Plantations Along Lousiana’s River Road
I recently read the Louisiana Plantation Guide as a means to assist me in planning a trip to New Orleans. We weren’t able to visit all of the plantations in this wonderful guide, but did manage to cover quite a few ground along Louisiana’s River Road, which parallels the east and west banks of the Mississippi River for about 70 miles (actually 100 miles of driving per Laurence and Jessica Norah). During the drive, we passed through Louisiana’s parishes of St. Charles, and St, John. I think we missed St. James…. This historic road was lined with some 350 antebellum plantation homes ranging from basic farm houses to grand mansions.
These historic plantations served one main purpose to grow a profitable crop for the landowner. These crops included rice, indigo (a plant to create a distinct blue dye), tobacco, and the move to the most profitable crop; sugar cane. This wealthy part of our young nation’s history prior to the Civil War was all made possible through the use of forced labor of thousands of slaves. Each of these plantations now offer some historic prespective on the history of slavery. Some do this better than others.
Below are the plantations we were able to visit during our stay in New Orleans with a mix of my thoughts and recommendations. There is so much to see in the south that a long weekend just isn’t enough time. This just gives us an excuse for another trip!
When to Visit?
This really depends on your preference for weather and crowds. The south is often known for is relatively mild winters and striking hot/humid summers. The best option for tours would be between November and May. You would want to avoid festivals and events as these will make New Orleans the most crowded, increase the cost of hotels, and transportation. These are events to consider: the Sugar Bowl (early January), Mardi Gras (February/early March), French Quarter Fest (April), Jazz Fest (April/May), and Halloween. I would avoid the months of June, July and August. Do consider hurricane season that runs from June through the end of November. Of course, if you wish for very reasonable cost hotels and don’t mind the heat, the summer months would offer the cheapest rates.
Destrehan Plantation (original circa 1790, rebuilt ~1840)
The first stop on our drive out of New Orleans was the closest plantation (about 10 miles) known as Destrehan Plantation. This is one of the oldest and best-documented buildings from the state’s colonial period. It is worth a visit not just for ease of access, but for the nature beauty offer in and around the home. The tour guide offered a detailed history of the home past, including touching enslaved individuals. Actually, this is where you begin the tour. In the re-constructed slave cabin to the side of the home.
One interesting part of the tour is an historical artifact signed by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison assigning four men, including Jean Noel Destrehan, to the Orleans Territorial Council. This is part of your admission ticket and you see this prior to visiting the inside of the home.
Other interesting facts include that this and many other plantations have and are still being used as filming location: This one was used for Interview with the Vampire (main house interiors) and 12 Years a Slave (1830 mule barn).
Driving own vehicle and touring with the next group with tours beginning at 9:30 am and ending at 4:00 pm. You can purchase tickets at the gift shop located on site or online. We did not find it crowd during our visit, but I suspect during peak season this plantation could be very busy. Other tour options for hotel pickup and drop-off from New Orleans include:
If you are a AAA member or senior, please be sure to point this out during your booking at the site or online
Another unique option is to stay at one of the two self-catered Creole-style cottages that are often available for rent. Please explore this lodging option here
We had planned to visit San Francisco Plantation, but alias it was closed during our arrival and so, we moved on to the Whitney Plantation. This plantation should be on your list of historic plantations to visit if not for the fact that it is truly a museum offering a story of slavery with a several memorials throughout the site.
The Spanish style Creole main plantation home had murals painted. The property also had the only French Creole barn in the United States, and the oldest detached kitchen in Louisiana. If you are fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, this plantation was the setting for some scenes for Django Unchained.
The tours here begin usually with time for you to see and reflect on the many quotes from parts of the Federal Writers Project where former slaves (mostly the children and young adults during the time of slavery) were interviewed and known as the Slave Narratives Collection
House Tour: You can drive to site and purchase a ticket at booth on site. This is the option we chose. Expect this one to be a little on the $$ side and crowded as it rather popular. Discounts for: AAA, Military, Seniors and Students
Whitney Plantation Tour: This tour options is available for visitors who need transportation to and from Whitney Plantation from New Orleans. It is great option if you do not plan on hiring a car.
The next three plantations on our list were very close to each and should all be visited (if time allows). These include: Laura Plantation, The Oak Alley Plantation, and St. Joseph Plantation. We explored each of these in this ordered and all offer a distinct feel for what southern live was during antebellum time and one is still a family-run sugar can plantation that adds that unique spin to your visit.
Of the three below, Laura Plantation was one that felt rather rushed by the docent and we were not sure the rationale as it was midday. Perhaps they were just tired and needed a break? Anyway, you get the feel for another home from the antebellum era, but keep in mind you are looking at a restored French Creole plantation. Unfortunately, the main home suffered extensive damage during a major electrical fire in 2004. It has now since been restored except for the pantry area for historical reasons. Other historical facts about this plantation is that is it known for Laura Plantation is for being one of the locations where folklorist Alcée Fortier (born at Petit Versailles Plantation) recorded the African stories of the trickster Br’er Rabbit from the slaves (known as Compair Lapin in French Creole).
Self-Paced Tour: You can drive to site and purchase a ticket at a booth on site. The outside of the plantation and property is self-guided with the purchase of a ticket. You will need a guide to explore the hour. This is the option we chose.
Oak Alley Plantation
The Grand Dame or Oak Alley Plantation is perhaps one of our favorite Greek Revival style homes that we toured in Louisiana. This plantation is famous for its 26 oaks dating back to nearly 300 years that were saved when the Arm Corps of Engineers put in the levy. Another home we visited Houmas House had a similar grand entrance that did not see the same result. This plantation property has also taken advantage of its popularity and offers a two restaurants, a bar area, stay options, and a nice gift shop. All of these are in addition to the wonderful grounds one can just get lost in exploring the history before taking in a tour of the main house. All well worth a visit here. If you only had time for one plantation, this should be the one.
You will also find that this plantation is definitely been seen in several films including: Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Primary Colors, and Interview with the Vampire.
Self-Paced with House Tour: You can drive to site and purchase a ticket at a booth on site. The outside of the plantation and property is self-guided with the purchase of a ticket. You will need a guide to explore the hour. This is the option we chose. Expect this one to be a little on the $$ side and crowded as it rather popular. Discounts for: AAA, Military, Senior 65+, First Responders, Teachers and Students 19+
St. Joseph Plantation
St. Joseph Plantation is still working 1,000 acre sugar cane plantation that is been in the same family since 1877. This property is next two the more popular Oak Alley. It is worth a visit to see a different perspective of southern life and a slower pace, perhaps. If you are lucky, you will be guided by one of the owners during the house tour as we were during our time here. One thing to keep in mind is that this home is not completely renovated to period and you will notice this in several of the rooms as you tour the house.
Of course, this plantation has been scenes for such films as 12 Years a Slave, and the 2016 Roots mini-series. In addition, some scenes were done at the family’s other property that is not open to the public known as Felicity Plantation.
Tours of St. Joseph Can can easily be purchased on-site or online
There is also transportation option to visit St. Joseph Plantation
The plantation is open 7 days a week with tours of the main house offered at the following times: 10: 00 am, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 3:00 pm (last daily tour)
Cost of Plantation Tours
We found that the cost varied from $12 to $22 per person (with discounts) and all prices included a guided tour. Tipping of your guide is truly appreciated and often expected if you enjoyed your time with them. Of course, tipping is not obligatory.
If this is your first time visiting New Orleans or even you are planning to visit this part of Louisiana again, consider the New Orleans Pass The pass option currently offers discounts and free visits to 25 sites (as of February 2019) including free entry to both the San Francisco Plantation and the Oak Alley Plantation. In addition, don’t forget the optional discounts mentioned above if you are AAA member, senior, visiting with children, an active military (thank you for service), and a local resident. Many of the plantations offer discounts in various forms. When in doubt, just ask…
Travel Options to Louisana’s River Road Plantations
Public transportation is limited outside the New Orleans area and this includes the River Road plantations area. The best options are a) driving or b) setting up a group bus tour, c) a private tour, or d) hiring a private car service to take you to each of the plantations of your choice. Below is map of the several of the plantations we visited.
If you are interested in Tours of the River Road Plantations, please consider exploring Viator as this site offers many different day tours, ability to choose which plantations to visit and decide on a group tour from New Orleans.
I do not recommend using any of the taxi service or Uber/Lyft option for visiting the River Road Plantations. You would most likely be wasting time waiting for your pickup when you could have been visiting another plantation through a more direct route or guided tour option.
Learn more about the River Road Plantations by reading the Louisiana Plantation Guide