Things to Do in Natchitoches
As the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, Natchitoches has been the destination for travelers in northwest Louisiana for over 300 years. With a deep well of history to pull from, the city enjoys a unique and vibrant culture. From the numerous historical sites and museums around the area that preserve the stories of the past to the many festivals throughout the year that create new memories for residents and visitors alike, Natchitoches is a city that time and again shows it will continue to draw people in for many years to come.
Cane River National Heritage Area
www.canerivernha.org | (318) 356-5555
Overseeing one of 49 National Heritage Areas recognized by Congress for their undeniable contribution to the American experience, Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that engages in community partnerships to celebrate and preserve the region for the benefit of current and future generations.
A largely rural, agricultural landscape, the Cane River Region is known for its historic plantations and multi-cultural legacy that includes Native American, French, Spanish, African and Creole cultures, as well as the scenic beauty of its rivers, lakes and forest.
More than 30 sites are listed on the National Register of Historic places within the Cane River National Heritage Area and seven have received the honor of designation as a National Historic Landmark, the 33-block downtown district of Natchitoches included.
Guided walking tours of the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District are offered through the Cane River National Heritage Area and the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission. Tours are given Tuesday through Saturday with seasonal hours.
A walk along brick-paved Front Street is like a step back in time, with much of the architecture of the 19th and early 20th centuries preserved in the shops and storefronts. The two-story buildings with their iron balconies overlook Cane River Lake and it is here that many of the city’s festivals and events take place, including their signature Christmas Festival.
Front Street is also the location of not just the oldest business in the city, but the oldest general store in the state of Louisiana: Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile. In the same building since 1893, Kaffie-Frederick supplies hardware, housewares, kitchen supplies and classic toys in a nostalgic setting. Their first cash register, purchased in 1917, is still in use today.
The 33-block downtown, a designated Historic Landmark District, will entice, entertain and engage visitors no matter what their interests are. Diners will find restaurants serving Cajun and Creole favorites and world-famous Natchitoches meat pies. Antiques and gifts in quaint shops and boutiques offer shoppers a full day of exploring. For those looking to immerse themselves in culture there are numerous historic sites, local art galleries and museums.
Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum
www.louisianastatemuseum.org | (318) 357-2492
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Natchitoches honors Louisiana athletes and the accomplishments that define the history of sports in the state. Exhibits showcase rare artifacts while interactive media and videos highlight in-game drama as well as the biographies and career stats of inductees.
Among the more than 300 Louisiana athletes, coaches and sports figures are such household names as Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Maravich and Archie Manning, and artifacts include a Super Bowl XLIV commemorative football signed by all 53 New Orleans Saints after their 2010 victory.
Exploring a history that spans hundreds of years, The Northwest Louisiana History Museum examines how the diverse groups of the Caddo Native Americans, French and Spanish Settlers, free and enslaved Africans, and rural southern whites influenced the region’s distinct culture.
The museum also proudly displays the works of internationally renowned folk artist Clementine Hunter with 12 of her original paintings on display, 10 about life on Melrose Plantation.
The unique design of the building itself is the work of Trahan Architects of Baton Rouge. Inspired by the surrounding landscape, the exterior is reminiscent of the shutters of plantation homes and plowed fields, while the interior with its curved walls resembles the natural cut of a river.
www.melroseplantation.org | (318) 379-0055
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday Guided tours begin 15 minutes past the hour
With a story that begins over 200 years ago with Marie Thérèse Coincoin, an enslaved woman; Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a French merchant; and the legacy their children created, Melrose Plantation is an antebellum historic house museum. ▶
Originally built by the Metoyer family, the preeminent members of the Isle Brevelle community populated by “gens de couleur libre,” free people of color who thrived as business people and plantation owners, the buildings and the land on which they sit have seen much that history has to offer.
From the ravages of the Civil War to Reconstruction and the first formal education of former slaves on the plantation.
In the early 20th century, while under the ownership of Cammie Garrett Henry, Melrose became known as a haven for authors and artists. Among those working at Melrose at the time was a cook named Clementine Hunter. Although she had no formal education, Hunter found her voice through painting after finding some discarded paints left by an artist. In her 50s when she began painting, she continued until a few months before her death in 1988 at 101 years of age. Her unique perspective of life on the plantation has made her a renowned folk artist. Her most famous work, the African House Murals, can still be viewed at Melrose Plantation.
Celebration on the Cane
www.downtownnatchitoches.com | (318) 352-2746
The downtown riverbank comes alive with patriotic spirit every year on Independence Day. An all-day event with amusement for all ages and food vendors serving summer favorites such as Italian ice, funnel cakes, hot dogs and more. Enjoy live musical entertainment on the riverbank stage then marvel at the fireworks show over Cane River Lake.
Admission to Celebration on the Cane is free and open to the public.
What began in 1926 with the stringing of Christmas lights along Front Street and an eight-foot-tall “Star of the East” on the banks of Cane River Lake has evolved into a six-week-long celebration of the season with over 300,000 lights and 100-plus set pieces on display every night at dusk.
Starting the Saturday before Thanksgiving and running through Jan. 6, Natchitoches Christmas season is highlighted by the Annual Christmas Festival on the first Saturday in December. The daylong event features the “City of Lights” 5K Run/Walk & 1-Mile Fun Run and the Festival of Lights Parade, as well as live musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and food vendors. The day is capped off with a spectacular fireworks display choreographed to holiday music.
Downtown attractions throughout the season include carriage rides, Holiday Kids Fest, Holiday Tour of Homes hosted by the Natchitoches Historic Foundation, fireworks every Saturday night, and visits and photos with Santa.
Natchitoches Alligator Park
www.alligatorpark.net | (877) 354-7001
From young four-footers to huge 1,000-pounders, visitors to the park will see hundreds of alligators in their natural habitat. Hourly shows allow the opportunity to see and participate in feedings, and learn about the alligator farming industry and conservation program. Visitors can even get their picture taken holding a baby gator.
The park also features a reptile habitat, a tiny town with pigmy goats and miniature horses, a gift shop, and Gator Bites Snack Shop where authentic Cajun fare and alligator are on the menu.
Natchitoches Alligator Park is open daily from April 1 through Aug. 15 and weekends only from Aug. 16 through Oct. 15.