Our brush with a 12-foot gator in the Louisiana bayou
There’s a reason swamp tours are a top attraction in Louisiana’s Cajun Country: alligators are dangerous, sexy and cool. Who doesn’t want a vacation photo with a prehistoric monster in the background?
Most swamp tours are group outings in a motorized boat, but we decided on a more adventurous option. We booked a kayak tour of the bayou with the help of St Martin Parish’s tourism office. It’s hard to convey the rush we felt when we spotted a 12-foot gator just yards from our plastic kayak. The nearby predator was bigger than our boat!
Read on for details and photos of our trip, which was a highlight of our time in Cajun Country.
When we arrived at the Lake Martin boat landing on the day of our tour, we expected our guide to be a grizzled old Cajun with a scraggly beard and waders. (We credit reality TV’s swamp programming for spreading this stereotype).
However, when we approached a man fitting this description, it turned out he was the operator of a more traditional motorized boat tour. He pointed us to a young blond man in khaki gear wearing a sun hat, and informed us that this was the kayak tour guide.
While Cory Werk, owner of the Bayou Teche Experience, did not fit our vision of a Cajun Country swamp guide, he was highly professional. He carefully laid out our equipment, including life vests we chose to secure to the boat instead of wearing, while reviewing safety tips and our itinerary.
Cory grew up on the West Coast but has family roots in Cajun Country; he returned there to open his tour company in 2013. He offers both kayak rentals and guided tours, including custom multi-day excursions with drop off and pick up at various points down the Bayou Teche river. Although we’ve kayaked before, we opted for the relatively easy swamp tour, which featured no current and a strong possibility of alligator encounters.
In Search of Gators
I took my usual spot at the front of the kayak (leaving Jake to do the heavy paddling in the rear) and fixed my gaze on the waterline, hoping to spot a gator. Cory led in a smaller kayak, finding the best routes for our boat and calling out the animal life (birds, turtles) along our path.
The scenery was classic bayou, with tree trunks emerging magically from the dark water and plenty of shadowy places for alligators to hide. We kayaked through patches of thick vegetation that threatened to snarl our boats.
The sunshine turned the water an eery green hue, and it was easy to spot imaginary alligators in the gnarled tree roots.
The paddling was easy, especially compared to our sea kayaking experiences in Alaska and Washington state. There was no wind and the water was perfectly still. Sunburn posted the greatest threat during our kayaking adventure, more so than an alligator attack or being accidentally shot by one of the duck hunters on Lake Martin. (We didn’t see any hunters, but kept paddling by plastic ducks used as decoys).
We were enjoying our leisurely paddle but were growing disappointed that we hadn’t spotted a gator. Just before despair set in, Corey stopped paddling and motioned for us to keep still. A massive alligator was sunning himself about 100 feet from our kayak! Corey estimated its size at 12 feet– about the same as our kayak– and said it was the largest he had seen on the lake.
My heart was racing as I removed my iPhone from a dry bag and shot dozens of photos of the beast. While the creature’s giant head was clearly visible to the human eye, I struggled in the glare to capture a clear shot on my phone.
The encounter was scary but exciting. Jake and I wanted to get closer to the gator but our guide, Cory, took a cautious approach. He kept us at a safe distance, and after several minutes we took a wide paddle around the beast and continued our trajectory across the lake. We were disappointed we didn’t get closer to the gator but considering our plastic boats, it was probably for the best!
The Bottom Line
Kayaking in the Louisiana bayou was a fun experience and involved surprisingly little physical exertion. If you are looking for a tranquil way to get close to the wildlife and flora of Cajun Country while getting some exercise, we recommend the Bayou Teche Experience kayak tour. Make sure to wear sunblock and bring a camera, since you’ll want photos of the gators you come across!
Tour Company: Bayou Teche Experience
Physical Exertion: Moderate
Experience Required: None
Duration: 4-hour day trip
Cost: $100 plus tax for guided tour
Reservations required; visit the website for details.