Natchitoches is the perfect spot for families to immerse in both traditional Louisiana culture and contemporary fun. Located in north central Louisiana the city sits along the banks of the Cane River Lake and is an easy drive from Shreveport, to the north on I-20, and from Lafayette, to the south via I-10, both connecting to Interstate 49. It’s less than three hours from Natchez, Mississippi, to the east and Lufkin, Texas, to the west.
For outdoor fun, taking to the Cane River is a favorite way to spend the day and there are a variety of ways to do just that. The more adventurous may want to explore the river by kayak, hydro bike or paddleboard. Cane River Paddle & Pedal Sports (Downtown Riverbank Beauport Station, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-527-0066) offers rentals from the downtown riverbank. For a more relaxing river excursion, a trip on the Cane River Queen (103 Beauport Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-663-7787) is a popular outing for families.
More attractions await, as well. Gator Country Louisiana (380 Bayou Pierre Road, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-354-0106) is the largest alligator park in Louisiana, home to more than 250 American Alligators. The seven-acre park includes areas for viewing and interacting with gators, as well as daily feeding shows. There is also a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, reptile house, jungle, tortoise exhibit and more.
A visit to Dark Woods Adventure Park (4343 University Parkway, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-228-1725) offers a mix of adventures throughout the year. It is the home of Lost Treasure Mining Company, a year-round attraction for the young and young at heart. This low-tech, outdoor family attraction includes panning for gems along the rustic, 100-foot wooden running water mining sluice. The mine is joined in fall by Dark Woods Haunted Attractions, followed by Christmas in the Park each year.
This is the oldest city in Louisiana and its historic downtown district has brick streets along its waterfront, lined with unique local shops and restaurants serving local favorites. Exploring the shelves of Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile (758 Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-352-2525) for that perfect find is fun for all ages! It is the oldest general store in Louisiana, opened in 1863 and is a wonderful mix of past and present. Many also enjoy a free, guided Historic District Walking Tour (780 Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-356-5555) or a carriage ride with the Cane River Carriage Company (102 Beauport Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 601-807-9086) to get an overview of Natchitoches and the Cane River region.
This is also where the uniquely designed Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum (800 Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-357-2492) can be found. The building’s design garnered the title of “Top Architecture Project in the World” upon its completion in 2013. The hall of fame is home to an amazing collection of portraits and memorabilia celebrating the achievements of legendary Louisiana athletes and sports figures. The museum, with its seven themed exhibits, takes visitors back in time to explore the evolution of unique cultural traditions of the state, from early native-American civilizations to the present.
History is brought to life at nearby Fort St. Jean Baptiste (155 Rue Jefferson, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-357-3101). The grounds include a museum and replica of the original fort, built by the French in 1714. Eighteenth century life in the fort is depicted by historians and period-dressed interpreters. More history is on display amid the beautiful landscape of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park (4386 Highway 494, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71456;
318-352-0383, ext. 316). This national treasure is comprised of Oakland Plantation, considered the most complete Creole plantation in the country, and the outbuildings at Magnolia Plantation. Buildings, equipment and personal items on display reveal much about the lives of those who lived and worked here and the plantation economy of the time.
Film buffs love Natchitoches any season of year! Perennial favorite “Steel Magnolias,” John Wayne’s “The Horse Soldiers,” “The Man in the Moon” starring Reese Witherspoon and “The Year Without Santa Claus” starring John Goodman are just some of the movies filmed here and featured on the Natchitoches Film Trail.
Part of the appeal of a visit to Natchitoches is its unique lodging options. In addition to a full slate of hotels, motels and inns, from national brands to local favorites, there is a host of bed and breakfasts, with choices to fit every need.
Where to eat
Louisiana’s food is central to its culture and its appeal. The dining options in Natchitoches do not disappoint. And here, there’s a special treat. This is known as home of the Natchitoches Meat Pie, now a Southern classic!
Maglieaux’s (805 Washington Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-354-7767) is a family-owned spot for casual dining in Natchitoches’ historic downtown district. It is known for a menu of Creole-meets-Italian specialties with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking Cane River Lake.
Cane River Commissary (4191 Highway 494, Natchez, Louisiana 71456; 318-238-6360) is a unique dining experience in the Cane River area south of Natchitoches. The restaurant, in an old commissary building, offers Creole favorites and is loved for its monthly first Saturday Zydeco Brunch.
Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen (622 Second Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-352-3363) is located in the Landmark Historic District of downtown Natchitoches and is said to be “home” to the legendary Natchitoches Meat Pie. The recipes have been handed down through generations and illustrate the family’s deep Southern roots.
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