A Naturalist's Paradise

In West Feliciana Parish, unspoiled country beauty offers a restorative escape best experienced through birding, hiking, paddling, or cycling.

Since the first settlers arrived in West Feliciana Parish by way of the Mississippi River and the port community of Bayou Sara, the region has nurtured a reputation for its natural beauty and richly preserved history. Today, West Fel is a destination built around ecotourism, and embracing the outdoors through hiking, camping, birding, or cycling in the lush countryside surrounding St. Francisville, in the Tunica Hills and beyond.

Located north of St. Francisville, the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area is full of steep ravines, sandy bayous, and lots of interesting wildlife, as well as sweetgum and flowering dogwoods, and the occasional waterfall. Here you can hike the trails, or stop by Cross Creek Stables to traverse the Tunica Trace on horseback. Cyclists in particular make frequent use of the trails that snake through the sparsely populated backroads. 

Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal setting for bird watching, hiking, fishing, paddling, or setting sight upon the Champion Bald Cypress, reaching ninety-six feet in height and estimated to be 1,500 years old, one of the largest trees of any species east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The refuge is also home to two hiking trails—Blackfork and Big Cypress. Other area access points to nature include the Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve, which boasts a beech magnolia forest, flowing streams, and butterfly gardens.

Courtesy of the West Feliciana Tourist Commission

The unusual landscape offers an ecosystem that supports some species of flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the state. The Mississippi River carved this unique landscape of ridges and swales, cypress-tupelo swamps, meandering drains and backwater sloughs. These features, coupled with annual flooding, provide highly productive habitat for diverse wildlife, including backwater fisheries, migratory songbirds, wintering waterfowl, and the Louisiana black bear.

When a fire destroyed the Afton Villa plantation house in 1963, only the gardens survived—and today, thanks to an extensive restoration undertaken by Genevieve and Morrell Trimble in 1972, the Gardens at Afton Villa are among the most majestic and picturesque in the state. Today, the sprawling estate contains more than twenty acres of formal gardens, including a parterre garden, daffodil valley, and the famous ruins garden, which grows among the crumbling foundation of the former home. Each spring sees the bloom of the azaleas lining the entrance drive, forming a staggering archway of ethereal live oaks and bright blossoms, as if looking through the eyes of an impressionist painter.

Alexandra Kennon

For an immersive birding experience, look no further than Audubon State Historic Site. Anchored by Oakley Plantation, where famed artist and naturalist John James Audubon created a portion of his iconic Birds of America oeuvre in 1821. Time your visit on a fair weather day, and you'll find the same sense of preternatural beauty that inspired Audubon, who deemed the region his "Happyland" in a journal entry upon arrival. In spring, the song of birds—warblers and kites—reverberates throughout the woods. explorewestfeliciana.com.

Sponsored by the West Feliciana Tourist Commission

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