Lake Charles has had a rough couple of years. Not only has this southwestern Louisiana town had to endure the pandemic like the rest of us, but they’ve also had to recover from two massive hurricanes that devastated the area in 2020. Yet this region, known as Louisiana’s playground, is not willing to give up; as they continue to rebuild, they also plan to bring back the Lake Charles Mardi Gras celebration this January and let the good times roll—or as they say in the bayou, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
While Mardi Gras celebrations take place all over Louisiana, the one in Lake Charles is a little different. The second largest Mardi Gras in the state in terms of number of krewes, the event is family friendly, and hosts more than a dozen parades and celebrations. This includes the Krewe of Krewes’ Parade in which more than 100 floats wind through the city, and the Children’s Parade in downtown Lake Charles where families bring buckets and upside-down umbrellas to catch the beads raining down from floats.
The events kick off at the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, with an opening reception exhibit on Jan. 5 featuring a number of costumes, shoes, masks, krewe banners and more. Both the museum and its location, the Central School, were damaged during the hurricanes, so while this isn’t the complete (and quite overwhelming collection), it is still a great way to get a close-up look at the incredible detail and craftsmanship that are part of Mardi Gras’ shiny, sparkly, over-the-top outfits. Once the museum has reopened, it’s worth a return visit to see the truly awe-inspiring costumes, as well as to get a behind-the-scenes snapshot of how they are made.
The Iowa Chicken Run held in Iowa, LA, about 13 miles east of Lake Charles, provides a completely different type of Mardi Gras experience. This area, originally cattle country, still honors its traditional roots, with numerous riders showing up on horseback to participate.
Folks convoy on trailers, floats, horses and more going from house to house, asking for food. If they receive it, they play music in honor of the donors, and if there’s room, they let a chicken run loose for children to chase. When the parade is over, everyone gathers for a huge outdoor picnic, wearing their purple, green and gold finery, and listening to live Cajun music. And visitors are more than welcome to attend!
Of course, you can’t be in Louisiana without partaking of all of the local delicacies from crawfish to crab cakes to King Cake, and Lake Charles has a host of fantastic restaurants offering every type of meal. Three casino resorts provide gaming activities as well as some incredible dining experiences—check our Chef Lyle Broussard at L’Auberge Casino Resort for a chance to sample some fried alligator, baked oysters au gratin, or boudin balls and blackened shrimp.
Other delicious options include Area 337, where Dominican Republic-born restaurant owner Gus Garden celebrates Puerto Rico, Columbia, Honduras, Venezuela with plates full of flavor, color, and love; Cast & Cleaver, a family-style Cajun and Creole restaurant in Sulphur, LA; and Fire & Oak, Chef Andrew Green’s newest upscale southern dining and cocktail restaurant. A new casino, the Horseshoe Casino Resort, will also be opening in 2022.
If you build up a thirst, Bayou Rum has got you covered; this distillery sits on land that has been growing sugarcane for the past 200 years. Now sold in 41 U.S. states and 50 countries, the rum, created by Louisiana Spirits, comes in eight delicious varieties, including the delicious Bayou Pink, made with macaw berries, a native Louisiana fruit.
To learn more about the area itself, a visit to the Creole Nature Trail is highly recommended and there’s an app you can download for information along the 180-mile driving trail. The area includes four wildlife refuges, and is a hugely popular birding spot.
The Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, located at the trail’s western gateway, offers the opportunity to learn more about local products, try your hand at playing Cajun and Zydeco music, and pick up a recipe card so that you can learn how to make your own boudin. Kids will also enjoy a visit to Gator Chateau in Jennings, LA, an alligator rescue where you can learn more about these amazing creatures, watch public feedings and even hold a baby gator of your own. And admission to both Adventure Point and the chateau is free.
To learn more about Lake Charles and to plan your visit, check out www.visitlakecharles.org/swlamardigras.