The 19 Best New Orleans Outdoor Activities: A Local’s Guide

Last updated on June 26th, 2024 at 12:41 pm

Ashley Bunge
Latest posts by Ashley Bunge (see all)
Disclaimer

Greetings! I’m Ashley, a friend of Cindy’s, and I have lived in New Orleans for thirteen years.

I am a location manager and scout in the film industry. In 2011, I moved from Michigan to work in Louisiana, also known as Hollywood South. I’ve had amazing opportunities to work on films like ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ and TV series like Showtime’s ‘Your Honor.’

My career has provided me with the good fortune of exploring and photographing the fascinating nooks and crannies of the city, from scenic parks and expansive homes on St. Charles Avenue to rustic cane fields and beautiful communities on the outskirts of town. 

Cindy and Ashley in New Orleans

The city’s location at the mouth of the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico has provided New Orleans with influences ranging far and wide over its three-hundred-year history, and no corner is like another. There’s no place in the States quite like it, with its array of architecture, spectacular music scene, and food culture that will knock your socks off.

I can tell you that while the French Quarter draws a lot of tourism and attention when thinking of NOLA (not to mention the party time of Mardi Gras season), there are also oodles of New Orleans outdoor activities to enjoy!

What follows is my insider insight into the fabulous outdoorsy adventure options I’ve discovered while living here!

Fun Active Things to Do in New Orleans

There are several excellent options for entertainment and enjoyment in the fresh air in and around New Orleans!

What Types of Recreation are Available in or Near New Orleans?

Lots! Whether you prefer to tour the many swamps in the area, hop on a double-decker bus and take in the sights downtown and uptown, or spend a relaxing day playing golf, you’re sure to have a wonderful experience and see why we’re such a popular destination.

The awesome activities I’m sharing today are all in town or within about an hour of the city. So, let’s get to it! 

The Best Outdoor Activities to Do in New Orleans

What follows is a list of the best outdoor activities New Orleans has to offer!

1. Enjoy NOLA Parks

Checking out some of our parks is a great way to start a vacation! 

Audubon Park in NOLA

Audubon Park, nestled deep uptown across from the gorgeous campuses of Tulane and Loyola Universities, is a tranquil sanctuary with a two-mile walking, biking, and skating path beneath century-old oak trees. Exercise stations line the walking path to keep your fitness routine pumping while visiting, or if you’d rather have a relaxing day, take a seat on a bench by the Olmstead Lagoon and observe the different species of birds that reside on Bird Island.

The city’s zoo, Audubon Zoo, is also part of the park, as is the local’s beloved “Fly,” with baseball fields and a relaxing view of the Mississippi, perfect for a sunset picnic. 

City Park in New Orleans
City Park / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

Mid City boasts the largest park in town, City Park, which is larger than Central Park in New York City! The expansive property has swan boats to rent on Big Lake, botanical and sculpture gardens, a putt-putt golf course, and the Carousel Gardens amusement park that opens for various holidays. There are also tennis courts, 24 miles of scenic hiking trails, a stadium, and a Cafe Du Monde cafe to nibble on beignets in a beautiful setting after a long day of sightseeing in the park. 

Woldenberg Park in New Orleans
Woldenberg Park / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

If venturing to the French Quarter, walk along the Mississippi River at Woldenberg Park. The park stretches along N Peters St, where you can watch barges travel up the river and get an elevated view of Jackson Square and the architecture lining the street. The park also hosts many live shows and festivals filled with local music and gorge-worthy grub, so double-check your calendars and see if you can join the festivities!

2. Explore via Bike

Over the last several years, the city has ramped up efforts to provide bike paths along major thoroughfares, and biking around New Orleans is a fantastic way to explore the city! 

Blue Bike rentals are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. There are hundreds of stations around the city where you can swipe a credit card and rent the bikes by the minute, then drop them to other stations when you’re done. They’re also electronic, so you can coast and take a break from pedaling when needed. 

Lafitte Greenway is a popular biking destination, with a smooth path stretching from Louis Armstrong Park at the edge of the French Quarter to Bayou St. John. If distance is preferred, try the Mississippi River Trail! It’s a paved path that stretches 60 miles along the levees of both banks and has superb views and lots of sunshine.

You can also take a day trip to the Northshore across Lake Pontchartrain for more rustic bike paths with different foliage and wildlife. There are also trailheads in Slidell, Lacombe, Fontainebleau Park, and Mandeville, all about forty minutes from New Orleans.

3. Go Hiking Near New Orleans

If you prefer to wander on foot, New Orleans has many lovely hiking trails nearby! 

new orleans outdoor activities: Couterie Forest
Couterie Forest / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

City Park’s Couterie Forest is 60 acres of native trees and waterways and is a favorite spot for birdwatching. It also holds the highest point of elevation in our low-lying city, Laborde Mountain, at a whole twenty-seven feet of elevation above sea level. This is a fantastic spot for a relaxing day of hiking in the shade beneath the trees. 

new orleans outdoor activities: Barataria Preserve
Barataria Preserve / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

For a more marshy experience, head thirty minutes southeast of New Orleans to the Barataria Preserve in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve!  This 26,000-acre preserve has a boardwalk through marshes, swamps, and forests filled with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities. There is a high likelihood of seeing several alligators in warm weather, and it is an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Bonnet Carre Spillway in New Orleans for hiking
Bonnet Carre Spillway / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

There’s also the Bonnet Carre Spillway, used for controlling flood waters in the Mississippi River, which has 5.2 miles of hiking trails in a unique setting that doesn’t look quite like any other trails in the area. It’s situated thirty minutes West of New Orleans. It is great for a day of hiking in an expansive region that is a crucial feature of the city’s infrastructure. It is popular for hiking and mountain biking, has a hidden cemetery dating back to the Civil War, and paths beneath the industrial train tracks hauling supplies to and from the city.

4. Golf for the Afternoon

New Orleans has quite the golf scene, with numerous courses in the area. Under the mossy oak trees uptown, Audubon Park Golf Course has 18 holes for the more competitive crowd.

In contrast, City Park’s Bayou Oaks Course is perfect for players of all experience levels. It is the only 36-hole course in New Orleans!

On the Westbank and under thirty minutes away from downtown, the English Turn, Stonebridge, and Timberlane golf courses provide avid golfers with picturesque settings and a different feel than those in the parks in town. 

5. Go Kayaking, Paddleboarding, or Canoeing

Bayou St. John Kayaking in New Orleans
Bayou St. John Kayaking / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

A wonderful time can be spent on the waters of New Orleans!

Bayou St. John in Mid City is easily accessible from several spots. Bayou Paddlesports offers rentals of kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards for two to four hours at a time. Visitors can paddle all the way to the lakeshore of Lake Pontchartrain or take in views of the beautiful neighborhoods along the serene water. 

For a truly special experience, the sunken Fort Proctor is located in St. Bernard Parish, which can only be reached by boat. Kayakers can traverse the canals of Lake Borgne out to the submerged Fort and hop out and explore the Fort to their heart’s content.

6. Learn to Sail

Canal boats take leading to Lake Pontchartrain
Canal Leading to Lake Pontchartrain / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

If you love being on the water, why not learn the fundamentals of sailing while in New Orleans? Community Sailing New Orleans offers courses that teach you the basics of sailing out on Lake Pontchartrain.

The expansive lake is a hub for all kinds of watersports, and there are fabulous food options on the lakeshore to finish your day.

7. Play some Disc Golf

New Orleans and its surrounding areas boast six disc golf courses that can be enjoyed year-round. These courses provide an experience unique to New Orleans, allowing players to immerse themselves in the beauty of oak and cypress trees while they play.

Some of my favorite courses are the disc golf course in City Park, the Parc Des Families course, and the 21-hole course at Lafreniere Park in Metairie!

8. Opt for Horseback Riding

Perhaps you love horses? Well, New Orleans also has quite an affinity for their horses.

Locals like myself recommend skipping the kitschy downtown carriage ride and instead opting for trail rides or lessons in one of our beautiful parks!

Your best options within the New Orleans area are Cascade Stables, which provides trail rides in Audubon Park, and Equest Farm, which offers lessons in City Park.

Riding along the levees is also quite popular, and it’s not uncommon to see horses trotting along the smooth paths surrounding the Mississippi River.

9. Zipline Above a Swamp

For a truly unique way to see the New Orleans skyline while also getting your adrenaline pumping, check out Zip NOLA’s fully aquatic swamp zipline tour. (It’s the first of its kind in the world!)

This zipline tour provides a fantastic way to see Lake Ponchartrain, Maurepas Swamp, and the alligators, snakes, and boars within it, all from the tippie tops of the cypress trees on their ziplines and suspension bridges.

10. Outdoor Escape Game

An enticing way to explore the city is guaranteed when you check out Questo’s Outdoor Escape Game tours! With options ranging from a typical French Quarter tour that dives into the very haunted past of the city to a walk around the city park, guests solve puzzles and riddles to unlock local stories.

Each tour shows off a variety of historical spots, and since it’s a self-guided tour, you can take it at your own pace and pop into shops, galleries, or cocktail bars along the way.

11. Cruise the Mississippi River

A fabulous choice for sightseeing along the river is on one of the city’s steamboats! 

Steamboat Natchez

On Board Steamboat Natchez in NOLA
Steamboat Natchez / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

The sounds of Steamboat Natchez’s calliope can be heard around the French Quarter and lures you to where it’s docked at Woldenberg Park.

In operation since 1975, it has four times to choose from for a two-hour tour along the Mississippi, with two of the time slots offering a festive meal accompanied by a traditional jazz band.

Paddlewheeler Creole Queen

Paddlewheeler Creole Queen

The Creole Queen is a luxurious choice for a paddlewheel excursion along the Mississippi. Being the largest vessel of its kind in the city, it has three dining rooms and a shaded deck to relax on while enjoying the views.

They also offer themed rides for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, as well as a Princess Tiana ride for those who love Princess and the Frog as much as I do! 

12. Visit a State Park

Louisiana has several state parks to choose from for a venture away from town and into nature. Just across the 30-mile Causeway Bridge is Fontainebleau State Park, where guests can sit along the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain for picnics or fishing.

For a trek into swampier areas, Bayou Segnette State Park has miles of trails for walking and biking amongst the wetlands and a serene scene for fishing.

Meanwhile, the Bogue Chitto State Park offers a variety of water recreation along the river, such as tubing, kayaking, and canoeing, for all you water enthusiasts. 

13. Visit a Sculpture or Botanical Garden

The Botanical Gardens in NOLA'S City Park
Botanical Gardens / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

With its tropical climes, New Orleans has a splendid garden scene bursting with colorful flowers and scenic fountains.

A lovely afternoon can be spent in City Park’s Botanical and Sculpture Gardens, just across the street from each other. There are often live events in the Sculpture Garden, from movie screenings to Shakespeare performances and live music.

Just down the road from City Park, Longue Vue Gardens was formerly a private residence that was bequeathed in the 80s to become a museum and public garden. Tours of the house and garden offer a historical glimpse into a bygone era and should not be missed! 

14. Swamp Tours

Honey Island Swamp
Honey Island Swamp / Photo credit: Ashley Bunge

The Crescent City is surrounded by Wetlands in every direction, so there is no shortage of options for swamp tours nearby!

Cajun Encounters in Slidell is a wonderful company providing tours through watery forests of cypress trees in the Honey Island Swamp. If you don’t have a car for your trip, the company has bus pickups from several hotels in the city to get you out to their landing.

There are also tours through the backcountry of Louisiana in the Jean Lafitte Swamp, about half an hour south of the city. Cruising along the waters, you’re almost guaranteed to see turtles sunbathing along fallen trees and, of course, lots of alligators!  

15. High-Speed Airboat Ride

If you’re an adrenaline junkie with a need for speed, kick up your swamp tour with a fan-propelled airboat! Tours are offered in most of the swamps in the area, and guests can expect to zip across the smooth swampy waters at up to 35 MPH.

Airboat Adventures in Lafitte and Ultimate Swamp Adventures in Westwego are two top companies offering speedy tours around the wetlands.

Add a tour to your itinerary for the most exciting way to view Louisiana Nature. 

16. Pedal Barge

Yet another invigorating option for touring the swamps, New Orleans Pedal Barge offers party boat rentals to pedal alongside friends and loved ones and take in the sights.

There are varying vessel options and rental time frames, and full boat rentals are available if you want to bring a large group. Expect to create some wild stories aboard the hour-and-forty-minute tours with themes from tiki to karaoke and even laser tag! 

17. Plantation Tour

While most plantations in the city have been divided into smaller residential properties, New Orleans has a variety of plantations on the outskirts of town.

I recommend visiting the Whitney Plantation, which focuses on stories from the enslaved people who cultivated sugar, indigo, and rice over its 200-year history. It is a rare type of visit that is not common in most plantation tours and features sculptures and various artifacts that are on the historical registry. 

18. Walking Tour

New Orleans is a very walkable town, and several neighborhoods offer guided and self-guided walking tours that highlight the city’s diverse history.

There are, of course, several French Quarter walking tours, some focusing on the haunted history of the city and others on architecture.

There are also several tour companies that offer tours of the beautiful and historic homes of the illustrious Garden District.

Throw on some comfortable shoes and enjoy a relaxing day strolling through history!

19. Bus Tour

The Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour is another fabulous way to enjoy and explore New Orleans. The double-decker bus has pickup spots around the city, from the French Quarter to Uptown and Mid City.

Visitors can pick stops along the route and hop out at their leisure to explore such areas as Magazine Street, famous for its funky shopping and culinary scene, then hop back on and check out a new spot.

Pro Tip: This is a great option to combine with walking tours of the various colorful neighborhoods showcased in the city.

Where to Stay in New Orleans

Since New Orleans is such a popular tourist town, there are many choices for your stay in the city, whether in a hotel, bed and breakfast, or RV!

Where to Camp

This is the best local option for adventures who love to sleep under the stars:

Bayou Segnette State Park

The closest locale for camping near New Orleans is Bayou Segnette State Park, situated in Westwego on the city’s West Bank.

This is where Cindy stayed in her RV when she came to visit!

There are areas dedicated to camping in a tent or hooking up your RV, and it is a fabulous choice for those who want to visit and then have a restful time away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. 

Where to Stay in a Hotel

These are the best hotel options for adventurous New Orleans visitors who like to end their day on a comfy bed:

Budget Option: The Quisby

For those traveling to the city solo and hoping to meet some acquaintances, The Quisby is a trendy hostel on St. Charles Avenue, steps away from the historic streetcar line. Its prime location in the city’s hub makes it a popular budget-friendly spot for visitors, and its fun and funky decor keeps them coming back.

If you’re anything like me, the term hostel tends to hold some negative connotations, but rest assured, this is a highly rated option. Private rooms are available, and it’s a sure way to find some friendly people to adventure with!

Middle Option: The Barnett

The Barnett (previously known as the Ace Hotel), situated in the heart of the Central Business District and blocks away from the French Quarter, is a popular hotel with a slew of great amenities. It has a fantastic restaurant on the first floor (Josephine Estelle), a rooftop pool, and a lobby bar that hosts DJs and live music. There is also an art gallery attached to the stylish lobby as well as a coffee shop next door.

With all the area has to offer, the Barnett is an inviting choice for visitors to enjoy between activities.

Splurge Option: Omni Royal

The Omni Royal sits in the center of the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. It is a quintessential choice to experience the glamor of the neighborhood.

Their suites along Royal and St. Louis Streets offer picturesque views of the historic streets from their wrought iron balconies. Guests can also visit the Observation Deck on the rooftop for an even grander view of the entire Quarter.

An exquisite meal can be had at the first floor’s Rib Room, and its location puts you in the perfect area to peruse the glamorous shops and galleries along Royal Street.

Where to Rent a House

I also know some adventurers love to have a home they can return to at the end of a long day outdoors. Here’s where you should stay:

Lower Garden District

There is no shortage of fabulous house rentals in the city. Still, I’m partial to my own neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, as your choice of where to rent a house.

Its walkability to restaurants, cafes, shops, and above-ground cemeteries makes it a prime spot for home rentals and allows you to immerse yourself in a local neighborhood.

Where to Eat Outdoors in New Orleans

New Orleans boasts a delectable culinary scene, and given its mild temperatures for most of the year, we have an abundance of restaurants with outdoor seating options in beautiful locales to grab some grub.

Jazz Brunch at Court of Two Sisters

New Orleans is famous for its gorgeous courtyards, and a popular spot for visitors is the classic Court of Two Sisters restaurant in the French Quarter. It is situated amongst the shops and galleries of Royal Street and has a fantastic brunch buffet accompanied by local jazz music in a traditional French Quarter courtyard.

For the immaculate views you are afforded, the jazz brunch is only $36 for adults and $14 for children under twelve. It features a smorgasbord of local flavors, from gumbo and turtle soup to corn macque choux, and shrimp and grits. 

Lunch at Gris Gris

Chef Eric Cook previously worked as head chef at Dickie Brennan’s. He opened the neighborhood restaurant Gris-Gris in 2018 to wild acclaim. A New Orleans native who served in the Marines for six years, his menu of delicious Southern cuisine has been a staple in the Lower Garden District neighborhood with such favorites as chicken and dumplings and a fried oyster salad.

The corner restaurant has balcony seating under khaki umbrellas on the second floor, overlooking Magazine Street, and is the perfect spot to grab a bite before moseying down the street filled with unique shops and galleries.

Dinner at Tacos Del Cartel

Tacos Del Cartel recently opened its doors to the public and has quickly become a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, with its mouthwatering menu and Instagram-worthy decor.

Their outdoor seating in the Central Business District is laden with tropical plants, and their menu features elevated Mexican cuisine. For a showstopper of a meal, be sure to make a reservation at this glamorous spot! 

Insider Tips for Visiting New Orleans

Allow me to share a few pointers I wish I had known when planning my first visit here. 

⛈️ First and foremost, CHECK THE WEATHER! I foolishly came to New Orleans in February of 2010 for the first time, thinking the weather would be positively tropical. It was forty degrees, and I immediately had to shop for warmer clothing. On the other hand, it can get incredibly hot here in the summer. So if you’re traveling then, be sure to pack light, loose-fitting clothes and rain gear. 

🥾 Many hiking spots are near swamps, so boots are a good idea if you plan on doing some trekking. 

☀️ I strongly recommend wearing long-sleeved, light shirts and a hat for outdoor adventures, as the sun here can do a number on your skin in a very short time. Be sure to pack sunscreen!

🦟 You should also be prepared with bug spray, as the city is very buggy, and mosquitoes just love the humid temperatures of the swamp. 

What is the #1 Attraction in New Orleans

WWII Museum NOLA Exhibit

According to Tripadvisor, the National WWII Museum in the Warehouse District is the #1 tourist attraction to visit in New Orleans, and for good reason. Since its establishment as the D-Day Museum in 2000, it has grown substantially, now encompassing multiple buildings with diverse exhibits that explore various facets of the war.

The museum features halls dedicated to the European, Pacific, and Home fronts, an immersive submarine exhibit, and a captivating 4D movie presentation. Be sure to allocate plenty of time for your visit, as it can take one to two days to fully explore everything the museum offers!

Summary: Outdoor Activities in New Orleans

This has been a consolidated list of your choices for adventure while in New Orleans!

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a bit obsessed with my city. My little metropolis tends to surprise people with its ability to highlight a city’s culture while being close to various aspects of nature.

I hope this article has helped you plan a visit to experience all that New Orleans has to offer and that you have a wondrous time while you’re here!

Once you arrive, you’ll be welcomed with open arms by the friendliest community I have met in the States.

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