Louisiana's parks and other recreational facilities attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to the state every year. A large number of the parks lie along water, and water sports are among the most popular forms of outdoor recreation in Louisiana. There is excellent fishing in Louisiana's many freshwater streams and lakes and along the Gulf of Mexico. Wooded areas and coastal marshes offer fine opportunities to observe wildlife.
Among the many interesting places to visit are the numerous units of the state park system. Privately owned sites open to the public include many of Louisiana's beautiful mansions from what is called the antebellum period before the Civil War (1861-1865). The state's chief tourist center, New Orleans, offers visitors many attractions of historic interest, as well as the atmosphere of a cosmopolitan city.
Kisatchie National Forest, the only national forest in Louisiana, covers about 601,000 acres in the north central part of the state. It has facilities for camping and a lake for swimming, fishing, and boating.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve was established to preserve the rich natural resources and culture of Louisiana's delta region. The park consists of four separate units: Acadian, which interprets the Acadian and Native American cultures of the area; the Barataria Preserve, near Marrero, which focuses on the natural and cultural history of the swamp and marshlands of the region; the Chalmette, near New Orleans, site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans; and the New Orleans unit, which tells of the history of the city.
The Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area, authorized in 1994, preserves buildings and landscapes associated with the development of Creole culture. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, also authorized in 1994, educates visitors about jazz music as it evolved in New Orleans.
Poverty Point National Monument, in northeast Louisiana, contains some of the largest Native American earthworks found on the continent, consisting of concentric ridges which may have been dwelling foundations surrounding a large central plaza. Arranged around the ridges are four ceremonial and burial mounds.
Also in Louisiana is a portion of the Vicksburg National Military Park, site of the siege in 1863 that gave Union forces control of the Mississippi River during the Civil War.
Alexander State Forest, the only state forest, is in central Louisiana. It contains almost every variety of tree found in Louisiana.
The system has nearly 30 units designated as state parks, preservation areas, or commemorative areas. Most of them have facilities for camping, boating, swimming, and fishing.
Chicot State Park, the largest, is an area of rolling woodlands in central Louisiana. The beautiful Fontainebleau State Park extends along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Sam Houston Jones State Park is located in southwestern Louisiana, north of Lake Charles. Chemin-a-Haut State Park lies in northeastern Louisiana on Bayou Bartholomew. Lake Bistineau State Park is situated on the western shore of Lake Bistineau, which lies southeast of Shreveport. Lake Bruin State Park, in the eastern part of the state, lies on an oxbow lake that was formed by a cutoff of the Mississippi River.
Most of the state commemorative areas preserve places of historic significance. They include Marksville State Commemorative Area, in central Louisiana, which is the site of a prehistoric Native American village and an archaeological museum. Longfellow-Evangeline, in south central Louisiana, commemorates the heroine of the famous narrative poem Evangeline (1847), by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the park is a museum devoted to Acadian life. Fort Pike near New Orleans preserves the ruins of a historic fort constructed after the War of 1812 to defend approaches to the city.
The Audubon memorial, in the south central part of the state, is the site of the plantation home once occupied by the famous wildlife painter John James Audubon. Mansfield State Commemorative Area south of Shreveport was the site of a Civil War battle. Near Natchitoches is Los Adaes, a one-time capital of Texas.
Many of the state's most popular tourist attractions are located in New Orleans. In Louisiana there are many beautiful antebellum mansions. Among those open to visitors are Rosedown, at Saint Francisville; Shadows-on-the-Teche, at New Iberia; and Oakland, Beau Fort, and Cherokee, all near Natchitoches.
Scenic places of interest include Avery Island, on the Gulf Coast, where there are subtropical gardens and a bird sanctuary. Sites on the National Register of Historic Places lie scattered in rural and urban settings around the state.