In Louisiana, No Man’s Land is a place you’ll actually want to go.
That’s what eight tour operators and travel planner readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a six-day familiarization tour of the state hosted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism. The tour took them to the No Man’s Land region on the state’s border with Texas to discover fascinating history, charming towns and beautiful natural areas in nearby destinations.
Follow along on this itinerary to begin planning a No Man’s Land adventure for your group.
• Arrival in Lafayette
• Downtown driving tour
• Dinner at Bon Temps Grill
Travel planners began their trip by flying or driving to Lafayette, a mid-size city with deep Cajun roots in south-central Louisiana. After everyone arrived, the group departed on a driving tour that included a stop at a frozen daiquiri stand and a look at the distinctive downtown area, which plays host to the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, a signature cultural and music event. The driving tour ended at Bon Temps Grill, where travelers got their first of many delicious Cajun-inspired seafood dishes during the tour.
• Cajun Country Swamp Tours
• Tour and lunch at Vermilionville
• Martin Accordions
• Depart for Lake Charles
• Crying Eagle Brewery
• Boardwalk Promenade
• Dinner at Luna Bar and Grill
The second day of the tour began with an intimate naturalist-led swamp cruise in a beautiful wetland area just outside of Lafayette. Next, the group toured Vermilionville, a historic park that depicts the life of Acadian, Creole and native people who lived in the Lafayette area. From there, they visited Martin Accordions for a fascinating demonstration and lively concert. After departing Lafayette, the group traveled west to Lake Charles, where they visited Crying Eagle Brewery before enjoying the sunset beside the casinos on the city’s boardwalk promenade.
Cajun Country Swamp Tours
A short drive outside of Lafayette, Cajun Country Swamp Tours takes small groups on guided tours of the 800-acre Lake Martin Swamp, a flooded cypress forest that is home to alligators, turtles cormorants, great blue herons, woodpeckers, egrets and other animals. The tours are led by a Cajun naturalist who points out wildlife and tells stories of the swamp’s history.
Lafayette was at the center of the French Acadian culture in Louisiana, and Vermilionville is a 23-acre historic and folklife park on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion that tells the story of how the Acadians and Creoles lived and worked alongside Native Americans between 1765 and 1890. The group toured the village’s historic buildings with a costumed interpreter.
Three generations of the Martin family work together to craft beautiful, hand-made concertina accordions — widely used in Cajun and zydeco music — at Martin Accordions near Lafayette. The tour group saw how the accordions are made and enjoyed a lively musical performance showcasing the development of Louisiana music through the ages.
Crying Eagle Brewery
Named for a prominent Native American leader in the area, Crying Eagle Brewing is the only craft brewery in Lake Charles. Groups can tour the production area to learn about how the beers are created and packaged, then visit the taproom to sample the signature Louisiana Lager — made with local rice — and other varieties.
Many people travel to Lake Charles to visit its pair of gaming properties — Golden Nugget Lake Charles and L’Auberge Casino Resort — that are both situated along the banks of the Calcasieu River. The group enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the river on a quick visit to the city’s boardwalk promenade.
• Creole Nature Trail
• Lunch at Seafood Palace
• Charpentier District
• 1911 Historic City Hall
• Depart for Allen Parish
• Leatherwood Museum
• Tour and dinner at Allen Parish Cultural Center
• Coushatta Casino
The third day began with a short drive outside Lake Charles to explore the wetlands and wildlife of the Creole Nature Trail. The group then returned to the city for lunch at the Seafood Palace, followed by a driving tour of the beautiful Charpentier Historic District and a tour of the galleries at the 1911 Historic City Hall. After saying goodbye to Lake Charles, the group traveled farther west to Allen Parish, where they visited the Leatherwood Museum and then enjoyed a tour, home-cooked gumbo and live music at the Allen Parish Cultural Center. Afterward, some group members enjoyed the games and nightlife at Coushatta Casino.
Creole Nature Trail
One of 43 All-American Roads in the country, the Creole Nature Trail introduces visitors to the wetlands and wildlife of southwest Louisiana. During a driving tour, the FAM group saw some of the more than 400 species of animals and birds living in the area, including alligators and turtles.
1911 Historic City Hall
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lake Charles’ 1911 Historic City Hall is a former government building that found new life as a public art gallery and cultural facility in 2004. The group enjoyed the historic architecture of the building and browsed three floors of art exhibits, some of which highlight local artists.
In Oakdale, the Leatherwood Museum showcases all things Allen Parish. Housed in a 19th century home, this museum has exhibits on Mardi Gras, Zydeco music, natural history, Native American culture and the area’s role in military preparations for World War II.
Allen Parish Cultural Center
The Allen Parish Cultural Center in Kinder commemorates local citizens who have served the community and the country. Its Wall of Honor is a tribute to local veterans, accompanied by historic military uniforms, flags and other artifacts. After a brief tour, locals treated the group to a home-cooked dinner of gumbo and potato salad, accompanied by live Cajun music.
• Depart for Beauregard Parish
• First USO and War Room Museum
• Gothic Jail
• Wolf Rock Cave
• Lunch at Hazel’s Tea Parlor
• Gaines-Oliphint House
• Tour, dinner and overnight at Cypress Bend Resort
During the fourth day of the trip, travelers pressed deeper into No Man’s Land and learned more about the history of this region that went ungoverned for years in the 19th century. In DeRidder, they toured the first USO established in the country, followed by a historic jail built in Gothic style. Next, they enjoyed a short exploration at Wolf Rock Cave in Kisatchie National Forest, followed by lunch at the charming Hazel’s Tea Parlor in Leesville. From there, they traveled across Toledo Bend Lake and the state line to visit the Gaines-Oliphint House in Texas, before returning to Louisiana for a lovely afternoon and leisurely evening at the lakefront Cypress Bend Resort.
First USO and War Room Museum
In 1941, the first off-base USO in the country was opened in the Louisiana town of DeRidder to serve soldiers from nearby Fort Polk. Today, the building serves as a civic center and military museum. The FAM group learned about USO history and admired the building’s original furnishings and significant collections of weapons and other military equipment.
After many years as a “lawless” territory, No Man’s Land got some law and order with the 1914 construction of a jail in DeRidder. The only Gothic style jail in America, the structure is now open for tours. Guests enjoyed exploring the cells and hearing stories of former jailers and inmates who once inhabited the building.
Wolf Rock Cave
Near Leesville, Wolf Rock Cave in Kisatchie National Forest was used by early native people for generations and possibly later by smugglers transporting contraband through No Man’s Land. The FAM group got an introduction to the biodiversity of the forest from a park ranger and enjoyed the short walk through the woods to the mouth of the cave.
Barely across the state line in Milam, Texas, the Gaines-Oliphint House is the oldest standing hand-hewn log structure in the state, dating to 1818. This No Man’s Land structure was built by a private landowner and later restored by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1984.
Cypress Bend Resort
Situated on 400 acres on the shores of Toledo Bend Lake, Cypress Bend Resort features 905 guest rooms, a spa and an 18-hole golf course. The travel planners explored the hills and overlooks of the lakeside course on a golf cart caravan, then enjoyed a luxurious dinner in the resort pavilion, followed by after-dinner drinks and live fiddle music at the fire pit.
• Depart for Mansfield
• Mansfield State Historic Site
• Depart for Natchitoches
• Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site
• Lunch at Merci Beaucoup
• Cane River Queen
• Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum
• Dinner at Mariner’s Restaurant
• Cane River Brewing Company
The group continued northward on the fifth day, starting with a visit to a Civil War battleground at Mansfield State Historic Site. They spent the rest of the day in Natchitoches, a charming riverfront town, where they explored Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, took a river cruise aboard the Cane River Queen, and took in the exhibits at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum. After a waterfront dinner at Mariner’s Restaurants, some also toured and tasted at Cane River Brewing Company.
Mansfield State Historic Site
In June 1863, several Civil War battles raged in northwest Louisiana. Groups can learn about the Battle of Mansfield at Mansfield State Historic Site, which features a battlefield and visitors center. The group got a video overview of the battle, followed by a battlefield medicine demonstration in the site’s museum.
Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site
In 1714, a contingent of French soldiers set up Fort St. Jean Baptiste on the Red River in what is now Natchitoches. Today, Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site is a replica of the original fort, built with historic methods and tools. About 10 structures give visitors a glimpse of life at the fort, with costumed interpreters and live demonstrations.
Cane River Queen
The Cane River runs right through downtown Natchitoches, and a cruise aboard the Cane River Queen gives travelers the opportunity to experience the beauty of both the waterway and the architecture of the town alongside it. The one-hour cruise featured memorable scenery and historic narration. Sunset cruises and private charters are available for groups.
Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum
When it opened in 2013, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Nathcitoches was widely acclaimed for its architecture. Within its sweeping, contoured stone walls are exhibits honoring state sports legends such as Archie Manning and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as historic artifacts telling the story of the region’s past.
• Los Adaes State Historic Site
• Depart for Home
Before departing No Man’s Land, the group stopped at Las Adaes State Historic Site, where they learned a fascinating part of the story of No Man’s Land. In 1721, Spain built a small fort at this site to prevent French incursion into their territory. It became the site of significant cooperation between the Spanish, French and Native Americans who lived in the region. The FAM group enjoyed an outdoor breakfast at the site, accompanied by a historic lecture from a Native American woman who served homemade pork tamales.
After finishing breakfast and touring the historic site, the travel planners bid goodbye to No Man’s Land and began the journey back home, where they would begin planning return trips to introduce their travelers to this storied region of Louisiana.
For more information:
Louisiana Office of Tourism