Leave your phone at home (or at least stow it away in your pocket), and remove your earbuds. You’ll need to direct your attention to the steps you’ll be taking over tree roots, along bayou banks, and across bridges.
Research shows that walking — particularly in environments dominated by nature — not only has a positive effect on the body but also on the mind. Take some time to stroll through some of New Orleans’ most scenic environments to decompress and remind yourself of the beauty that exists all around. We promise you will not be sorry.
City Park’s Couturie Forest, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago, is making a comeback as nature is wont to do. This 60-acre swath in the heart of New Orleans offers visitors trails, scenic waterways, and birdwatching. Couturie Forest also features educational stations introducing visitors to the names of the trees that make up this special ecosystem (actually, it is eight distinct ecosystems!).
Climb to the highest point in the whole city on Laborde Mountain — 43 feet above sea-level. Bring your binoculars for a walk along the trail, and spend a day immersed in this local gem. Couturie Forest is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (during daylight savings time).
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park combines art with nature. More than five dozen sculptures by artists from around the globe dot the five-acre outdoor museum. Mature trees draped in Spanish moss and tranquil lagoons offer a peaceful retreat, while the sculptures provide additional stimulation.
Spend an afternoon weaving through the sculptures and enjoying another resource that City Park has to offer. The Sculpture Garden is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Escape the chaos of Uptown by stepping through Audubon Park’s great pillars on St. Charles Avenue. Gorgeous trees greet visitors immediately, with a lake and Bird Island beyond. Children toss food into the water, and ducks beat their legs under the surface to scoop up their treats. Dogs and joggers pass by on the ring that circles the park.
Spend some time visiting the Tree of Life, a massive oak tree with sweeping branches, near where Annunciation Street meets the park. Not far from the Tree of Life near where Laurel Street meets the park, one can find the Labyrinth, a place for walking meditation. The Labyrinth is surrounded by benches marked with thoughtful quotes such as, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” by Mary Oliver. Audubon Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reconnecting New Orleanians with the Mississippi River– the raison d’être for the city in the first place– has been decades in the making. Beginning with the Moon Walk in the 1970s, Crescent Park is the latest effort to give people greater access to the river. Located in the Bywater neighborhood, Crescent Park offers landscaped paths, a dog run, and unparalleled views of the Mississippi and Downtown. Crescent Park is marked by its iconic, rust-colored bridge arching over the railroad tracks and flood wall. Take some quiet time to reconnect with the river: you might catch a whiff of coffee mingled with seawater or hear the waves from the wake of a passing tugboat lapping against the store. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 pm (during daylight savings time).
Developed where an old railroad, and previously a canal, cut through the heart of the city, the Lafitte Greenway is a 2.6-mile pedestrian and bicycle path and green corridor. This rails-to-trails project extends from the intersection of N. Alexander and St. Louis streets in Mid-City to Basin Street and St. Louis Street in Tremé.
In addition to the path, the Greenway includes fields, green space, and native landscaping. It is also compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. Take a chance to explore a part of New Orleans that had previously been largely off limits: the Lafitte Greenway is open 24 hours a day and is fully lit with energy-efficient trail lights.
Louis Armstrong Park, named for one of the most famous jazz musicians to come out of New Orleans, is a less-explored area with surprising beauty. Cypress trees and others clump around lagoons that snake through the park, while sculptures celebrate the jazz that was born from slaves in Congo Square, now part of the park. Take a thoughtful stroll to remember the history of the site– much of which has been erased and replaced (the home in which Louis Armstrong grew up was demolished to make room for the park). Armstrong Park is open from dawn until dusk.
The breeze coming off of Lake Pontchartrain at the Lakefront is refreshing enough even on a hot day. Lake Pontchartrain began its formation 5,000 years ago, thanks to the Mississippi River’s meandering habits, eventually separating from the Gulf of Mexico. Lakeshore Drive hugs the edge of the lake in Lakeview, Gentilly, and surrounding neighborhoods and offers pedestrians (and bicyclists) front-row seats to the sights, sounds, and smells of this estuary. Plan your walk for sunrise or sunset to enjoy the sun’s colors reflecting off the lake and backlit clouds in the wide open skies.
Bayou St. John
Historically, Native Americans and then-Europeans used Bayou St. John as a trade route. Today, this natural body of water that flows through the Faubourg St. John neighborhood is a locals’ favorite recreational waterway. On a sunny day, one can see kayaks and canoes paddling up and down the bayou as well as pelicans making dramatic dives into the water to scoop up a snack. The bayou extends from Lake Pontchartrain to the Lafitte Greenway. Traipse along the grassy banks to enjoy the view of the bayou as well as other sights like City Park, the Pitot House, and the pedestrian Magnolia Bridge — perfect for a stroll.