The Mississippi River is the heart and soul of most of Louisiana, and a road trip along its banks is a great way to experience the history and charm for which the state is known. Ancient oaks, sweeping river views and centuries of history are waiting to be discovered along the way, making it a trip that's rich in excitement and Southern hospitality. Plus, any trip that ends in New Orleans is bound to be unforgettable!
Learn about Louisiana's biggest agricultural crop at the Louisiana State Cotton Museum. The museum is free to the public, and hosts a score of intriguing exhibits, including farming equipment, life-sized dioramas, a replica gin house and even a "juke joint.” Kids will love the hands-on displays, like the cotton gin that lets them practice separating cotton from the seeds. The grounds are a beautiful sight to see, with a small town of old plantation buildings, including a church and a traditional sharecropper's cabin. This is a wonderful place for all ages to learn about Louisiana's agricultural history.
The only World Heritage Site in Louisiana, Poverty Point State Historic Site is a must-see on your road trip. The site features earthen architecture constructed by a society of hunter-gatherers between 1650 and 1100 B.C. The earthworks consist of six rows of ridges and five historic mounds—all estimated to have taken more than five million hours of labor to build. The park is open year-round and offers an interpretive museum, a three-mile hiking trail around the grounds and even tram tours on Wednesdays through Sundays.
Created by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, Grant's Canal is a piece of history that you won't want to miss. The canal was created in order to alter the course of the Mississippi River to allow Union soldiers to bypass gunshots from the Confederates during the Battle of Vicksburg, as well as to keep troops occupied in monotonous downtimes. Although the canal was never completed, it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Union troops. The canal is located in Vicksburg National Military Park, a preservation of the site of the Battle of Vicksburg.
Located in Ferriday, the Delta Music Museum offers exhibits about 16 blues and rock ‘n’ roll musicians from the Mississippi River Delta region, including Conway Twitty and Fats Domino. The museum is housed in an old post office, so the building itself has a rich history in the community. Visitors can opt for either a guided tour or roam the exhibits on their own. The museum is only open Wednesday through Friday but admission is free—it relies on souvenir sales to stay open, so stock up!
Follow a journey from past to present at Frogmore Cotton Plantation & Gins. The plantation allows you to see how cotton farming worked in the early 1800s all the way up to today, since farming is now computerized and highly efficient. You will learn about the culture of cotton farming and the customs of the enslaved, hear their music and view the old slave quarters and the gin equipment. The plantation has been featured in many magazines and documentaries, so you won't want to miss this one!
Home to the longest-running prison rodeo in the United States, the Angola Prison Rodeo is a unique way to spend your weekend. Every Sunday in October, thousands of visitors flock to Angola to watch the rodeo. Prisoners run the concession stands, often using family recipes to create the food that is up for sale. They also have an arts and crafts fair that allows prisoners to sell their wares. All proceeds from the rodeo go back to the self-sustaining penitentiary, helping to remove the taboo associated with prisons in American society.
The last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, Port Hudson State Historic Site is an important Civil War-era site. The port withstood a 48-day Union siege, with no reinforcements. It was also famous for being the spot where African American soldiers in the U.S. Army participated in a battle for the first time. The site has plenty of things for visitors to do, including a six-mile hiking trail, and if you happen to be visiting in March, you might be lucky enough to catch a re-enactment.
After surviving a bombing, assassination and many political fiascos, the Louisiana State Capitol has countless secrets to tell. Located in downtown Baton Rouge, the building has a wonderful observation deck on the top floor that allows you to see the entire city and stunning views of the Mississippi River. Tours are free, and even allow you to glimpse the bullet holes left from when Governor Huey Long was fatally shot. After touring the building, walk around the grounds and take in the beauty of the lush lawn and gardens.
A treasure of Gothic architecture, the Old State Capitol is not only an important historic site for the city but a prime photo op as well. Standing as a testament to active citizenship and strong leadership, it has withstood fire, war and even the occasional political fistfight. The building houses a museum with important historical documents and artifacts from the state's past. Visitors can't miss the Ghosts of the Castle show, which explores the history of the building itself.
Serving as an important transport route in the early 1700s, the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site has seen a multitude of boats pass through its waters. The lock was built by Colonel George W. Goethels, who went on to become the chief engineer for the famed Panama Canal lock. The site is home to a lock house museum that has information about the lock and the area's history. Admission is $4 per person and free for children 12 and under.
Located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is yet another wonderful stop on your historic Louisiana tour. Here, you can see what it was like to be a wealthy sugar baron in the 1800s and take a look at what people call the "crown jewel of Louisiana's River Road." The house is home to a lavish bed-and-breakfast, where you can wake up feeling like the plantation is your home. There are also four separate restaurants for you to choose from, as well as a famous Sunday brunch with a Southern twist.
Lined with centuries-old oak trees, Oak Alley Plantation is a simply gorgeous place to learn about Louisiana's antebellum history. The oaks on the property were planted more than 300 years ago, though no one knows who planted them, or why. They were once used as a navigational tool by riverboats on the Mississippi River, but are now the perfect location for some amazing pictures. Admission to the plantation includes a guided tour of the main house, as well as the opportunity to tour the slave quarters and other buildings on your own. You can also take a walk along the pristine grounds to feel what it would have been like to live in another era.
Named after Andrew Jackson, president and hero at the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson Square is a timeless spot in the middle of New Orlean's French Quarter. The landmark is the focal point for many other area attractions, including the Louisiana State Museums and St. Louis Cathedral, as well as plenty of shopping. For more than 50 years, the square has been home to an open-air market with local artists selling their wares. This is one of the top destinations in the French Quarter, and there's a reason why!
With sprawling plantations, government secrets and ancient earthworks, Louisiana is full of interesting and surprising history. History buffs, culture geeks and photographers alike will rejoice on this trip down the Mississippi River. Roll down the windows, turn up the blues and enjoy the ride.