Let’s be honest: New Orleans has a (well-earned) reputation for being a hub of incredible food, fascinating history, legendary live music, and, well, let’s just call it what it is — partying. But outdoor recreation? Not so much.
The Big Easy is indeed the destination for foodies, history buffs, music enthusiasts, and any sort of celebration. BUT there’s actually a lot more to this fantastic city, and one of the best ways to experience it all firsthand is simply getting outside.
Imagine passing some of the oldest and most impressive houses in NOLA in a kayak, biking through one of the largest parks in the entire country on a New Orleans pedal pub, or seeing an alligator up close. That’s all possible (and much more!) when you get out and try different New Orleans outdoor activities.
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A note on New Orleans weather
If you’re going to enjoy outdoor activities in New Orleans, there are a few things you should know about the weather. Like the fact that NOLA is the third rainiest city in the U.S. Yes, seriously — but for what it’s worth, we only saw rain twice in our four-day trip and both times it was short-lived.
Here are a few tips to ensure the unpredictable weather doesn’t ruin any of your planned New Orleans outdoor activities.
- Layering is key. In the span of just a few hours, you may experience cold, windy weather, rain showers, and calm, sunny skies. Wear layers! I’m a huge fan of having a men’s flannel shirt to easily throw on or take off.
- Bring a packable hooded rain jacket or an umbrella. Remember, it rains a lot.
- April, May, and October are the driest months in New Orleans, while the summer months are the rainiest.
Must-try New Orleans outdoor activities
Perhaps you prefer to relax on a boat, or maybe you’d rather get some heart-pounding cardio in. Maybe it’s a little of both. Whatever your style, these outdoor activities in New Orleans are sure to quench your thirst for adventure.
I obviously had to start this list of New Orleans outdoor activities with a swamp tour. If you’re anything like me, that’s what y’all want to hear most about anyway!
As you research New Orleans swamp tours, you’ll quickly realize there are a lot to choose from. However, they are not all created equal — not even close. I ultimately chose Beyond the Bayou Tours, which proved to be an excellent decision. Before I go any further, YES, we saw several alligators! And turtles and rare birds and even beavers!
Beyond the Bayou exclusively offers eco-tours, which means they have a minimal impact on the wildlife and environment. Think of it like the tourism version of Leave No Trace. In this instance, that minimal impact entails using custom flat-bottom boats that are safer for the delicate swamp ecosystems.
Another way Beyond the Bayou sets itself apart from other swamp tour outfitters is that they don’t feed or bait alligators in any way. I kind of knew, in the back of my mind, that this was a “thing” in Louisiana, but I didn’t realize just how common it is — and to be honest, I was shocked. I still am, actually. Alligators are wild animals; what on earth are people doing trying to tame them for entertainment purposes?!
It turns out that many companies do this in order to guarantee people see alligators on their tours. Alligator sightings = positive reviews = more money. Alligators are everywhere. You’ll see them, and you don’t have to feed them marshmallows to increase your odds! Feeding gators trains them to associate humans with food. That’s not good for anyone, either the gators or us humans!
Finally, there’s yet another reason to choose Beyond the Bayou: they go out to the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area, about 45 minutes outside the city. Most other swamp tours and water activities in New Orleans are much closer, meaning they’re also more crowded. The Maurepas Swamp is absolutely beautiful (seriously, this desert dweller had a totally different vision of a swamp!), secluded, and totally undeveloped. In other words, it’s the most authentic New Orleans swamp tour you’ll find because, well, it’s actually a protected swamp!
In addition to the swamp tours, Beyond the Bayou offers plantation tours, kayaking trips, and several combo tours.
New Orleans bike rentals, tours, and pedal pubs
When I travel, I walk or ride a bicycle as often as possible. Actually, I do this at home too! Biking, in particular, is a wonderful way to experience a neighborhood’s authentic vibe. It’s also easy on the wallet, eco-friendly, and way less stressful than trying to figure out parking in a new city.
The streets in New Orleans are incredibly scenic (and flat!), with new sights on every block. New Orleans is also not a particularly large city, so cruising around on a bike allows you to literally cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. And then there’s the fact that driving around the Big Easy and attempting to park is an absolute nightmare. Old, narrow streets, a lack of off-street parking, and a culture where pop-up concerts in the middle of the road aren’t at all uncommon…NOLA is definitely not the best city for drivers. But it’s great for cyclists!
Whether you prefer to rent a bicycle and explore on your own or go on a small group tour, biking is one of the most fun New Orleans outdoor activities. Check out all the different options for New Orleans bike tours and rentals:
- 2-hour New Orleans pedal pub tour with Bar Bike
- 2-hour Garden District & French Quarter bike tour with Paved Paradise Tours
- 3-hour city tour OR rentals with Buzz NOLA Tours
- 3-hour French Quarter + bayou tour with Flambeaux Bicycle Tours
- Rentals, including tandem bikes, from Bicycle Michael’s
New Orleans carriage ride
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking for fresh date ideas, a carriage ride is one of the best New Orleans outdoor activities. And if you are visiting the Big Easy, I highly recommend taking a carriage ride before you do anything else, as it’s a wonderful way to get the lay of the land.
There are a few tour companies to choose from, but none compare to Royal Carriages. This family-run company has been operating carriage tours in New Orleans for over 80 years and it’s clear they love what they do. Aside from having the carriage rides down to a science and the most knowledgeable, engaging tour guides, Royal Carriage treats its mules exceptionally well. They get several hours off each day, plus a full day off every week, and even get at least three months’ vacation every year. And I do mean that literally — the mules holiday in farms outside the city!
As as far as the actual tours go, Royal Carriages offers a few options.
- French Quarter & Marigny Neighborhood Carriage Ride – This is the tour I took and it was easily among my favorite outdoor activities in New Orleans! The hour-long tour goes through the most iconic, picturesque parts of the French Quarter and Marigny. Two fun facts about Marigny: it’s pronounced Mare-in-ee, not Muh-rig-nee, and it’s one of the oldest, most picturesque neighborhoods in the city.
- History & Haunts Carriage Tour – New Orleans is a very, very old city with a storied, colorful past and a lot of very, very old buildings and cemeteries. Whether or not you believe in ghosts is irrelevant; this evening tour offers entertaining history lessons alongside its haunts. You’ll see some of NOLA’s oldest and most haunted hotels, bars, and homes, including the infamous Murder Mansion.
- Private New Orleans Carriage Tour – Want a custom-tailored tour or an unforgettable New Orleans date idea? Hire a private carriage for four or six people! Private tours don’t follow a set itinerary but are instead based on your group’s preferred theme (food, architecture, ghosts, etc.).
Royal Carriages tours depart from Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter. Arrive a little early, grab beignets and a Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde, and explore the Square. Marvel at spectacular St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously-operating cathedral in the country, and simply people-watch. Everyone knows that’s the best of all New Orleans outdoor activities anyway!
Did you know New Orleans has a park that’s even bigger than NYC’s Central Park?! Significantly bigger, actually — NOLA’s City Park is 1,300 acres, while Central Park is about 840 acres. With all that open space, it goes without saying that City Park offers many fun outdoor activities in New Orleans.
City Park is home to the Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans Botanical Garden, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). There are also multiple playgrounds and places to fish, a dog park, 36-hole mini-golf course, and a sculpture garden, the home of the famous Blue Dog. Café Du Monde even has a location within the park!
With so many options, it can be overwhelming even deciding where to start. To help plan your City Park outing, here are some of my favorite things to do:
- Take a boat ride. Several bayous, lakes, and lagoons traverse City Park, and you can explore just about all of them by boat. Wheel Fun Rentals offers kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and — my personal favorite — giant swan-shaped pedal boats. If you’re looking for some romance, NOLA Gondola also offers rides in an authentic Venetian gondola!
- Walk the forested nature trails in Couturie Forest. “Hike” up the highest point in New Orleans, 43-foot-tall Laborde Mountain, and keep your eyes open for wildlife!
- Bike through the park. City Park has four miles of paved bike paths spanning from Bayou St. John to Lake Pontchartrain, plus several smaller paths. Bring your own bike or rent from Wheel Fun. The company also has kids’ bicycles and unique four-wheel Surrey bikes!
- Play disc golf. City Park’s disc golf course crisscrosses through the park, highlighting some of the best scenery. Cross century-old bridges and check out one of the oldest oak tree groves in The South. The best part? It’s totally free!
City Park is so huge and has so much to do that you could easily spend an entire week here. These are some top highlights, but keep in mind this barely scratches the surface of all the New Orleans outdoor activities you can do in the park.
Kayaking and paddleboarding
With so many bodies of water, it’s no surprise that paddling is one of the most popular outdoor activities in New Orleans. There’s really no bad way to experience it: head to the lake, paddle down a swamp, or kayak on one of the bayous.
Bayou St. John is hands-down the most accessible place to paddle in New Orleans. Running right alongside City Park, it’s scenic and calm, and you’ll pass by several impressive historical homes and sites. It’s undoubtedly an urban paddling experience, but somehow also idyllic — largely because motorized boats aren’t allowed on the bayou.
For an awesome kayaking eco-tour on Bayou St. John, there is no better option than Kayak-iti-Yat. The small family-run company offers tours six days a week and has the nicest, most knowledgeable guides. On our two-hour Big Easy Bayou Tour, I learned a ton about the city’s different neighborhoods, history, wildlife, and even what the heck a bayou actually is. Don’t judge — I live in Arizona. Definitely no bayous in these parts!
Looking for a longer or more challenging experience? Check out Kayak-iti-Yat’s Pontchartrain Paddle. The four-hour tour paddles the entire length of Bayou St. John, up to Lake Pontchartrain.
If you prefer to rent kayaks or paddleboards rather than go on a tour, there are several rental outfitters in City Park and along the bayou. Bayou Paddlesports offers hourly rentals, plus special events like nighttime paddles and Dog Days on the Bayou.
One important thing to note: Bayou St. John is very calm, but it’s affected dramatically by rainfall. When the water level is high, it can be difficult to pass under bridges. To be on the safe side, reach out to the guides at Kayak-iti-Yat and ask about the bayou’s current water level and conditions.
New Orleans Pedal Barge
Skip ultra-crowded, touristy Bourbon Street and gather up your crew to spend a few hours on the water. New Orleans Pedal Barge offers several fun and safe ways to be active outside and bonus — they all involve adult beverages. Who said you couldn’t have some adult fun while getting some exercise and enjoying Mother Nature?!
I went on the Bayou Boogie adventure, a super cool pedal bike bar boat (say that five times fast!). It’s part bayou tour, part bike tour. You sit at a bar complete with an ice luge down the center and the seats have pedals, just like bicycles. Up to 12 people can pedal at once and the more you pedal, the faster the boat goes.
Much to my surprise, the party boat tour was actually very wildlife-oriented. We saw a few alligators and because our captain (Hi, Captain Cook!) is a New Orleans-area native, we got a ton of interesting insight on the terrain and ecosystem.
Bring your own beverages, snacks, and other fun things like decor or photo props. This is one of the more popular water activities in New Orleans for bachelorette and birthday parties, so get creative! There are tons of places in New Orleans to grab some drinks to go, or you can pop into the convenience store onsite when you arrive.
New Orleans Pedal Barge also offers private luxury pontoon boat rentals, as well as kayak swamp tours through the Maurepas and Manchac swamps.
Cruise the Mississippi in a riverboat
Few things are as uniquely New Orleans as riverboats on the mighty Mississippi River. They’ve been essential parts of American history for over two centuries, transporting goods, playing a role in military strategy, and providing lively entertainment. Today, you can experience a taste of that incredible history with a riverboat cruise.
Fun fact: the Mississippi River is the third-longest in the entire world, behind the Nile and the Amazon!
The two-hour tours depart from the heart of the French Quarter and travel a few miles both downriver and upriver. You’ll see iconic NOLA sights along the shoreline, including the more-than-a-century-old Domino sugar refinery and Cape Kennedy, a massive roll-on, roll-off military ship.
Seeing the impressive manmade levees along the shore is also fascinating — they very literally keep the Mississippi from flowing into the city! It’s easy to forget when you’re walking around, but most of New Orleans sits below sea level. Although the levees are structurally simple, they act as highly effective dams.
While the cruises are awesome New Orleans outdoor activities, just being on the riverboats is a really neat experience. For one thing, they’re massive. As you walk up and see the giant paddle wheel for the first time, it sinks in just how grand and impressive the riverboats are.
The tour operators do a wonderful job making the riverboat experience feel as if you’re truly in another era. Crewmembers help you onto the ramps, captains use loudspeakers to direct passengers where to go, and there’s pleasant old-timey music playing. The boats have plenty of outdoor seating on several decks, so it’s easy to snag a spot with a wonderful view. Most of the riverboat tour options include a live jazz ensemble playing, and there are bars and concession stands on each level. Don’t forget to tip!
New Orleans riverboat tour options include:
- Harbor Jazz Sightseeing Cruise with optional lunch
- Evening Jazz Sightseeing Cruise with optional dinner
- Sunday Jazz Brunch Cruise
New Orleans walking tours
New Orleans is an incredibly walkable city. Not only is the architecture and overall aesthetic beautiful and unique, but each neighborhood (heck, each individual street!) has a completely different vibe. You could easily spend several days simply walking the streets of New Orleans, constantly discovering something new.
As fun as that sounds, you don’t have to do the legwork (see what I did there?) on your own. Several companies offer small-group walking tours, all centered around different themes. Walking tours are some of the best New Orleans outdoor activities, as you’ll find tours focusing on every part of the city and catering to every imaginable interest. Interested in the foodie scene, haunted cemeteries, art, or historic buildings? Yep, there are walking tours covering all of that. Here are some of my personal favorites.
- New Orleans Food & History Walking Tour with Doctor Gumbo – Try iconic Big Easy foods on this tour, including gumbo, po’boys, and pralines. You’ll also get to meet some of the city’s best chefs.
- New Orleans Original Craft Cocktail Walking Tour – If you’re going to learn about cocktails, you may as well do it in the city that invented them.
- Garden District Walking Tour including Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 – The Garden District is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in NOLA. Learn about some of the city’s most ornate mansions and the fascinating above-ground 19th-century cemetery.
- Adults-only True Crime, Voodoo, and Vampire Walking Tour – Leave the kiddos behind for this tour, led by accredited paranormal historians.
The Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico are such famous bodies of water that they often overshadow one of New Orleans’ crown jewels: Lake Pontchartrain. Technically a brackish estuary (a mixture of salt and freshwater), Lake Pontchartrain is a massive 630 square miles and a wonderful place to enjoy water activities in New Orleans.
Enjoy fishing, paddling, and boating of all types, including speeding around the lake in a motorboat or sailing aboard a luxury yacht. You can rent boats for a few hours or charter your own for the weekend through Lake Pontchartrain Pleasure Cruises on the lakefront.
There are also bike paths around much of Lake Pontchartrain, dozens of restaurants, waterfront parks, and the New Canal Lighthouse Museum. Still need more ideas? Check out the floating Treasure Chest Casino!
And for those days when you want to go for a drive and experience Lake Pontchartrain without being particularly active, great news: One of the best things to do in New Orleans is simply driving across the causeway over the lake. At more than 23 miles long, the Causeway Bridge is the longest bridge over a body of water in the entire world!
Where to stay in New Orleans
NOLA isn’t a very big city, but because it’s so walkable, you want to be strategic about where you stay. If you choose carefully, you can easily get away without renting a car!
I split my stay between two hotels, the New Orleans Marriott and the New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District. Both are excellent basecamps for all the New Orleans outdoor activities listed in this guide, and they each have unique benefits.
New Orleans Marriott is on Canal Street just a couple of very short blocks from Bourbon Street. The walk is less than five minutes, but you’re just far away enough to enjoy peace and quiet when it’s time to call it a night. There are also several other must-see New Orleans attractions within just a block or two. Check out the amazing FREE tours at Sazerac House, directly across the street, and eat brunch at the Ruby Slipper (put your name on the online list early!).
The hotel itself is also absolutely beautiful, with a rooftop pool, a lobby bar, and many rooms overlooking the Mississippi. If you’re planning your New Orleans trip before October 2021, check out the hotel’s Spice Up Your Stay With Tabasco promo.
New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District is just a few minutes away, but the neighborhood is completely different than downtown. The Warehouse Arts District has a much more artsy, eclectic vibe, with a bunch of tiny, independently-owned restaurants and shops. It was also fully renovated recently and every detail of the hotel is absolutely stunning. Nearby, walk to Courtyard Brewery for local beer and unusual (but delicious) ice cream flavors, plus stop into Cochon Butcher for an enormous meat selection and the best sandwiches on the planet.
Still need more Big Easy trip inspiration? Check out these other things to do in New Orleans!
Whew — there you have it, nine amazing ways to enjoy outdoor activities in New Orleans! Do you have a favorite from this list, or is there anything you would add? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram! Also, be sure to save this article to Pinterest for trip planning later on!