Photo: Rapids on Kistachie Bayou in Kisatchie National Forest

Kisatchie Bayou, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana

Photograph by Clint Farlinger, Alamy

Pop. 48,639
31°17'N 92°28'W

The week before Mardi Gras, Alexandrians jam to Cajun and zydeco at their own annual bacchanalia (www.alexmardigras.com). The party continues in 604,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest on 100-plus miles of cypress-lined trails.

Backpack or mountain bike the 31-mile Wild Azalea Trail to see Kisatchie’s trademark bogs, dogwoods, and azaleas (www.fs.fed.us/r8/kisatchie/calcasieu-rd/evangeline/trails/wild-azalea.htm). Take a side trail out to swim in the Kisatchie Bayou's rushing water.

EAT

If you're in Alexandria, your stomach better be full of alligator, crawfish, and oysters. The best place to load up is Tunk's Cypress Inn, which offers a lakeside deck and live music every night (www.tunkscypressinn.com).

SLEEP

Stay at a stunning 1869 cotton plantation that now acts as a pecan orchard. The nostalgic Fairmount Plantation B&B rests on the edge of a natural bayou, and serves elaborate Creole and simple Cajun meals (doubles from $100; +1 318 793 8254).

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