The Lafayette area of Louisiana has quite a bit to offer in public natural areas, from wildlife preserves to state parks, but the privately owned Jungle Gardens on Avery Island is one of the best nature experiences in the region. You can’t go kayaking from its shore and it costs more than most other parks in the area but the gardens are pristinely maintained and open to all the animals that live in the area.
There are a few places to get out and walk around, some short trails to explore and a little history lesson as well. The property has been in the same family since the mid 1800s and maintained as if it was a giant private garden, as it once was for the family who long ago lived in a mansion there. Oaks that would have otherwise rotted and died decades ago flourish and Snowy Egrets and other creatures find the place a perfect place to nest.
The best part about it to me is that it’s not an “alligator farm” type experience where tourists come in and are gauranteed to see huge alligators battling over the meat they toss them. All the animals are wild and there of their own free will. I noticed some people complain about that fact in reviews, because they didn’t see an army of alligators just waiting to amuse them. We saw plenty of creatures and birds just by looking closer and getting out of the car (it would be easy for someone to just drive through the place in a few minutes and not see a thing, then complain about the price of the ticket). As soon as we came onto the island we saw a group of vultures, my second favorite bird, taking a break at some water. On the first trail we stopped at in Jungle Gardens we saw several Orb Weaver spiders, a frog and the back end of a turtle diving into the algae. We then saw a Great Blue Heron, a juvenile alligator, lots of little Anole lizards, and a giant flock of Snowy Egrets. I can bet that at no time are all of these creatures missing from the park at once. Even without the myriad of creatures, the oaks themselves are breathtaking, covered in spanish moss, their branches crawling for dozens of feet across the ground and into the sky…pretty great.
The only complaint I have about the park is the Buddha statue that seems to be a main attraction (inside the pagoda in the photos below). It’s 900 years old and was apparently acquired by the owners after having been stolen from China and shipped to New York in the 1920s. I think the proper behavior when you find out that you own a stolen item is to return it to its owners (at least a Chinese museum), not just say “their loss!” and put it in your for profit attraction. Maybe that’s just my personal opinion but that seems like the “cool/ethical” thing to do *hint,hint owners of Jungle Gardens*.
Overall I would recommend anyone in the area to visit the gardens, with the optional tour of the Tabasco factory on the way out. Then, just hop on over to Lake Fausse Point State Park afterwards for some canoeing or hiking (bring bug spray)!