Exploring New Orleans Through its National Parks
New Orleans is a city that is full of history and culture — the historical diversity of the area creates an interesting blend of architecture, cuisine, and entertainment in the city. To really learn about the history of this great city, include a visit to its two national parks on your itinerary: the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
And be sure to get our full itinerary on how to spend three days in New Orleans.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
No visit to New Orleans would not be complete without a visit to the French Quarter. As the historical heart of the city, you’ll likely spend much of your time here, and no visit to the French Quarter would be complete without jazz!
The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is a small site; really more of a point of contact and information. The visitor center is located just minutes from other French Quarter attractions, like Jackson Square, Cafe Du Monde, and the French Market.
A ranger gives a talk on Second Line bands in New Orleans/Photo by Bonnie and Grant Sinclair
We were lucky enough to catch park of a ranger talk about Second Line bands and their significance to the city. Following that, we walked the 11-stop self-guided tour through some of the most important sites for jazz. It really was a great way to see the city and take in sites such as Preservation Hall.
Be sure to check out the park’s calendar for concerts and other events during your visit.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve actually consists of six units scattered around the greater New Orleans region and Southern Louisiana. At these sites, you’ll learn about the history and culture of New Orleans and the Acadian people.
The ranger talk on the history of New Orleans was a great way to start our visit to Jean Lafitte NHP&P/Photo by Bonnie and Grant Sinclair
The main visitor center is located right in the heart of the French Quarter. Begin your visit here to talk to a ranger, check out the exhibits, and learn more about the area. We lucked out and caught a ranger talk, which covered the founding of New Orleans and how it grew into the city it is today.
History buffs should head east to the Chalmette Battlefield, located about 15-20 minutes from the French Quarter. This pivotal battle between the British and the Americans ultimately led to the end of the War of 1812. Here, you’ll find a small visitor center with a great film covering the details of the battle.
The Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans/Photo by Bonnie and Grant Sinclair
A short walk takes you to the banks of the Mississippi River, where the Creole Queen stops twice daily. When this large riverboat is docked, you can catch a ranger-led talk. We decided to avoid the crowd and just explore the battlefield on our own. Like many battlefields, there isn’t much to see, but it is a nice stop on your tour of the city, and it certainly is an integral piece in the history of New Orleans.
Acadian Cultural Centers
For a cultural overview of the area, head to any (or all) of the Acadian culture centers. We headed to the closest of the three, the Wetlands Acadian Culture Center. This site is located in Thibodaux, about an hour west of New Orleans. Yes, it takes a little time to get there, but it’s a nice drive through a more rural area of Southern Louisiana.
At the Wetlands Acadian Culture Center, you’ll learn about the Cajun people and how their culture differed from that of the Creole and Americans. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy a boat tour of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, recent rains led to high water levels so our tour was canceled. Still, we enjoyed the exhibits and film.
Perhaps the highlight of the Jean Lafitte NHP&P is the Barataria Preserve. This unit preserves some of the swamps, marshes, and bayous of the area. A large network of boardwalks and well-defined trails allow you to explore on foot.
Boardwalks allows you to stroll through the swamp at the Barataria Preserve/Photo by Bonnie and Grant Sinclair
If you’re looking for an escape from the city, this is where you’ll find it! While only about 20 minutes south of New Orleans, you’ll feel like you’re in a whole different world, surrounded by trees and wildlife. Birds, owls, and alligators are just some of the many animals you’re likely to spot as you wander the preserve.
Final Thoughts on the New Orleans National Parks
When planning a trip to New Orleans, visiting national parks may not be at the top of your list of things to do, but these two parks offer a fantastic look into the city’s culture and history that shouldn’t be missed.
Even if you don’t venture too far out of town, you can learn a lot at the visitor centers in the French Quarter, and the short drive out to the Barataria Preserve really is a nice way to escape the crowds and noises of the city.
Learn more about visiting all the Louisiana National Parks here.
Header photo: Chalmette Battlefield Entrance/Photo courtesy of NPS
Grant and Bonnie Sinclair are the founders of the travel blog, Our Wander-Filled Life. Both Georgia natives, they’ve lived in the Southeast their entire lives, and currently reside in Woodstock, Georgia, where they both work as high school teachers. When school is out, they hit the road to explore and learn more about the country through its national parks.