The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is a series of national preserves all over southern Louisiana, which includes a parcel of land and water about fifteen minutes south of the city of New Orleans, called the Barataria Wildlife Preserve.
This preserve is an area of interconnecting canals and bayous that provides access to larger waterways, including the heavily shipped Intracoastal waterway, as well as the enormous Lake Salvador. This could also be a great launching point for larger excursions into the Louisiana swamp wilderness, but one should definitely be prepared for such a venture. I have been to the Barataria Preserve only for 3-5 hour paddling trips, and have not ventured all the way to the big lake.
Within the confines of the Barataria Preserve are a series of canals that are no longer used for shipping, but do house pipelines. These canals are old, however, and have been heavily "grown in" leaving them looking very natural, with the exception of how straight they are. Regardless, this is an excellent place to paddle with beautiful and wild swamp vistas, tons of alligators, great fishing, and exceptional bird-watching.
The waterways are protected and motorized boats are prohibited, and many of the canals are maintained and cleared by the park service. Some canals I paddled, however, did have some heavy tree fall, and maneuvering around the trees was required for a couple of hundred yards. Unfortunately, I have only seen one other kayaker at this park, and he said I was the only other one he's ever seen!
Other features of this park are a walking trail that parallels one of the canals, picnic areas, and a very nice visitors center with very helpful rangers that are not content to just give you a canal map, but quick lessons in local geography and sedimentation patterns are invariably broached. It is also helpful to talk to these rangers as they can tell you which canal areas to avoid at what time of year, and where to see wildlife.
Overall, this is a great day trip just minutes from the unique attractions of New Orleans.
Near New Orleans
From New Orleans: West bank expressway (Hwy 90 west) to Barataria Blvd. Left on LA hwy 45 at the McDonalds on the L and follow the signs to Jean Lafitte Historic Park.
Pick up a map at the visitor center