The author posing for a photo in front of the New Orleans Jazz player’s statue on one of the best day trips from New Orleans

15 Best Day Trips from New Orleans in 2023 (By a Local)

Day trips from New Orleans are one of the best ways to enjoy the unique pleasures of a city with a well-earned reputation as the “Big Easy.” 

As a local, I am constantly amazed at how deep the New Orleans fountain of fun runs. As contradictory as it sounds, you only fully capture the true essence of New Orleans by leaving the city. Its tentacles of delight spread across the state, from the coastal beach wetlands of the Gulf Coast to the Cypress swamps of the bayou. 

I have used my insider knowledge to assemble a list of the 15 best New Orleans day trips from New Orleans!

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15 Best New Orleans Day Trips

The Mississippi River Day Cruise

The Mississippi goes through 10 states, but the New Orleans Riverfront is far and away the best place to experience its natural splendor.

The author posing for a photo with a ship on the Mississippi River at the background
Me alongside the Mississippi River

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: less than 30 minutes within the city to reach | 📍 Google Maps | 👉 Top Suggested Steamboat Tour

New Orleans is on the Gulf Coast, which means beautiful watery views are part of its attraction. Better yet, its proximity to the Mississippi River also means scenic riverfronts and riverboat tours are less than 30 minutes away.

Riverboat cruises from the port of New Orleans offer dinner, dancing, and live music. Some of these river tours also provide a throwback to an era gone by, as America’s steamboat heritage is striving in New Orleans. 

Steamboat Natchez offers a two-hour cruise along the Mississippi River. 

As you casually drift along the tranquil river, guides often explore how the city was established as a French colony between the banks of the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. Moreover, cruises on the Mississippi banks also give visitors an excuse to explore the history-rich French Quarter. 

Mississippi’s Coastal Community

Enjoy sandy beaches and lovely beachfront entertainment from various coastal communities along Mississippi.

A car with the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the background
The crisp blue waters of the Mississippi Gulf Port

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 1.5 hours | 📍 Google Maps

While riding along the Mississippi river is great, it makes you aware that New Orleans lacks beach access. However, this can easily be remedied by exploring the diverse range of destinations of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Those seeking sandy shores with immersive beachfront experiences can look to Gulfport, MS. This adventurous town is only a 1 hour and 30 minutes drive, making it one of the best day trips from New Orleans to get out on the beach. In addition to a cruise, the waterfront offers opportunities for jet skiing or kayaking. 

Biloxi is another Mississippi coastal spot to check out for fun-filled and sandy beaches.

The Swamps of Louisiana Bayous

Few things will bring out the primal adventurer in you than exploring the backwaters of Louisiana.

View of birds at the Swamps of Louisiana Bayous

📍 Google Maps

Southern Louisiana is Bayou Country, and its watery jungle makes for one of the more unique day trips from New Orleans. The slow-moving rivers of the bayou are habitat to a rich ecosystem teeming with seafood and wildlife such as crocodiles and alligators. 

If you love bonding with nature, then a tour of the swamps is just what the doctor ordered. Enjoy the low-lying waterways and creeks while on a boat trip. 

Otherwise, you can take a guided or self-guided tour through the trails and boardwalks that meander through the swamps. 

Shell Beach in St. Bernard Parish

The perfect place to bird watch, swim, and fish makes for a great day trip from New Orleans.

The abandoned Civil War Fort Proctor from the outside
The historic Civil War Fort Proctor

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 47 minutes | 📍 Google Maps

A fantastic day trip from New Orlean, Shell Beach in Bernard Parish should take less than an hour’s drive to reach. This is a small price to pay to see one of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches near New Orleans.

It is a quiet oasis of peace amidst rowdy New Orleans. This coastal zone is also a bird watcher’s paradise. Especially for those who come to see both native and migratory birds that congregate on this Louisiana beach.  

The fresh air and protected waters of Shell Beach provide ideal swimming and fishing opportunities for visitors. You can swim to the historic ruins of the abandoned Civil War fortress of Fort Proctor.

👉 Read Next: Where to Stay in New Orleans

Baton Rouge

From the old capitol buildings to sporty arenas, you enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana's Old State Capitol building from the outside
Baton Rouge Old State Building and waterfront view

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 1 hour 14 minutes | 📍 Google Maps | Baton Rouge Website

Baton Rouge is the state capital of Louisiana, and is also a great place to explore Louisiana’s culture. Baton Rouge is only an hour’s drive from New Orleans or Lafayette, making it ideal for a day trip. This allows you to traverse the epicenters of Cajun country and Creole cultural communities easily. 

Baton Rouge mirror’s the state’s diversity, brimming with eclectic food, culture, music, and outdoor activities. Moreover, all these reflect the undeniable imprint of the Spanish, French, Creole, and Native American heritage. 

Visiting the old capitol buildings with their historic mansions and architectural wonders will infuse you with a sense of grandeur. 

For those into sports, you can take a pilgrimage to the Louisiana State University to revel in the collegiate spirit of the LSU Tigers tailgate. 

Avery Island

Avery Island provides the perfect food and its own history retreat, combining the enjoyment of nature with culinary senses like no other.

An alligator going to the swamp in Avery Island
Alligator sunbathing in Avery Island

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 2 hours 17 minutes | 📍 Google Maps

If you are a foodie, you should consider a day trip to Avery Island in Iberia Parish. It is home to the famous Tabasco pepper sauce brand. The island also has abundant wildlife and a living history museum. 

Visitors with culinary interests should also take advantage of Tabasco factory tours. After gaining some insight into how the hot pepper sauce is made, you can head off to the Tabasco restaurant to enjoy the delicious spiciness of authentic cajun cuisine. 

The Avery Island experience also involves taking a guided or self-guided tour of the 170-acre botanical area called Jungle Gardens. You will enjoy the bird sanctuary plus the ancient tranquility of its oak trees.

If you’re an archeology buff, Avery Island sits atop the deepest solid rock salt, second only to Mount Everest. It also has something for history buffs, chronicling the 1840 Marsh House Avery slave plantation. 

INFINITY Science Center

A NASA hub that allows you to discover your inner geek as you explore cutting-edge space education.

The Saturn 5 Rocket displayed at the NASA’s Stennis Space Center
A Saturn 5 Rocket on display at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (photo: Khrystyna_Pochynok / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 48 minutes | 📍 Google Maps | INFINITY Science Center Website

If you are a science geek or simply want to explore state-or-the-science space education, then INFINITY Science Center. It makes for one of the best day trips from New Orleans for families. This science museum is located across the neighboring Mississippi state border and takes only an hour to reach from New Orleans.

Here you can find hands-on exploration activities. These science exhibits allow you to experience the awe awaiting future space explorers.

INFINITY is also host to NASA’s Stennis Space Center. As a result, you’ll have the opportunity to explore one of NASA’s largest rocket engine testing facilities on this day trip.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

A national park offering a diverse range of outdoor activities from serene birdwatching to water sports.

A signage at the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
Atchafalaya wildlife refuge with trailhead sign (photo: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 2.5 hours | 📍 Google Maps | Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Website

If there is a place that exemplifies the vast wonder of Louisiana, it is the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. For most people, visiting this mysterious area is as alien as visiting a foreign country with its surprising delights.

The Atchafalaya Natural Heritage Area boasts the largest freshwater swamp in the United States and an ecologically diverse and culturally rich area. Outdoor enthusiasts can go birding in the backwoods of its backswamp lakes and marshes.

Because of the mild winters and warm summers, you can enjoy outdoor recreation all year round in Atchafalaya basin camping spots. 

You can listen to Cajun and Creole music waltzing through in the air as you take wildlife treks among its towering cypress trees.

Plaquemines Parish

A town filled with serenity and world-class fishing is the reason to visit Plaquemines Parish.

An isolated house at the middle of Barataria Bay
House isolated on a marsh island in Barataria Bay, Plaquemines Parish (photo: William A. Morgan / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 1 hour 15 minutes | 📍 Google Maps 

The final miles of the Mississippi River in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish provide visitors with a thrilling education in contrasts. It neatly weaves the rural and urban lifestyles while creating a corridor on the final leg of the interminable Mississippi river.

To locals, this represents a portal to the “end of the world.” Meanwhile, visiting Plaquemines Parish is also an opportunity to explore the Greater New Orleans metropolitan areas such as Metairie. 

The serenity and peace of its scenic beauty will put your mind at ease. However, you can also revel in the changing weather and marine conditions in communities like Venice. 

Plaquemines Parish is a sportsman’s paradise, renowned for having one of the best freshwater expanses and all the goodies that come with it. Popular activities include fishing, hunting, and bird watching. 

De Soto National Forest

De Soto National Forest is a great New Orleans day trip for those yearning for outdoor adventure.

People hiking on a trail in De Soto National Forest
Hiking on a trail at the De Soto National Forest

🗺️ Distance from New Orlean: 2 hours | 📍 Google Maps | De Soto Website

If you are excited by outdoor activity, then you can’t go wrong by adding De Soto National Forest to your itinerary. Day trips from New Orleans to De Soto Natural Forest take a 2 hours drive. But its outdoor adventure is one the best of Mississippi coastal areas. 

De Soto offers year-round activities for anyone who loves nature. Its picturesque southern pine forests and rolling terrains present an enticing challenge to those who want to test their hiking skills. These offer as much as 60 miles of hiking range.

In addition to hiking, opportunities abound for the canoeist, camper, and cyclist. This national recreational trail and wildlife refuge provides an oasis of solitude and peace. 

Perhaps most importantly, De Soto’s biological diversity is home to many endangered plant and animal species. So, a visit provides you with a rare opportunity to see living organisms you might not otherwise see elsewhere. 

Abita Springs

Encounter mystical healing waters, seasonal libations, along with the majesty of southern life.

View of the Abita Mystery House from the outside
Abita Mystery House (photo: Malachi Jacobs / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 54 minutes | 📍 Google Maps | Abita Springs Website

If you want to escape the chaotic din of New Orleans to a more serene countryside, then St. Tammy’s Abita Springs is the place for you. Abita Springs is convenient to visit since it’s less than an hour’s drive from New Orleans. 

Besides its tranquil and pristine nature, Abita Springs provides an intriguing history with its incursion into its past. You will learn how this little town has been famous since the 19th Century for the reputed healing power of artesian waters. 

The waters of Abita Springs have been known to possess minerals with good medicinal qualities. Now, the custodian of this tradition is the Abita Brewery. For those into wacky memorabilia, then Abita Mystery House is a prime attraction. There, you’ll find miscellaneous items such as homemade inventions plus interactive vignettes of Southern life.

When you visit Abita Springs, you’ll have the opportunity to taste both the flagship artesian waters along with other varieties of seasonal beers. 

Lake Charles

Immense yourself in the Cajun culture and majestic trails of southwest Louisiana in Lake Charles. 

View of people celebrating on a parade during Lake Charles Mardi Gras
Lake Charles Mardi Gras celebration parade (photo: William Silver / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 3 hours 20 minutes | 📍 Google Maps

Aside from Lafayette, perhaps no other place highlights Cajun culture like Lake Charles. Although the city is a 3-hour distance from New Orleans, Lake Charles more than makes up for it with its vibrancy as the fifth-largest incorporated city in America. 

When you visit Lake Charles, you get an inspired French experience of fresh seafood, unique cajun food, and picturesque bayous. Abundant seafood restaurants provide shrimp étouffée, crawfish, and other seafood delicacies prepared in cajun style. 

One of the renowned delicacies is the finger-licking boudin, which mainly consists of pork meat. There are over thirty spots that provide this cajun delicacy along the Lake Charles boudin trail. 

Lake Charles juxtaposes peaceful parks with lively casinos, so there’s something adventurous for every personality. An exciting attraction is the “Louisiana Outback” of the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. 

The Honey Island Swamp

Glide through swamps and natural habitats as you experience Louisiana’s rich ecosystems.

A tourist feeding a wild pig at the The Honey Island Swamp
Viewing wild pig from Honey Island Swamp tour (photo: Frankie WO / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 45 minutes | 📍 Google Maps | Honey Swamp Island Website

Louisiana’s natural habitat makes it the ideal place for fantastic day trips with swamp tours. The Honey Island Swamp is a marshland area located in St. Tammy parish, less than an hour’s drive from New Orleans. 

Honey Island tours like Cajun Encounters use small, flat-bottomed boats to glide through the waters slowly. Because it is less intrusive and creates minimal disturbance, you are better positioned to see the rich wildlife.

In addition to honey bees from which the island derives its name, visitors are treated to rich wildlife species like black bears, raccoons, wild boars, and owls. Its marine creatures include alligators, turtles, water snakes, and different varieties of fish. 

Fontainebleau State Park

This scenic getaway in the Northshore comes with deluxe cabins, spectacular kayaking, beaches, and trails.

View of rental cabins at the Fontainebleau State Park
Rental cabins on Pontchartrain inside Fontainebleau State Park (photo: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from New Orleans: 48 minutes | 📍 Google Maps | Fontainebleau State Park Website

Fontainebleau State Park is located in the Northshore town of Mandeville, north of Lake Pontchartrain. It is less than an hour from New Orleans’ French Quarter. 

This historic park covers 2,800 acres of a breathtaking view, which also includes the scenery of Lake Pontchartrain. This place was once a sugar cane plantation, and you can still tour the brick structures that remain. 

You can also spend a lovely day trip in its cabins or simply go kayaking.

📅 Read Next: When is the Best Time to Visit New Orleans?

Bayou St. John

Bayou St. John offers an embrace of eclectic activities ranging from picnics to kayaking. 

People enjoying their day while on an inflatable raft sailing in the Bayou St. John water
People chilling in an inflatable raft sailing on Bayou St. John waters (photo: William A. Morgan / Shutterstock)

🗺️ Distance from French Quarter: 10 minutes | 📍 Google Maps

Bayou St. John is located within the vibrant Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. It is flanked by its namesake waterway and borders the Lafitte Greenway and Esplanade Avenue. 

From Cabrini Bridge, pedestrians get a panoramic view of the Bayou. In addition to a family-friendly residential area, it also boasts historic landmarks like the 1799 Pitot House, a Creole colonial home. 

Fun activities include paddling across the bayou river or just gathering with friends in one of the many local gardens or restaurants.

This day trip from New Orleans is just a couple of miles from the French Quarter, and is technically within New Orleans. But it’s an easy day trip if you’re short on time!  

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That’s it for this list of the best day trips from New Orleans. Have fun exploring the tentacles of fun emanating from the “Big Easy.”

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