Hey, if you book through these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, I was offered these swamp tours on a complimentary basis for review purposes. Right, that's that out of the way. Let's get on with it!
The Best Swamp Tours in New Orleans: In Brief
1) Honey Island Swamp Tours (Dr Wagner's) - small boats, narrated visit, beautiful landscape. Twice daily hotel pickups and 3 to 4 tours per day, depending on the season.
2) Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours - this is one of the biggest companies in town and so availability is at its best here. They also offer night swamps and are great for families.
3) Combo Swamp Tour - spend half the day on the swamp and the other half sipping mint juleps in one of the plantation houses along the Great River Road.
Still wondering whether or not a swamp tour is worth it or not?
Let's have a little chat.
The Best Swamp Tours in New Orleans
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Why would you even want to go on a swamp tour?
New Orleans is famous for many things. Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and beignets from Cafe du Monde.
It's indisputable that this is one of the most fascinating cities in all of America. But why is it so unusual? In part the mix of cultures who settled here, and those who were brought here against their will.
And in part, the existence of swamps.
- Without the swamps, the French and Spanish settlers could have grown their "home" ingredients and Creole cuisine would never have been born.
- Without the swamps, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina would never have come about.
- And without the swamps and their slow and cool way of life, perhaps a whole different temperament would have developed in the Deep South.
A trip to the swamps makes New Orleans make sense.
And what's best of all? It's close to the city AND surprisingly pleasant to do.
What are swamp tours like?
Most swamp tours set off at a fixed time and take groups onto the water of the bayous around New Orleans (a bayou is a marshy outlet of a lake or river. You pronounce it BUY-oo.)
You can expect to be on the water for typically one to two hours. The water is calm and steady and it's fine to take children, as long as they won't lean over the sides.
There are alligators here (it is Louisiana) so both you and any kids need to be able to follow the safety instructions. But you shouldn't have to swim. If you do, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong ;-)
Typically the captain will give narrate as a tour guide over a loud speaker. You're on the lookout for wildlife, like swamp hogs, magnolia, herons, egrets and turtles.
The air is often cooler than elsewhere and there are surprisingly few bugs. It may be a wise idea to wear long sleeved tops and bring bus spray just in case, though.
Most swamp boats are small: don't expect to find a WC or cafe on board. Most places have these facilities before you board, though.
How far are the swamps from New Orleans?
Most swamp tours take place in either the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve or the curiously named Honey Island Swamp. Each are around 30-45 minutes from the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Make sure you leave time to check in and go to the toilet. If the boat leaves without you, it won't turn back! (Shh... In the interests of full disclosure, it did turn back for us but I was so embarrassed that I feel it my duty to make sure no one else is ever late again!)
How much time should you allow for a swamp tour?
Many tours run straight from New Orleans, picking you up at your hotel and returning you there afterwards. Most take around half a day, while others combine a swamp tour with avisit to one of the plantation houses on the Great River Road.
The advantage of booking your swamp tour this way is that it's easy. Simply wait in the hotel lobby. The disadvantage is the time spent waiting for other people to get on the bus.
I'm a big fan of road trips, and put together this itinerary on driving from New Orleans into Louisiana. I'd highly recommend booking a swamp tour on the first morning out of New Orleans, heading on to the Great River Road and staying in one of the plantation houses overnight.
What to bring with you on your swamp tour
- Long sleeved tops are ideal but not essential.
- Bug spray is wise but not always needed.
- Bring a hat for the sun.
- Bring drinking water.
What about air boat swamp tours?
Indulge your inner CSI Miami with an air boat trip. These are the smaller boats with a large, circular fan on the back and they can zip through the swamps at a faster pace than most boats (35 mph or so.) As they're smaller, they can also reach deeper into the bayous and can manage low tides better than the rest.
So where's the catch? Well, they're more expensive for one, and they're not suitable for everyone, for the other. Children under five, pregnant women and anyone with significant musculoskeletal problems shouldn't choose an airboat tour. I was hitting just about all three of these the last time I was in New Orleans, so I couldn't test them out.
Can I kayak through the swamps?
Erm, if you must! Kayak tours run through the swamps around New Orleans. I haven't tried them (alligator fear, unnecessary they say, but still.)
I have kayaked through the bayous in Florida (probably just as many alligators but I was ignorant at the time.) It's a beautiful, peaceful way to see the swamps.
You won't be able to cover as much ground but you will be able to appreciate the natural beauty so much more.
So, I haven't tested these guys out but let me know how you get on!
What about combo plantation and swamp tours? I really want to see Oak Alley Plantation!
I hear you! Oak Alley Plantation is absolutely amazing, though I'd also strongly recommend you hire your own car, take a road trip from New Orleans and visit the Whitney as well as more of the Deep South.
But if time is short, then a combo tour is the way to go. Swamp by morning, plantation tour by afternoon, back in the French Quarter for dinner in the evening.
More Travel Tips for New Orleans
- How to plan a New Orleans itinerary
- How to plan a New Orleans Road Trip
- Behind the Scenes: The Story of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World
Wear comfortable shoes and a comfortable waistband! New Orleans is a city for walking and a city for eating.
More About Travel in the United States
New Orleans ranks as one of the best places to visit in the US year after year.