Long before Europeans established La Nouvelle-Orléans, indigenous peoples native to the area went about their everyday lives in this swampy paradise. They discovered a practical trade route by using Bayou St. John, a natural, four-mile waterway that extended from Lake Pontchartrain, in tandem with a two mile land portage, or path, to the Mississippi River. European colonists and early Americans continued this practice.
Following the creation in the late 1700s of the Carondelet Canal, which essentially extended the length of the bayou closer to the river, Bayou St. John operated as a commercial waterway. Ultimately, the canal and Bayou St. John were overtaken by larger waterways, like the Mississippi River, more capable of handling larger ships. The City government ultimately filled in Carondelet Canal, but Bayou St. John remained. Today, Bayou St. John is a popular recreational area for locals and is designated a “Historic and Scenic River.” Spend a day along Bayou St. John being active, learning history, and indulging in local food with our itinerary below.
Blue Bike the Lafitte Greenway
After the Carondelet Canal was filled in, it became a railroad corridor and subsequently was redeveloped into the Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6 mile bike and pedestrian path. The Greenway begins at the back of the French Quarter at Basin Street and Lafitte Avenue and connects to the end of Bayou St. John. Get an early start to the day by stopping at Backatown Coffee Parlour for coffee and a baked good before picking up a Blue Bike, the city’s new bike share system. Blue Bikes are stationed throughout the city with the nearest station to the Greenway trailhead just a few blocks away at Basin and Bienville Streets. Ride the urban trail through the heart of the city until it meets the bayou where you’ll find another Blue Bikes station to return the bike.
Stroll to the Pitot House
On a sunny day, the grassy banks of Bayou St. John are undeniably one of the more pleasant places to spend some leisure time. Take a casual walk along the bayou passing charming homes, perhaps a pelican, and the Magnolia Bridge before arriving at the Pitot House. Constructed cerca 1799, the Creole colonial country house is open to the public for tours Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Spend 45 minutes learning about local history, architecture, the people who inhabited the house, and the building’s dramatic rescue from demolition in the 1960s.
Enjoy a po-boy
Parkway Bakery & Tavern makes some of the tastiest po-boys around. Try the classic roast beef with gravy or the smoked alligator sausage. Still hungry? Order a cup of the alligator sausage and stewed turkey gumbo and a bag of Zapp’s potato chips. Enjoy the ambiance of the restaurant, just a block from the bayou, or order take-out at the bar (don’t forget a beverage with a go cup), and have an impromptu picnic by the water.
Paddle the bayou
Keep your heart rate up and your sunscreen handy. Kayaks and paddleboats are available from local companies such as Bayou Paddlesports, which offers rentals from Thursday to Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from March through December. Paddle out toward Lake Pontchartrain, exploring the edge of City Park and catching a glimpse of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Alternatively, Kayak-iti-Yat offers a guided kayak tour of Bayou St. John that lasts two hours.
Rest and Refresh
After a full day of activity, what could be better than a drink in a laid-back neighborhood bar? Pal’s Lounge, two blocks from Bayou St. John’s edge, is a friendly dive bar with a solid drink list and outdoor seating. Happy hour is daily from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. If you are hungry for a snack, the bar rotates food options nightly. Pal’s is open until 4:00 a.m.
Lagniappe: Festing Along the Bayou
From May 18-20, Bayou Boogaloo takes over the banks, and waterway, of Bayou St. John. The festival features live, local music, food and drink vendors, an arts market, boat rentals, and more. If you are looking for a more laid back way to spend a day, listening to music at Bayou Boogaloo is the perfect way to do it. The festival is free until 3:00 p.m., after which there is a gate fee (Friday: $5, Saturday and Sunday: $10). Three-day wristbands are available for $20.
Over Labor Day weekend, from May 25-27, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral hosts the Greek Festival. Located where the bayou meets Robert E. Lee Boulevard, Greek fest features Greek food, music, Hellenic dancing, cathedral tours, toga wearing (on the Saturday of the festival), a market, and more. Canoe & Trail Adventures will be renting canoes at the fest for use along the bayou. Admission to the festival is $8, and children under the age of 12 enter for free.