[caption id="attachment_2689" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo courtesy of John Williams.[/caption]
South Louisiana is known for its many bodies of water, from the region's swamps and bayous to its rivers and lakes, all teeming with natural beauty and wild bounty. Luckily, some of the Bayou State's most accessible waterways can be found right here in St. Martin Parish. With so many possibilities, however, it can be difficult to choose which launch or route to embark on first; so we asked longtime experienced paddler John Williams, owner of Pack & Paddle outfitters in Lafayette, for his top five paddling routes in St. Martin. Williams leads Pack & Paddle's group excursions and authors the site's blog; his posts for each route are linked below for more information.
Williams recommends paddling the section of the Teche from Cecilia to Breaux Bridge, but you’ll want to get an early start—the 15-mile stretch is one of the longer routes. But the current will help you along, he says, and once you reach the end there’s a trove of delicious restaurants waiting for you.
This short and scenic paddle route departs from the Catahoula boat launch and travels south into an area known as "The Forks." This is a series of cuts and canals with high banks. Located just outside the Atchafalaya Basin levee, these banks were created by the Mississippi River in ancient times and form part of the historical basin. It's one of the few areas in the basin with high enough ground for live oaks to grow. Great for a summer evening or early morning.
While not the most scenic in terms of mature trees, this area is great because the park offers rental kayaks and canoes. Weather permitting, paddle from the boat launch out toward Lake Dauterive. You will find beautiful mature cypress along the shores of the lake. Also, this launch contains a rare commodity—public restrooms. To extend your paddling trip into a watery weekend sojourn, the park has plenty of campsites and cabins available to reserve.
This is a beautiful route on a classic Louisiana lake. The route begins at the Bayou Portage launch. From there, Williams recommends paddling out to Bayou Grande Guele before turning around. Like the Forks, this area is part of the historical basin, but outside the levee. The good thing about being outside the levees is that you don't have to cope with high water, currents, and other problems inside the levees. For a longer route, paddle from the Bayou Portage launch to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park.
While access has changed, Lake Martin is still a great paddle spot. Though the old public boat launch is closed, you can use the Nature Conservancy launch at the end of Rookery Road. This area is the best place to see and photograph birds, bar none, and you're likely to sight a few gators as well.