Established in 1714 and located in Central Louisiana, Natchitoches (pronounced nack-a-tish, not na-chi-toch-es) is a gem of a historic city. The former French Colony has the old European architecture and charm you’d expect from New England’s most famous colonial cities. Natchitoches is not only known as the B&B capital of Louisiana, it’s also a swanky city with plenty of free things to go, see, and do.
Explore Cane River Creole Heritage at the National Historic Park
Discover over 300 years of Creole history and how it relates to Cane River at the National Historical Park. Visit, view, and tour the Oakland Plantation and Magnolia Plantation that are part of the beautiful, oak-tree studded park.
Learn what it means to be Creole and about the architecture of the buildings on the plantations’ properties (in addition to the main house, there is the overseers house, a store, and other original structures dating back to pre-Civil War era).
Take a Driving Tour of the Cane River National Heritage Trail
This meandering historic tour starts Cloutierville and takes you on a 35 mile or two hour discovery tour of Civil War and plantation history throughout the area. Follow the Oxbow lake, Cane River, and experience French architecture characterized by wrought iron works. View the 33 city blocks that comprise Natchitoches Historic District. Don’t be afraid to stop and explore as you ease down the road on a driving tour of the Cane River National Heritage Area.
Stroll Cane River Lake and Beau Jardin
Beau Jardin (or beautiful gardens) is a featured site within the Natchitoches Historic District off of Cane River Lake. Beau Jardin features an elegantly stunning rock water feature surrounded by winding stairs and lush, vibrant lawn and fauna. It’s a picture-perfect site for a stroll, as well as a picnic.
Pop into the Pocket Parks
While you’re walking around downtown, don’t miss the pocket parks located throughout the city.
- Susan Harling Robinson Memorial Park on the corner of Cypress Avenue and Pine Street
- Jefferson Street Park on the corner of Jefferson Street and Keyser Avenue
- Olive’s Garden located behind the Samuel Guy House
- Mildred H. Bailey Memorial Park located behind the house on 550 Second Street
- NSU Park on the corner of University Parkway and 2nd Street
Each of these hidden gems has something unique to offer. For example, dedicated in 2014 after the Steel Magnolia playwriter’s death, Susan Harling Robinson Memorial Garden features brick pathways and a fountain which provide a lovely respite in the historic district.
Window shop at Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile
While the wares aren’t free, there’s no charge to walk in and look around at Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, Louisiana’s oldest general store. Merchandise such as hardware, housewares, cookery and kitchen supplies, toys, and other gifts are old-timey and delightfully nostalgic. The original freight elevator is still in operating order, and the 1910 cash register tallies up every sale.
Look over the Bluff at Grand Ecore Visitors Center
Possibly the coolest visitors center around, Grand Ecore overlooks the Red River discovered by DeSoto. Get a stunning bird’s eye view from the 80-foot high bluff that overlooks the river. Stroll the walking trail to get a first-hand peek at Civil War entrenchments, and learn about the role that the Corps of Engineers play in developing, preserving, and enhancing the region’s aquatic resources.
Venture into the Kisatchie National Forest
The Kisatchie National Forest is Louisiana’s only national forest. Broken into five ranger districts, the forest covers over 604,000 acres and covers seven parishes. The Kisatchie Ranger District covers 12 miles of wilderness hiking trails, 20 miles of canoeing down Kisatchie Bayou, as well as 50 miles of multiple-use trails and a 17-mile scenic byway. Experience the sweeping vista views and discover why locals refer to the Longleaf Vista Recreation Area as the Little Grand Canyon. Hike, bike, walk, canoe, or take a horseback ride in the park.
Experience the divinity of the Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception
Minor Basilicas are distinct for their historic and architectural value as well as the necessity that they celebrate the liturgical year’s feasts. Minor Basilicas are considered the Pope’s Church and are therefore very valued. Attend Mass at the Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception or visit the church to learn about its architectural and historical significance.
Discover the legacy of the St. Augustine Catholic Church
Established over 250 years ago by gens de couleur libre (free people of color), European settlers of the French Louisiana colony established the St. Augustine Church. Explore the cultural history of this important church, located along the Cane River National Heritage Trail. The church’s bell tower bell is the original bell from the early church structure.
Take the Walk of Honor
Located at 145 Rue St. in downtown Natchitoches, the Walk of Honor honors movie stars as well as other entertainers, artists, athletes, and individuals of cultural significance who have brought honor to Natchitoches. The commemoration is set in a marble fleur de lis set in the sidewalk.
Free festival fun
Even if you’ve never been to Louisiana, you’ve heard of Mardi Gras. Well, Mardi Gras isn’t the only party to be had in the great state of Louisiana; however, as implied by the famous carnival, it does show that folks in Louisiana love to get together and celebrate everything. There are more festivals than one can shake a stick at in Natchitoches, but these are a few that really get everyone going (so stop by!):
- Bloomin’ on the Bricks in March
- Green Market in April through July (Saturday mornings)
- Celebration on the Cane, July 4
- Meat Pie Festival in September (Natchitoches is world-famous for their meat pies, and meat pies are recognized as a Louisiana State official food)
- Natchitoches ‘50s Car Show in September
- Les Amies Arts and Crafts Show in November
- Fleur de Lis Arts and Crafts Show in November
- Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights Display from early November through early January
It should be added that Christmas Festival of Lights is over 90 years old, making it the state’s oldest Christmas event. This even of the year festivity summarizes what Natchitoches is all about … history, culture, aesthetics, architecture, spirit, nature, community, and of course, the Cane River, where it all started and where the action takes place.