The 9 best ways to see the Louisiana Alligator
One of the coolest things to do when in Louisiana is to go see the Louisiana alligators in the wild. This is also a great way to see the Louisiana wetlands with their iconic swamps and marshes that stretch all over southern Louisiana. You can see the alligators all over the southern states from mid-Texas all the way to North Carolina. However, the biggest population can be found in the state of Louisiana. The alligator population is estimated to be 2 million here which makes it the largest population of American Alligators in the world.
I have assembled a guide with the best places to spot the American Alligator in the wild as well as a few options for seeing them under more controlled circumstances in case traipsing through the wetlands, and getting up close and personal with the alligators, is not your thing.
The 9 best ways to see the Louisiana Alligators
How to spot an alligator l When to see them l Safety tips l Atchafalaya River Basin l Honey Island Swamp l Lake Martin l Barataria Preserve l Creole Nature Trail l New Orleans City Park l Lafayette LU l Vermilionville l Audubon Aquarium
How to spot an alligator
First things first, if you want to see an alligator you need to learn how to spot them. Unless it’s very sunny out and they are sunning themselves in plain view on the riverbanks in which case, of course, they are easily spotted and recognized.
If they are hiding in the water, what you will be looking for is a grey log like thing floating on the surface. Look for the shape of the head with nose and eyes peeking out from the water as its most easily distinguishable from a log. This might require some practice especially if you are a bit hesitant to get too close to the waterways. The recommended safety distance is 30 feet, 10 meters.
If you are wondering whether you are looking at an alligator or a crocodile, as it’s certainly not easy to spot the difference, don’t worry. If you are in Louisiana you are guaranteed to be looking at an alligator as there are no crocodiles living in Louisiana. This is great as the crocodile is far more likely to attack humans than the alligator is. The only place in which you can find both alligators and crocodiles living together is in the Florida Everglades.
Best time to see alligators
Alligators are cold-blooded just like any other reptile and hence they rely on the surrounding environment to keep their body temperature. This means they are not a fan of winter and it will be difficult to see them in the wild during the winter months. They tend to feed a lot less at this time and will be hiding in holes underground where they can remain dormant. The best time to go looking for gators is between March and September and especially on sunny days as they are then more likely to be found lying around on riverbanks to soak up that lovely Louisiana sunshine.
The American Alligator mates in April through May, this means that the male alligators will be fighting for dominance at this time and if you’re lucky you might get to see some alligator brawls go down. The alligators are vicious fighters and the winners usually end up badly scarred with missing limbs or eyes. It is not uncommon to spot these big, scarred males during this time of the year.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the following mating season is nesting season, June and July. Nesting females are more aggressive and protective of their nest so keeping a safe distance is even more important during these months.
N.B. Always keep a safe distance. Let’s avoid unnecessary gator deaths please!
Before heading out into the wild to look for alligators please do read through these safety tips and keep them in mind while out there enjoying Louisiana nature.
As mentioned above, let’s try to avoid unnecessary gator deaths. It’s not worth the “photo for the gram”!
· Always keep a 30 feet (10 meters) distance from alligators. If you find yourself too close, back away slowly. Alligators are very quick and agile and will defend themselves when cornered.
· Do not go swimming at night, sunset, or sunrise as this is when they are most likely to be feeding.
· Don’t let small children play alone in or around water. Kids are more likely than adults to get attacked.
· Don’t let pets walk along the edges of waterways and always keep them on a leash no longer than 6 feet (2 meters). Pets are a snackable size for alligators.
· Do not feed the alligators. It makes them accustomed to humans and they will become a safety issue later.
Now that you know all you need to know, here are the top 9 spots for where to see the Louisiana Alligators in the wild as well as where you can enjoy all the other wildlife Louisiana has to offer and its scenic nature at the same time.
1. Atchafalaya River Basin
Best for: extended visits and for the adventurous explorer.
The Atchafalaya river basin is America’s largest freshwater swamp. It stretches over 14 different parishes in Louisiana. The Atchafalaya is a National Heritage Area and its one of the most culturally rich and ecologically varied areas in the United States. Apart from having a large population of alligators the river basin is also home to a large number of amphibians and reptiles as well as birds and animals such as black bears, otters, beavers, and foxes. The Atchafalaya’s also has the largest nesting concentration of bald eagles in the southern United States.
To explore this massive freshwater swamp, Henderson town is a good place to set out from as many tour companies, and boat and kayak rentals, operate from there. The best ways to get up close and personal with the alligators, and other wildlife, here is on an airboat or paddling your own kayak. For a more guided experience, there are plenty of tour boats you can book a trip to explore the swamp with the help of a local expert.
If you want to spend a few days immersed in the wilderness of this vast wetland there are lots of primitive camping sites around the area for you to stay.
2. Honey Island Swamp
Best for: the true nature lover.
The Honey Island Swamp is located in eastern Louisiana in St. Tammany Parish. The swamp is bordered on the north by U.S. I-11, on the south by Lake Borgne, on the east by the Pearl River, and the west by the West Pearl River. The honey island swamp is a very pristine swampland and is home to not just alligators but turtles, snakes, bears, and plenty of birds. It’s also home to the legendary Swamp Monster, a very stinky seven-foot-tall, two-legged, apes like creature with yellow eyes and grey hair. A story that could be fun to tell if you are traveling with children. If you don’t get to see the swamp monster at least you should see plenty of alligators in this 70 000 acre (280 km2) of swampland.
3. Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge
Best for: half-day trips and people who like an easy access.
Lake Martin and the cypress island preserve are much smaller than the Atchafalaya Basin as well as the Honey Island swamp however they’re much easier to access and still have the same kind of wildlife and plenty of Alligators making the area well worth the visit.
To explore the lake, you can drive around it on Rookery Road, a dirt and gravel road that runs around most of the lake. If you prefer a closer experience I recommend exploring it on foot. You can park your car wherever you like along the road, or at the parking lots at either end of Rookery Road, as well as by the boat launch.
You can see the alligators here by taking a hike around the lake or renting a kayak or canoe which is another great way to see the other wildlife too.
Note: Some of the hiking trails will not be open in the alligator nesting season, June through July, due to nesting mothers who can be aggressive and a danger to hikers.
Lake Martin is also an excellent place to visit for birding as its home to several varieties of heron and egret, Neotropic and double-crested cormorants, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, osprey, and more.
4. The Barataria Preserve
Best for: viewing alligators while hiking.
The Barataria Preserve is one of the three Jean Lafitte National Historical Parks and Preserves in Louisiana. You find the Barataria Preserve outside of Marrero.
It’s a 26000-acre area that includes swamps, marches, bayous (Louisiana rivers), and forest.
You can see the preserve and spot alligators by walking along its boardwalks or take one of the more challenging dirt trails. Some areas of the preserve are also open to kayaking and canoeing, another great way to see the alligators. You can also book a fully guided tour of the Barataria preserve to see this beautiful area with the help of a local expert.
General access to the preserve is free.
For more information and guidance on where to go, the visitors’ center is open Wednesday-Sunday 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. It’s closed on federal holidays and Mardi Gras. Parking lots are open for access to trails daily including federal holidays 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. except on Mardi Gras when the preserve is completely closed.
5. The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road
Best for: viewing alligators while on the road.
Driving the Creole nature trail is a great way to see the Louisiana alligators in the wild without having to go exploring the swamps and marshes on foot or in a kayak.
It’s a 180-mile-long scenic drive through the wilderness of Louisiana. The trail takes you through marshes and prairies and along the Gulf of Mexico. It is an excellent way of seeing alligators from the comfort of your own car as well as seeing a lot of Louisiana’s unique natural beauty. The trail takes you to three different wildlife refuges Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, and the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge as well as to the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.
6. New Orleans City Park
Best for: viewing alligators in the city
If you are more of a city dweller and spending a day in the swamps sounds like too many mosquitoes and too much humidity you can still see wild alligators by visiting the New Orleans City Park.
New Orleans used to be a dense marshy wetland full of alligators but along with the development of the city and the swamps being drained the alligators moved elsewhere. The only place you can now see alligators within the city of New Orleans is in City Park. The park is full of lagoons and waterways and in and around these places you should be able to spot an alligator or two.
The alligators tend to be on the smaller side though as the Department of Wildlife and Fishery remove the bigger ones. Alligators don’t really attack humans, but they can attack smaller children and pets as they are more the size of alligators’ natural prey. To increase the chances of seeing alligators stay in the wilder parts of the park, north of the I-610.
7. Lafayette, University of Louisiana
Best for: viewing alligators while also getting a higher education.
Yes, that’s correct, another way of seeing wild, well maybe not that wild, alligators without leaving the city is to take a stroll through the University of Louisiana campus in Lafayette.
In the middle of campus, there’s a swamp-like a lake that is home to a few of the famous American Louisiana Alligators. The lake, Cypress Lake is commonly called just “the swamp” and has become a bit of a tourist attraction in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Best for: viewing alligators while also being very cultural.
You’ll find Vermilionville on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion. Vermilionville is among the top sites to visit in Lafayette and also a place where you can spot alligators that don’t require a day in the swamps.
Read more about what you can do at Vermilionville in my guide to fun things to do in Lafayette.
9. Audubon Aquarium
Best for: viewing alligators without any risk of getting wet.
I generally don’t recommend zoos and aquariums for seeing and experiencing wildlife as they are obviously no longer wild and it’s just sad to see wildlife in captivity rather than free and in their natural habitat.
However, the Audubon Aquarium has one of the few (one of two in Louisiana) albino alligators. You are extremely unlikely to see one of these rare white creatures in the wild and hence it could be worth stopping by the Aquarium.
Where will you go to see the Louisiana Alligators? Let me know how it was in the comments below.
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