Once you've gotten your fill of the French Quarter, sampled the Big Easy's culinary spread and soaked in New Orleans' art scene, get outside and enjoy some of the region's natural attractions. From casual strolls to intensive hikes, from fishing to biking, Nawlins has just what you're looking for when it comes time to take in some fresh air.
1. Cruise City Park Botanical Gardens: Located in the Northern part of town, City Park is possibly the most convenient and varied of all New Orleans' outdoor excursions. In addition to hosting to the Besthoff Sculpture Gardens Bryan Batt mentioned, the Park's home to spectacular botanical and Japanese gardens, awe-inspiring oak trees and over 2,000 species of plants, most of them local, and tennis courts, too. While hurricane Katrina destroyed most of the park's plant life, the park, like New Orleans itself, rebuilt and regrew and is definitely worth a bus ride uptown. Fun fact: City Park, organized by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, was the city's first public park.
2. All About The Audubon Institute: If want to see a lot but don't want to wander too far from town, check out the sea life and winged wonders at the Audubon Nature Institute's aquarium and butterfly garden on Canal Street. Then, once you've gotten your fill, hop on the Number 11 bus and head across town to the Audubon Zoo, where land beasts like rhinos and gorillas await.
3. Get Wild in the Wet Lands: About an hour outside of town, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, you'll find one of New Orleans' vast wetlands, Big Branch Marsh. Unfortunately for backpackers, the hikes at such places are pretty tame. The Big Branch Marsh's trail is 4.5 miles, which can be done on foot or bike, while closer to town the Fontainebleau State Park has an easy 4.8 mile hike near what was once Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville's sugar plantation. The real attractions at Big Branch and Pontchartrain's other refuges are fishing and, if you don't mind paddling, sign up for one of the historic canoe tours based out of nearby LaCombe. They're only $10, so definitely within a budget-conscious traveler's reach.
4. Fly Over The Water: If you want a more natural environs in which to view the gators, water snakes and other fierce creatures that call the bayou home, sign up for one of the many air boat excursions. Prices vary — one of the more popular companies, Louisiana Tour Company, has rates as low as $54 if you're able to drive to their dock — and tour times depend on the season and weather, but there are few places like Louisiana's wet lands and this is an adventure worth pursuing. And, as an added bonus, it requires little to no physical activity. You know, should you be recovering from the night before…
5. Catch A Big One: There's no shortage local fishermen more than happy to take city slickers out on Louisiana's bountiful waters. One, Bourgeois Tours, also offers seaplane outings for those who want to flee the at-times overcrowded lakes and rivers near New Orleans proper. Even if you just want to throw the fish back, why not try your hand throw out your line and see what you catch? Isn't that what traveling is all about?
6. Scale Alligator Ranch: Gators hold a place of prestige in the New Orleans court. From beer mugs to handbags to menus, alligators show up around every corner in the Big Easy, but they're especially revered at the Insta-Gator Alligator Farm, where visitors can get up close and personal with these freshwater beasts, and their babies, too, while also learning about the working farm's day-to-day activities. Just don't get too attached to the little guys. As the farm says, this is where the gator goes from hatchling to handbag.
7. A Potpourri At Jean Lafitte National Park: Made up of six separate sites near New Orleans, and named after a French pirate who set up shop in the Mississippi Delta, the Jean Lafitte National Park mixes the business of history with the pleasure of hiking. Though the trails are less strenuous, they can be spliced together for longer excursions, while canoe tours can be had at the nearby Barataria Preserve and the Calmette Battlefield gives viewers a peak into how the land was used during the War of 1812.
8. Drive Up To De Soto National Forest: Those with a car and about 2 hours on their hands should consider crossing state lines to visit Mississippi's De Soto National Forest. With over trails of various lengths — the Long Leaf Horse trail can be done in 6, 11 or 25 mile expeditions— De Soto's solid ground offers great hiking for those who want to avoid roving alligators.
9. Sail Away To Ship Island: Another attraction just across the border, Ship Island (pictured above) is actually two islands, Fort Massachusetts and West Ship Island, where visitors can enjoy a day of sunbathing in the gulf. Ship Island Excursions offers almost-daily trips for $27 roundtrip. And, yes, there is food on the island.
10. Hell On Two Wheels: One of the most frequently used, and underrated, parks in New Orleans is really a thoroughfare, Tammany Trace. Made up of twin paths, one paved, one dirt, the 28-mile Tammany Trace hosts daily commuters who bike to work through the wildlife preserve and thousands more pedestrians who come here to for a flat-surface jog or, less frequently, a horseback ride. If you're an avid bike rider who simply has to hit the road, this is the place to build up some speed and work off your itch.