alligators’ hibernation, the park is open from spring to Oct. 13. Many of the gators raised here, however, are used in the lobby wetlands display at Paragon Casino Resort in Markville. The casino’s gators never hibernate, due to the constant temperature of their environment, and if you visit Paragon at the right time of day you’ll catch a gator feeding.
But for visitors who want to see gators in their natural habitat, head down the Creole Nature Trail outside of Lake Charles, through its 180 miles of wild marshes and beaches. The Creole Nature Trail extends down from Interstate 10 from both Sulphur and Lake Charles, eventually making a large dip to the south and looping back up the other side. Along the way are wildlife refuges, bird rookeries, fishing opportunities and possibly the largest collection of alligators within view in their natural habitat. Visitors will spot them sunning themselves only feet from the roadway during warm weather months.
The Creole Nature Trail includes three national wildlife refuges and one state refuge, including the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge with its visitor’s center, exhibits and a boardwalk outside the center that overlooks an area teeming with wildlife. One of the nature trail’s highlights is the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, which offers the highest alligator nesting densities in the United States.
For the adventurous, there’s Gators and Friends near Shreveport, where the hardy can zip line over a swamp-filled habitat that includes gators. We’ll have that story next week.
Natchitoches Alligator Park
Paragon Casino Resort
Creole Nature Trail