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Explore some of Louisiana's Oldest and Richest History
A favorite among history buffs, The Cane River National Heritage Trail reveals some of central Louisiana less-often-seen beauty, and travelers will encounter not only lush countryside but also more than 30 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What's more, communities like Mansfield, Natchitoches, and Alexandria offer countless reasons to get out and stretch along the way.
Start in Mansfield. Just south of Shreveport, the small town is bursting with as much Southern hospitality as it is Civil War history.
Walk in the footsteps of a Civil War soldier when you visit the Mansfield State Historic Site. There you'll find a chance to see authentic Confederate artillery before exploring other points of interest like the General Alfred Mouton Monument and the “Spirit of the Confederacy” sculpture. To dig even deeper, check out the Mansfield Battlefield Museum, located on site.
Families traveling with kids might need to let them shake the ants out of their pants before a long car ride, and there's no better place for that in Mansfield than Playland Park. The mid-sized enclave features rolling green fields, an abundance of playground equipment, and plenty of picnic areas and barbecue pits where Mom and Dad can set up camp and cook up some lunch.
To sneak in a round before your cultural excursion, hit the Mansfield Golf & Country Club. The 9-hole, executive-style course is open to the public, challenging players with a par of 36.
Head southeast on Interstate 49 to reach Natchitoches, one of the oldest communities in the country and the oldest in the Louisiana Purchase. Keep an eye out for the town's European flair, evident in its architecture, heritage, and the local lifestyle.
There are almost too many must-see attractions in Natchitoches to squeeze into one day. If you're focus is on the historic, opt for the Cane River Creole National Historic Park, part of the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. There you'll find 67 historic structures exemplifying the French and Creole architecture particular to central Louisiana.
If your Christmas vacation steers you through Natchitoches, don't miss the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, a colorfully unique monthlong celebration starting the first Saturday of every December.
No matter what time you visit, make sure to browse local wares in the 33-block Natchitoches Historic District and don't leave town without tasting one of the famous Natchitoches Meat Pies at Lazyone's – the restaurant has been a local staple since the 1960s.
You're not too far from some ideal places to work a big meal off, either. The Cane River National Heritage Trail is a great place for a stroll amid some of the most beautiful, culturally rich architecture Louisiana has to offer.
Or if you'd rather take it all in from a comfy seat, board a Cane River Boat Tour and let Captain Tom be your guide.
Side Trip! Leesville and Deridder
Before making your way to Alexandria, take a detour south and explore the neighboring communities of Leesville and De Ridder, home to numerous historic attractions.
Leesville lays claim to the Museum of West Louisiana, a hidden gem showcasing an eclectic array of artifacts spanning the area's centuries-old, multicultural past.
De Ridder, just a few minutes south, boasts a large number of historic buildings, including the Beauregard Museum, the Beauregard Parish Courthouse, and the "Hanging Jail," where executions took place a century ago – and where, according to some locals, the ghostly spirits of those prisoners still lurk.
Head northeast for just over an hour to reach Alexandria and meet back up with the Cane River National Heritage Trail. Home to attractions like Louisiana State University at Alexandria, the city and its surroundings are considered the true heart of Louisiana and an arts and cultural haven.
Alexandria's contributions to the Cane River National Heritage Trail include the Bontemps African American Museum, the Kent Plantation House, the Louisiana History Museum, and numerous other focal points.
Make sure to check the schedule at the Coughlin Saunders Performing Arts Center during your stop in Alexandria. The downtown landmark venues the home of the Rapides Symphony Orchestra and is known for hosting a variety of other first-rate live performances.
Once you and the family have packed just about all the history you can into one trip, check out the Alexandria Zoological Park and enjoy close-up looks at more than 500 animals, including everything from alligators and crocodiles to wolves, deer, and more.
To really venture out into the wild, head to Alexander State Forest, just minutes south of Alexandria. At the Indian Creek Recreation Area, located within the forest, you'll find ample opportunities for whitetail hunting, and well as fishing, boating, swimming, picnics, and more all year round.