Want to see an alligator in Louisiana? Perhaps even hold a baby alligator? Louisiana alligators are an integral part of the ecosystem and frankly Louisiana just wouldn’t be the same without them. When planning your visit to Louisiana seeing an alligator is one of the top things to do! Where is the best place to find one? It depends. It depends where you will be visiting. If you will be in around the city of New Orleans, then your most convenient options are Barataria, Honey Island Swamp, LaPlace, Thibodaux, Westwego. If you will be in southwest Louisiana in the greater Lafayette area, then I’d recommend Avery Island, Lake Martin, or the swamp at UL for their accessibility. Ultimately, it will depend on where you will be staying and how much time you have.
Alligator spotting is a favorite past-time of Louisiana folk, particularly in the southern part of the state where most gators can be found. There are many beautiful areas where the gators live peacefully basking or swimming in their natural habits. In the wild, they are elusive, mysterious and often camouflage so well that you could be next to one and not know it. In their domain, they rule. Don’t believe me? Read about the time that an alligator ate my t-shirt.
There is no way of knowing exactly how many alligators can be found swimming in the many waterways of Louisiana. There are estimates that the ratio of alligators to people in Louisiana could be as high as one to three. This is great news of course as alligators were almost hunted to extinction in the earlier half of the 20th century. In fact, in 1963 alligator hunting in Louisiana was banned to save the animals from their demise. However, after years of re-population and new regulations, the practice resumed again and is alive and well today. Though the popular television series called Swamp People would have you believe otherwise, gator hunting is not widely practiced and few people actually hunt them. Alligator farming and processing is a more common practice.
Places to see alligators in Louisiana
Below are suggestions of accessible places with a high chance of spotting alligators on your visit
The Atchafalaya lies in the heart of southern Louisiana. It’s a vast area of natural wetlands with amazing scenery and tons of wildlife to see. Interstate 10 runs through a portion of the basin on a bridge which is about 18 miles long. The main two cities on opposite sides of the bridge are Baton Rouge and Lafayette and would be the best hubs for accessing the swamp. The town of Henderson, on the Lafayette side of the bridge, is a good place to take a swamp tour from as there are several companies that offer tours from that area.
It’s possible that you have never heard of Avery Island, but surely you have heard of Tabasco sauce right? Many people are surprised to know that Tabasco sauce is made in Louisiana on Avery Island. Though Tabasco may be a state in Mexico, the sauce comes from Louisiana! Avery Island and the Tabasco factory are both highly recommended things to do in Lafayette Louisiana (or in the area at least). The last time I went I saw 6 alligators in around one hour!
Above: A bird sanctuary on the island where hundreds of birds were roosting. Swimming in the waters beneath them we saw at least two alligators! Below:The reflective Buddha overlooks one of the many ponds on Avery Island.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is the only campus in the world that has an enclosed swamp on it. If there is another one that I am not aware of, then please let me know. In the center of the UL campus, you’ll find a pond with several decent size alligators. I have counted at most 7-8, but am not sure exactly how many alligators can be found in the swamp. It is one of the easiest and most accessible places to see an alligator, especially if you visit Lafayette.
I highly recommend you stop by Vermilionville if you are visiting the Lafayette area. Vermilionville is one of the top things to do in Lafayette and for good reason. Vermilionville is Louisiana’s largest representation of the Cajun way of life. A way of life that no longer exists in its entirety, but that is preserved in history. There are several houses and buildings on the property that were constructed between 1765 to 1890. There’s a lake on the side that has alligators in it. On a sunny day you’ll be sure to see them.
If you’ve read the article on Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge then you know it is one of my favorite things to do in the Lafayette area. Lake Martin is small in comparison to other swamps, like the Atchafalaya, but it is one of the best to visit as it has all the animals, is easily accessible, and is a great place to see a Louisiana alligator. There is even a hike around the lake when it is not mating season, which is the period when the alligators are most active on land. There is a bed and breakfast on the road that circles Lake Martin as well as canoe, kayak rentals and swamp tours. It is a good all around place to get a taste of nature in Louisiana.
Another perk of going to Lake Martin is that it has AMAZING sunsets. A sunset at Lake Martin is truly special.
Louisiana is probably one of the few places where you can actually see an alligator while driving on the highways and roads. Alligator crossing is no joke. They do occasionally choose to cross the road for various reasons. Though you cannot depend on an alligator crossing the road, do not be surprised if you find yourself driving in the countryside and see one.
Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge
Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is located in the southwestern part of Louisiana on the Gulf coast. The refuge is a popular spot for fisherman and crabbing, but is also home to alligators. The authorities even prohibit kayaking due to the possibility of a gator attack. They say “Canoeing and kayaking are not permitted due to safety reasons (potential interactions with large alligators).” So it’s definitely a place to find alligators, just don’t go swimming!
Barataria is a short ride away from New Orleans and an ideal place to go alligator spotting. It also comes with an interesting history of pirates, namely one named Jean Lafitte, who was closely tied to the formation of the State of Louisiana and is said to have frequented the area. Just recently while visiting Barataria, we ate lunch at Restaurant des Familles and saw several alligators from our table!
In New Iberia, there is a large lake called Spanish Lake. Spanish Lake is where European colonists settled in the area. They were Spanish colonists, hence New Iberia, and they originated from Málaga in the south of Spain. There aren’t many people living directly near the lake these days, but the lake is home to many species of Louisiana fauna, including alligators, but it isn’t so easy to see them unless you get out on a boat.
Bayou Laforche is located near the Gulf Coast just south of New Iberia, but offers a lot to local visitors. In addition to alligators, there are known for their food trail full of delicious creole food cooked just to your liking.
Take a swamp tour or an air boat ride
Outside of the few places that I’ve mentioned in this article, you can definitely take an air boat ride or swamp tour. There are many swamp tours in Louisiana to choose from.
There are several adventure and/or gator parks located around the state. A few that come to mind are Kliebert’s, Gator and Friends, Cypress Pond, and Alligator Park, which all have alligators and there’s a guarantee that you’ll see a gator!
Zoo of Acadiana
The Zoo of Acadiana, or Zoosiana, is a small zoo, but has an alligator exhibit. There are also several other exhibits with animals that can be found in the region such as an alligator snapping turtle, which you won’t see in many other places.
Tips for spotting an alligator
To the untrained eye, the profile of an alligator in a lake or swamp can seem very much like a log. They are obviously easier to spot on land then in the water, but can be difficult to see in both circumstances. The best way to spot an alligator is by looking for the form of their head when scanning a scene. This is usually the most obvious clue that an alligator is present. If it is a sunny day, alligators are likely to be catching some sunshine on an embankment, log, or coastline. Since they are reptiles, they need sunshine to maintain their body temperature.
The best months to see alligators are from the spring time until the early fall before the cold starts. Alligators do not like the cold and are very difficult to see in Louisiana once the winter begins to arrive. Therefore, if gator spotting is on your mind, make sure you visit between March and September for the best chances to find a gator. The warmer and sunnier the weather, the more likely you are to see an alligator. You might ask, ‘where do alligators go in the winter‘? On alligator vacation of course!
Facts about alligators
Here are some gator facts for your next trivia game!
- Baby alligators are called hatchlings.
- In the first years of their lives, the growth rates of American alligators is roughly 1 foot a year in the wild. Therefore in theory, a 3 foot alligator is about 3 years old. This isn’t an exact science as male alligators grow rapidly for the first 20 years of their lives while the growth rate of female alligators declines after about 10 years. For more regarding, here is a scientific study on the growth rate of American alligators.
- Alligators hide most of their bodies when swimming. In order to estimate how large an alligator is, a general rule of thumb is to measure the distance between their nose and eyes and multiple by feet. So, if there are roughly 6 inches between the alligators nose and eyes then that alligator is probably around 6 feet long.
- Alligators are generally more docile than their crocodile cousins. Wild alligators will normally only attack humans when provoked or when protecting their young, but everything is situational.
- There are no crocodiles native to Louisiana, but the way you can tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator is the way that their teeth a visible when their mouths are closed. When an alligator’s mouth is closed, their upper teeth will be visible. When a crocodile’s mouth is closed, their lower teeth will be visible in addition to some upper teeth.
- Is there such a thing as a white alligator? Yes, absolutely. They are rarely found in the wild but albino alligators do exist. There are albino alligators in the Aquarium of Americas in New Orleans.
- Alligators can jump! They can jump higher than you think, so make sure that you never dangle clothes, arms, or legs outside of a boat.
Bonus: where can you hold baby alligators in Louisiana
It isn’t every day that you get to hold an alligator. There are several places in Louisiana that enable you to interact with the animals and sometimes even hold baby alligators. When you have the chance to see these animals closely you realize how fascinating that they are. Here are a few suggestions for places that you can hold an alligator:
Gator Chateau – Located just on Interstate-10 in the city of Jennings, Gator Chateau allows visitors to get to know the critters personally by holding them and learning about the animals.
Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery – Located in the eastern part of Louisiana, offers visitors and education experience to learn about and the chance to hold babies.
You can rest assured that if you visit one of these places during the right time of year, then you have a high chance of seeing an alligator.
Now before you go, it’s important to note that alligators are not confined to any specific place or body of water and my list are just a few of my favorite and most accessible recommendations for places to see alligators in Louisiana. Southern Louisiana is predominately wetlands and nearly every canal, bayou (Louisiana word for river), swamp, lake, or pond has or could have alligators in them. So think twice about swimming!