The Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin, just outside of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the surrounding area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak.
The approximately 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat is owned and managed by the Nature Conservacy who also maintain a visitor’s center and a boardwalk over the swamp at the South end of the lake.
Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of wild shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year.
Beginning in late January, thousands of great egrets, followed by little blue herons, black-crowned night heron, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, and roseate spoonbills make their nests and rear their young in the rookery. Great blue herons, neotropic and double-crested cormorants, anhingas, and osprey may be seen in the distant tree tops.
Expect a spectacular rookery view from March through June. The 2.5-mile walking levee trail is open from the fall to the spring and is suitable for children.
The walking trail starting along the levee is closed during alligator nesting season, June through October. The rookery area in the southern end of Lake Martin is closed to all boat entry from February 1 through July 31 for breeding bird season. You may drive along Rookery Road all year round.
Lake Martin is also home to a substantial nesting population of alligators, which can typically be spotted from Rookery Road, which runs along the edge of the lake. They are naturally camouflaged, but it doesn’t take long to get good at gator-spotting; you can usually find them by looking for stopped cars and folks with cameras and binoculars.
Alligators are not typically aggressive, but some of the hiking trails along the back side of the lake are closed off during nesting season, as nesting females can be the exception to this rule.
Feeding alligators is illegal, as is throwing things at them. Be a responsible visitor and observe from afar.
Other reptiles and amphibians, including a variety of snakes, turtles, lizards, and frogs, are also common in the lake and the surrounding brush, so be on the lookout. Again, none of these animals are aggressive, but snakes in particular are best viewed from far away.
The Cypress Island Preserve Visitor Center with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are located where Rookery Road meets LA Hwy 353. The Visitor Center is generally open from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime.
Rookery Road, a dirt and gravel road, runs around a good portion of the lake, and a slow drive along the edge can yield good wildlife-spotting results. If you prefer to explore on foot, though, you can park your car alongside the edge of the road at any point, or at parking lots at both ends of Rookery Road and at the junction of Lake Martin Road and Rookery Road, near the boat launch.
Experienced paddlers can rent a kayak or a canoe from the boat launch at the end of Lake Martin Road and take a solo spin around the lake. If you prefer to paddle with a guided group, check the schedule at the local outdoor store, Pack and Paddle, who often host paddling excursions here and elsewhere.
Cypress Island Preserve is located approximately halfway between the town of Breaux Bridge and the city of Lafayette. Lake Martin, the preserve’s main visitor attraction, is approached by two paved roads, Highway 353 from Lafayette and Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.
Parking is available at the Visitor Center located at 1264 Prairie Hwy where Rookery Road meets Prairie Highway (LA 353). A small parking area is also located at the southwest end of Lake Martin, where the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate. Another parking area is located at the northern end of the lake from Rookery Road, where the north end of the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate.
Where to Stay: Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge; Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.