Tunica Trace Byway
Rugged and winding, the Tunica Trace, near the Louisiana/Mississippi border, was once an important route for Indians, early explorers and settlers. Today, the Tunica Trace Byway, running along Highway 66 from Angola to just north of St. Francisville, gives travelers a sample of the hills, forests, winding roads and open green spaces that make this section of Louisiana unusual. The drive is especially pretty in the spring, when flowers bloom along the way. The byway itself is rural, but amenities lie at either end. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:
The home of the Louisiana State Penitentiary may seem an odd place to begin a byway journey, but Angola is an interesting community with a colorful past. The history of the prison itself is told in the Angola Museum, which also provides detail about the biggest annual event here, the Angola Prison Rodeo. The oldest such event in the country, this professional rodeo production is designed to benefit both the inmates and the West Feliciana Parish tourism industry. It draws thousands of spectators during weekends in October.
Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area*
The forested bluffs and ravines of this 6,000-acre tract allow for hunting, hiking, horseback riding, camping and other outdoor activities. Photography and bird-watching are popular here as well. The unusual landscape offers a diverse habitat that supports some species of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Louisiana. Nesting and migrant bird species to be found in this area include several that are rare elsewhere in the state, such as the worm-eating warbler and the Coopers hawk.
Just a short ride from the end of the byway lies the lovely town of St. Francisville. Restaurants, more than 20 bed-and-breakfast inns and charming streets lined with historic buildings make this a pleasant day stop or an overnight destination. The town offers antique shops and other retail browsing opportunities along with pocket parks where you can “sit a spell” and imagine life in a gentler era. The West Feliciana Historical Society and Museum details the history of the parish. Several historic plantation homes in the area are open for public viewing, tours and, in some cases, overnight stays. Choices range from The Myrtles, whose reputation as a haunted home make it a popular draw, to nearby Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, a beautiful mansion furnished with stunning antiques and featuring a grand, oak-lined entrance and manicured gardens. Not far away is Afton Villa Gardens, the beautifully preserved grounds of a former plantation home.
Just west of St. Francisville is the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, more than 9,000 acres of forest and rich wetlands close by the Mississippi River. Fish species here include largemouth bass, bream, catfish, crappie, buffalo and gar. The area is part of a major bird migration corridor that attracts neotropical migratory birds, including the swallow-tailed kite.
* To visit any of Louisiana’s Wildlife Management Areas, you must have either a valid Louisiana fishing or hunting license OR a Wild Louisiana Stamp. You can buy these online at www.wlf.louisiana.gov or by calling 1-888-765-2602 or at any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses, such as Bass Pro Shop, Walmart and Academy Sports. If you are buying a license or stamp for short-term use, you will be given an authorization number; that, plus a valid I.D., allows you to visit the WMA and hunt or fish. Prices vary for hunting and fishing licenses. The Wild Louisiana Stamps costs $2 for a one-day stamp.