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Staycation: Kayak While You Social Distance at These 12 New Orleans Area Waterways

Whoever first called New Orleans “The Big Easy” probably didn’t do it in the summer. As humidity and temperatures both climb toward triple digits, it sometimes feels like you need a paddle just to make it around the block. Here's some spots to get outdoors and some places to stay to make a weekend adventure!

by Matt Haines
August 12, 2020

Whoever first called New Orleans “The Big Easy” probably didn’t do it in the summer. As humidity and temperatures both climb toward triple digits, it sometimes feels like you need a paddle just to make it around the block.

And, of course, a certain global pandemic isn’t making these hot summer months any easier. With most of the city’s pool options closed for COVID-19, we New Orleanians are left with the unenviable choice between running up our air conditioning bill, or going for a walk in what feels like a cross between an oven and a sauna.

Except there’s a third option, and it’s a pretty good one!

New Orleans has a fun and accessible network of canoeing and kayaking options she rarely gets credit for. There are lakes, bayous, swamps and a river (don’t kayak on the river!). We are literally surrounded by water!

I’ve got 12 great waterways for you to dip your oar in — but before we get there, let’s handle one pesky logistic.

Renting or Buying a Kayak or Canoe

Normally, renting a kayak or canoe is as easy giving Massey’s Professional Outfitters in Mid-City a call. Unfortunately — at the time of publishing — COVID-19 has left them short-staffed and they aren’t currently renting out watercraft.

I would suggest giving them a call at 504-648-0292 when you’re preparing for your adventure to see if they’ve started renting again.

But fear not! Most of the choices on this list have other rental options, and I’ll include those, below.

 

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It’s also worth noting that buying a kayak doesn’t need to break the bank. The Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak comes in a one-person ($248.94) or two-person ($259.99) variety. Inflatable kayaks like these are becoming more popular, and the beauty is that you don’t have to worry about transporting it on top of a car. Just throw it in your backpack, take it to the water and inflate it there.
Okay, now that you have some options for getting a boat (and — again — I’ll have more down the list), let’s get to my picks for the top 12 waterways to kayak and canoe in the New Orleans area!

City Park

It doesn’t get much easier than spending the afternoon floating with the swans, ducks and geese on Big Lake, or through City Park’s extensive network of bayous and lagoons. Head to where Wisner Boulevard meets Friedrichs Avenue, and then follow Friedrichs to the Big Lake parking area.

There you can choose from a myriad of rental opportunities — ranging from swan boats to kayaks (one- or two-person) to a three-person canoe. Prices range from $11 – $23 per hour, and you can find more information here.

All boats must be back at sunset on Sundays through Thursday, but on Friday and Saturday nights, hours extend until 10 p.m for some starlit paddling.

Gondola rides are also an option if you’re looking to get romantic!

Stay nearby for a change of scenery from your neighborhood here!

MORE: 16 years, 600 proposals and 2 hurricanes: the story of NOLA Gondola

 

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Bayou St. John

A hop, skip and a jump away is historic Bayou St. John — four miles long with a wide range of experiences to enjoy. Things are peaceful and relatively quiet on the Lake Pontchartrain end, while the popular Mid-City side provides more of a see-and-be-seen vibe. And don’t miss out on exploring Demourelles Island — with architecture that is truly one of a kind in the city.

Bayou Paddle Sports sets up at 1101 Florida Avenue (right on the bayou) from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursdays through Mondays, so you can rent your single kayak ($22), double kayak ($44) or stand-up paddleboard ($33) for two-hour sessions. They also offer paddleboard yoga, P.E. classes, paddling lessons and group outings so give their website a look.

If you’re looking for a two-hour ($45) or four-hour ($75) group kayaking tour of the bayou, check out Kayak-Iti-Yat for more details.

Stay in a Bayou St. John for a change of scenery from your neighborhood here!

 

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Bayou Segnette State Park

Here’s one you’ll need to have your own kayak or canoe for. Bayou Segnette is in Westwego — less than a half-hour from New Orleans. It offers a unique ecosystem where both fresh and saltwater meet. 

You can fish, hike, picnic, or even enjoy a wave pool at the park. But make sure you make time to explore the meandering Bayou Segnette, as well. It’s accessible via the Bayou Segnette Boat Launch.

Make a weekend out of it and book a place here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Bayou Bienvenue

Here’s another bayou — but this one’s out in New Orleans East. Bayou Bienvenue is a beautiful wetland area where adventurers can see migratory birds, baby alligators and — unfortunately — the effects of coastal wetland erosion (but also efforts to mitigate those effects!). All with the New Orleans skyline off in the distance.

To rent a kayak, check out NOLA Kayak Tours, or give them a call at 504-571-9975. You can rent a single kayak ($40) or a double kayak ($70) for the day and enjoy a self-guided tour of the area. Just be sure to drop a pin on your phone when you pick up the kayaks at Eddie Pintos Marina — it could be easy to get lost in the maze of wetlands without it.

Make a weekend out of it and book a place here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Cane Bayou

Looking for solitude without straying too far from home? Give Cane Bayou — on the eastern edge of Fontainebleau State Park — a shot! Bayou Adventure will meet you at the serene waterway with the kayak or paddleboard of your choice. Both are just $39 for the day. Learn more here.

They also rent fishing equipment if sightseeing isn’t enough!

Make a weekend out of it and book a place here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Bayou Lacombe

The Northshore’s got a few options for you! Head east from Cane Bayou for 10 minutes and you’ll run into the slightly bigger, but also beautiful Bayou Lacombe. Bayou Adventure runs the same deal here. They’ll deliver your kayak or paddleboard right to you at the water for just $39 for the day. Not too shabby! It’s also worth noting that both bayous offer an incredible sunset if you can be at around the lake at dusk. Bayou Adventure offers guided sunset tours.

For you sports(wo)men, this is another great spot for fishing, and — once again — Bayou Adventure will make sure you have everything you need.

Make a weekend out of it and book a place in Lacombe here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Fort Proctor

This is another adventure for which you’ll need to bring your own watercraft. Fort Proctor is in St. Bernard Parish and was constructed in 1856 — just before the Civil War. The fort never saw a battle, however, as it was damaged by a hurricane shortly after it was built and left for ruins. Good for us it’s here, though, because it makes for a fun and easy adventure!

It’s accessible only by water, so you’ll put your kayak, canoe (or paddleboard) in at Frank Campo’s Marina (at Shell Beach). From there, it’s an approximately 20-minute paddle up a canal to Lake Borgne and what looks like a castle on the lake. 

Make a weekend out of it and book a place by Shell Beach here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge

If you drive through New Orleans East as east as you can go, you’ll arrive at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge — a marsh and wetland habitat rich in wildlife and recreation opportunities. You’ll need to bring your own kayak, but if you do, there are several areas to explore.

You can learn about several options here, but if you take Chef Menteur Highway out of New Orleans, and then make a left onto Highway-11, that stretch on Hwy-11 (between Chef Menteur and I-10) is where you’ll find the boat launches.

Book a place to make a weekend out of it here!

 

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Manchac at Midnight / Bayou Manchac

When COVID’s done, there aren’t many New Orleans area adventures more soul-quenching than a paddle under the stars with Canoe & Trail Adventures. Tours are scheduled for the Saturday on or before a full moon, and typically last three to four hours ($40 per adult). It’s really a special night, but tours are unfortunately on hold during the pandemic.

In the meantime, you can still enjoy a daytime self-guided tour along the same Bayou Manchac, which is located on the outskirts of Covington. Solo kayaks and paddleboards for rent range from $25 for two hours to $45 for five hours (with several options in between). There are also two-person kayaks and canoes available, as well as family-sized canoes.

Book a place to make a weekend out of it here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

Bogue Chitto River

The Bogue Chitto is best known for tubing (which you should seriously consider), but businesses like Bogue Chitto Tubing also rent kayaks. A single kayak costs $25, while a double is $40. A canoe is also $40, and you can add a cooler tube to any of these (in case you have some beverages you want to tow) for just $5 more.

You can grab your rental any time from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., and don’t have to return it until 7 p.m. They’ll transport you and your craft of choice upriver and then you’ll paddle back to their shop. If you don’t stop, it’ll be about two hours — but the stops are half the fun. Take your time and enjoy!

Book a place to make a weekend out of it here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Honey Island Swamp

Head over Lake Pontchartrain and just past Slidell. That’s where you’ll find the famous Honey Island Swamp — one of the best-known features of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. Once you’re there, Honey Island Kayak Tours gives you two options for how to enjoy paddling under the area’s canopy of beautiful trees:

Join a 2.5-hour tour through a 400-year-old Cypress and Tupelo Swamp (where you’ll learn about flora and fauna, wetland loss, conservation, and the area’s rich history) or venture out on your own with a rented kayak. If you choose the tour, they leave at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and cost $59 per adult. If you decide to go the self-guided route, you’ll pay as low as $25 for a kayak for an hour, or $55 for the day (add $10 for a two-person boat).

Make sure to check here to ensure their water levels are low enough to allow rentals!

Book a place to make a weekend out of it here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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Fort Pike

Fort Pike is a Civil War-era fort built in the mid-1800s and — just a few yards from the public boat launch — it’s a great place to visit before or after your paddle. From the launch, you can paddle around the fort and into Lake Pontchartrain and the Rigolets. You’ll also see the West Rigolets Lighthouse — a wooden 19th-century lighthouse that’s no longer in use today.

You’ll need to bring your own kayak or canoe, but this adventure is well worth it!

Book a place to make a weekend out of it here!

Need a car to get there, get there in style here!

 

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See? Even though your favorite pool is closed this summer, there’s still plenty of ways to enjoy an adventure on the water. Rent a kayak or canoe — or bring your own — and check out what makes Louisiana nature so special.

WRITER MATT HAINES LIVES IN NEW ORLEANS. FOLLOW HIM FOR ALL THINGS NATURE, FUN AND MORE AT MATTHAINESWRITES.COM, AND ON FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER.

 

Matt Haines lives in New Orleans and writes about all the cool stuff. Visit his website MattHainesWrites.com. Follow him on Social Media: FB: matthaineswrites TW: matthaineswrite IG: matthaineswrites

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