The Mississippi River estuary offers a wide choice of lakes, and New Orleans is the perfect getaway for exploring these gems.
Some of the lakes have campgrounds and even swimming beaches, but the majority are largely undeveloped and require a boat for access. Many businesses offer swamp tours and boat rides.
By far, the most common activity here is fishing. The area is famous for its catfish, but what makes it different is the selection of species. The lakes’ brackish water is home to fresh and saltwater fish.
Find out more about the area and check out what New Orleans has to offer!
Lakes near New Orleans:
- Lake Pontchartrain
- Lake Maurepas
- Lake Salvador
- Lake Cataouatche
- Lac des Allemands
- Lake Fields
- Lake Verret
- Lake Palourde
- The Pen
- Lake Borgne
1. Lake Pontchartrain
- Website: Lake Pontchartrain
- Distance from New Orleans: 7 miles (15 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing
A brackish estuary covering 630 square miles, Lake Pontchartrain has changed as New Orleans and other settlements appeared around it.
Once a place where the Mississippi River and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico met, the need for flood control and the creation of artificial flood levees has altered traditional ebb and flow patterns.
As wetlands and cypress swamps have largely disappeared, significant vegetation has transitioned from freshwater to saltwater.
Known for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a bridge that spans more than 23 miles, the lake also hosts a variety of nature preserves.
Immediately northeast of the city, before the bridge that crosses into Eden Isle and Slidell, Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge offers trails and places to see tidal marshes.
On the lake’s opposite side, near where Lake Maurepas flows into it, the 8,328-acre Manchac Wildlife Management Area (WMA) also preserves native vegetation and wildlife.
Three preserves on the lake’s north side welcome visitors. St. Tammany Wildlife Refuge sits between the 18,000-acre Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge to its southeast and the 2,800-acre Fontainebleau State Park to the northwest.
These preserves attract visitors, as does the fishing along the lake. The saltiness in this brackish lake helps determine fish species in different areas.
2. Lake Maurepas
- Website: Lake Maurepas
- Distance from New Orleans: 28 miles (35 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping
A little more than 25 miles northwest of downtown, Lake Maurepas sits immediately west of Lake Pontchartrain.
The large body of water shares a geologic history with its larger sibling to the east. Both lakes were areas where the Mississippi River tapped and deposited fresh water.
Fresh-to-brackish water defines the ecosystem of this shallow, round lake, with freshwater pouring in from the Tickfaw, Natalbany, Blind, and Amite Rivers. Pass Manchac connects Lake Maurepas to Lake Pontchartrain.
On the lake’s north side, Joyce WMA preserves a tupelo and cypress swamp, along with wax myrtles and red maples, in an area spanning 42,292 acres.
The two tracts of Maurepas Swamp WMA, along the southern and western areas of Lake Maurepas, comprise low-lying forests and swamplands that often flood after rainfall.
Popular activities along the lake include boating, fishing, and birdwatching. Fish species found in this lake include largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, and crappie. Frogging, or frog hunting, is also popular.
3. Lake Salvador
- Website: Lake Salvador
- Distance from New Orleans: 15 miles (25 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing
Located about 14 miles southwest of New Orleans, Lake Salvador is a large, shallow, and mostly freshwater lake.
Sixteen miles across and twelve miles wide, this 44,800-acre lake receives fresh water from Bayou Des Allemands and primarily flows into the Gulf of Mexico through Bayou Perot.
In some areas, the lake is brackish due to saltwater tidal inflows. With an average depth of only six feet, Lake Salvador is not as deep as Lake Pontchartrain.
Numerous preserves touch Lake Salvador. The 26,000-plus-acre Barataria Preserve of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve sits on the lake’s eastern shore.
Louisiana’s Salvador WMA is a freshwater marsh preserve with some cypress and plenty of cattail and other aquatic plants.
Timken WMA, sometimes known as Couba Island, is an uninhabited marsh island east of Salvador WMA that also borders Lake Cataouatche.
Salvador and Timken WMAs are accessible only by boat.
Fish found in this lake include garfish, drum, catfish, bass, crappie, and bream.
4. Lake Cataouatche
- Website: Lake Cataouatche
- Distance from New Orleans: 12 miles (15 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping
Located south of the unincorporated Avondale and Waggaman areas of Jefferson Parish, Lake Cataouatche is immediately north of Timken WMA, connected to Lake Salvador by Bayou Bardeaux/Bayou Segnette or Bayou Couba.
This 9,280-acre body of mostly fresh water also joins Lake Salvador in sharing shoreline access with the Salvador and Timken WMAs.
Numerous freshwater sources within Salvador WMA drain into Lake Cataouatche, including Bayou Verret in the north, as well as West Canal, Cypress Lumber Canal, Lanaux Canal, and Bayou des Saules.
Bayou Segnette State Park offers boat access to Lake Cataouatche, in addition to camping, picnicking, playgrounds, and a wave pool.
In the lake and adjoining bayous, those who enjoy fishing will find bass, trout, redfish, catfish, bream, crappie, bluegill, sunfish, and perch. Most of the lake’s fish are freshwater species.
5. Lac des Allemands
- Website: Lac des Allemands
- Distance from New Orleans: 50 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing
A drive of a little more than 50 miles west of downtown provides access to Pleasure Bend, the only substantial settlement that sits along Lac des Allemands.
The French knew this natural, 12,000-acre lake as the “Lake of the Germans,” since early settlers in the area came from German-speaking areas of Europe. The distance to this lake is much shorter for those reaching it on a boat, only about 25 miles.
An extensive network of bayous and canals flow into this lake in the center of an area still known by oldtimers as the German Coast.
Lac des Allemands has cypress swamp along much of the shoreline, with its waters hosting three catfish varieties – blue, flathead, and channel – as well as bream, crappie, bluegill, bass, and panfish.
Some anglers who fish in this like to think of it as the “catfish capital of the universe.”
6. Lake Fields
- Website: Lake Fields
- Distance from New Orleans: 51 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics
Located 51 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans, Lake Fields and nearby Lake Long are popular destinations for those with boats.
Natural lakes, rather than impounded reservoirs, these lakes have been reduced in size over the last 200 years.
Presently 2,039 acres in size, Lake Fields has a number of homes on its southeastern shore with no direct vehicle access to the mainland. Those living and vacationing here must dock their boats in these areas.
Transportation canals have created water pathways that allow people to visit the lake and those that live here to get to other areas of Louisiana.
The Lafourche Parish Game and Fish Commission promotes hunting, fishing, and camping in this region.
Popular fish in this lake, named for an early pioneer named William Field, include channel catfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass.
7. Lake Verret
- Website: Lake Verret
- Distance from New Orleans: 81 miles (1hr 30min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping
Lake Verret sits a little more than 80 miles west of New Orleans, near the settlement of Pierre Part and the southern part of the Atchafalaya River Basin.
Also known in French as Ville de Pierre Part, this destination along the Avoca Island Cutoff a little north of the lake has the largest population in Assumption Parish, and has the highest percentage of Francophones in the United States outside of some locations in Maine near Quebec.
Located on Lake Verret’s northeastern shore, Elm Hall WMA offers 2,839 acres of impressive swamplands that naturally flood and offer opportunities to enjoy seeing native species. South of Elm Hall, Attakapas Landing is a remote community with a large boat launch.
This lake, one which spans approximately 14,500 acres, has a variety of fish. Commonly caught species here include largemouth bass and catfish. Cajuns often call the crappie they catch here sac-à-lait, meaning “sack of milk.”
8. Lake Palourde
- Website: Lake Palourde
- Distance from New Orleans: 86 miles (1hr 30min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing
A little more than 80 miles west-southwest of New Orleans, near Amelia and Morgan City, Lake Palourde occupies 11,520 acres within the Atchafalaya Basin.
Two locations in Morgan City that offer access to Lake Palourde are Brownell Memorial Park on the northwest corner and Victor Guarisco Lake End Park, less than two miles away, on the lake’s western shore.
Boat rentals allow convenient access to this large freshwater lake.
For those who wish to visit another lake immediately northwest of Lake Palourde, the Joe C. Russo Memorial Boat Landing sits on the other side of the narrow isthmus and offers access to Flat Lake and the Atchafalaya River.
Fish found in these bodies of water include blue catfish, channel catfish, and largemouth bass.
9. The Pen
- Website: The Pen
- Distance from New Orleans: 29 miles (45 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, RVs
A 29-mile drive from downtown, The Pen, near the community of Lafitte, demonstrates an important fact about much of coastal Louisiana: Land comes and goes, as the shoreline changes.
This area south of New Orleans took shape in the Gulf of Mexico as sediments and alluvial deposits in the nearby Mississippi River helped to extend the river’s mouth farther into the Gulf.
More than 100 years ago, The Pen was farmland with acreage above sea level. Levees failed, hurricanes and tropical storms did a knockout punch, and today The Pen is a submerged lake that entertains anglers in search of red drum, black drum, bass, speckled trout, and blue catfish.
What will tomorrow bring for The Pen? Perhaps new levees will resurrect some of the fields. More likely, the size of The Pen will grow with rising sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico.
10. Lake Borgne
- Website: Lake Borgne
- Distance from New Orleans: 11 miles (20 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing
Now a lagoon east of New Orleans, around the time that the French established The Big Easy, Lake Borgne may have been mostly, if not entirely, enclosed by land.
Early 18th-century maps tend to indicate that wetlands once separated the lake from the Gulf of Mexico. This brackish body of water has transitioned into a lagoon largely open to the Gulf, serving as an extension of it with a higher level of salinity than it had three centuries ago.
Coastal erosion, tropical storms, and hurricanes have had a significant impact on this area. Wetlands have suffered damage and destruction on many occasions.
Certain storms, such as Hurricane Katrina, have had a devastating impact. After that storm, federal officials decided to create the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier as a way to reduce the impact of storms on flood erosion.
Fish found in this area include catfish, largemouth bass, redfish, and black drum.