Creole Nature Trail: Blazin' the road to Mardi Gras

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LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana -- The seven-week buildup to Mardi Gras here in southwest Louisiana will peak on Feb. 24 with the Parade de la Louisiane, followed by the Krewe of Krewes Parade, in what locals say is the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state.

But Mardi Gras really will begin to rev up this year when the inaugural Blazin' Biker Rally comes roaring into the lake area on Feb. 20.

Motorcyclists from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas will make a three-day appearance the weekend before Fat Tuesday to enjoy a number of festivities and to ride along the Creole Nature Trail, designated an All-American Road by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The trail is a 180-mile stretch that runs along the Gulf Coast and splits off in two northward forks on the east and west sides of Lake Charles.

The journey through what is known as Louisiana's Outback constitutes a picturesque driving tour of marshes, bayous, coastal beaches and four wildlife refuges, including the Sabine and the Rockefeller refuges.

The route passes through the urban centers of Port Arthur, Texas, at the western end, Lake Charles in the north and many smaller towns. It crosses the Intracoastal Waterway in four places.

The area surrounding the trail is a water-rich part of the country, with four large lakes: Lake Charles, Calcasieu Lake, Big Lake and Grand Lake.

"Lake Charles is in my backyard," said a spokeswoman for the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, located in the city of Lake Charles at the end of the trail farthest from the Gulf of Mexico. You can get in a boat here and go all the way to the gulf."

With so much water, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including surf fishing, shrimping, crabbing, boating and swimming.

There also is plenty of wildlife. The marshlands are especially rich with butterflies, migratory birds, white-tailed deer and, of course, alligators.

Two-night Creole Nature Trail packages, in three-star accommodations, range from $188 for a suite with two double beds or one king to $238 for a two-room suite, both at the Best Western Richmond Suites.

Included is a four-hour or eight-hour driving tour with a step-on guide, a Creole Nature Trail Fun Pack, a hot buffet breakfast, a coffeemaker in the room and use of the swimming pool. Suites come with kitchens.

A personal Creole Nature Trail tour guide is an optional add-on, as are extra nights.

The fun pack includes brochures, a free CD or cassette driving tour of the trail for those who wish to drive the trail on their own, an interpretive guide and a birding guide.

Mardi Gras packages begin at $173 for a room with two double beds or one king, a kitchen and a hot buffet breakfast at the Best Western Richmond Suites. The rate for a two-room suite is $223. All packages are commissionable and subject to availability.

For package information, call (800) 639-9851 or book online at www.visitlakecharles.org. For additional information on the region, call the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 456-7952 or e-mail [email protected]. More information on the rally can be accessed at www.blazinbikesinlakecharles.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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