Catching some Louisiana sunshine

The Ouachita River doesn’t so much divide Monroe from West Monroe as it provides an invitation to enjoy the natural world. Here are three easy ways.

Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo:
Who doesn’t enjoy taking kids to the zoo, especially one like this that’s both diverse and compact? It has more than 400 animals and lets the kids see everything from an iconic American bison to exotic animals such as a leopard, a hippopotamus, a Galapagos tortoise, and an addax (you may need to look that one up). There’s a reptile house, the Hall of Small (described as “an immersive insect exhibit with hands-on activities”), and a 4,000-square-foot splash park where the kids can cool off. A pontoon boat plies the water of a lagoon for refreshing breezes and beautiful scenery.

Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife
Refuge: All 5,300 acres of this refuge are inside Monroe’s city limits. Rent a canoe to explore its 1,600-acre lake, enjoy a stroll on an elevated boardwalk, spread out a picnic, or study the difference between a bottom land hardwood forest and a cypress swamp.

Alligators, turtles, and other reptiles are refuge residents, and birds are abundant – both residential and migratory. You may see a bald eagle or a brilliantly yellow prothonotary warbler, otherwise known as a swamp canary.

The river itself: There are great locations to stroll along the river in the cool of morning or to enjoy a sunset over the water. Consider the Forsythe Park levee, the Downtown RiverMarket, or restaurants such as Trapp’s and SQ’s on the Ouachita.