Founded in 1714 on the banks of what was then the Red River, Natchitoches, LA, is named after a Native American tribe that lived in the area. It is the oldest European settlement of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase territory. People flocked to the area, but eventually the river changed course, cutting Natchitoches off from the lucrative Mississippi River. The town adapted to this, as well as many other changes since its establishment. With Native American, French, Spanish, African American, Creole, and Anglo influences, the city’s cultural mixture is diverse, to say the least. This sounded like a perfect place for a Shamrock Tour®, so Marisa and I are taking a ride down the Natchez Trace Parkway from our home in Tennessee and then west to Natchitoches in search of American history, Cajun cuisine, and great riding.
Our alarm sounds early. We pack a to-go breakfast from the hotel and hit the road in hopes of avoiding the stifling afternoon heat. Summer is still running full steam as August rolls into September, and the humid Louisiana days are long and hot. I’m riding my KTM 990 Adventure, and Marisa is astride her KTM 950 Adventure. The buildings age as we ride toward Natchitoches’ historic, brick-paved Front Street on our machines, which seem to have become capable of time travel. Front Street runs beside Cane River Lake, the 33-mile-long river-shaped lake that was formed when the Red River changed course around 1835. Unlike so many other downtown areas in the United States today, in downtown Natchitoches the shops, restaurants, and other establishments are open for business, or at least they will be soon.
Recommended Lodging: Natchitoches Comfort Suites
Just southeast of Natchitoches, the Comfort Suites was our home away from home. It’s only a few miles away from all the town’s festivities along Front Street, so the commute is quick and scenic. The hotel’s large rooms feature mini fridges, plenty of charging ports for electronics, and air-conditioning that will keep you cool in the Louisiana heat. There is a nice pool and a small gym area with limited workout equipment. Continental breakfast is provided every morning, and coffee is available all day. The staff is very friendly and will allow motorcycle parking near the front entrance if you ask.
A short walk will bring you to a couple of gas stations, most notably the French Market Express, where you can find some of the best crawfish meat pies and beignets in town. This is great for grabbing a to-go lunch or delectable late night snacks. Find the Comfort Suites at 151 Hayes Ave., Natchitoches, LA, (318) 228-8816.
Early in the morning, Front Street is still and quiet, a substantial departure from the bustle that will take over in an hour or so. The Roque House and gardens next to the water make a perfect setting for a quick breakfast picnic before we get on LA 6 and head north toward the Grand Ecore Visitor Center. After a look around the visitor center, we ride to the southeast, following the Red River.
Traffic is nonexistent as we turn right onto Parish Road 830, the Longleaf Trail Scenic Byway. We seem to have the whole forest to ourselves. The road tightens just as we head deeper into the Kisatchie National Forest. The hot summer air is saturated with the aroma of the longleaf pine trees; the open, sweeping curves and gentle undulations of the road are the perfect complements to the ocean of evergreens that has risen up around us. The Longleaf Vista Recreation Area is a great place for a water break, and again we have the whole place to ourselves. We quietly take in the view from a picnic table in the shade.
Motorcycles & Gear
At this point, it would simply be too much to bear to ride past any more of these nicely groomed dirt roads. We determine that we’re well ahead of schedule for the day and decide to explore some more of the forest before we head back to the hotel. Our need for exploration is slowly alleviated as we zigzag our way around the national forest’s dirt roads. In heat like this, it’s easy to slightly lose focus as you ride along the forest floor, but pockets of churned-up sand and loose dirt keep us laser-focused as we traverse the sea of pines.