by Mike McCann
Grand Isle is Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, seven miles long and one mile wide, being a fishing paradise since its earliest days of use by the Chitimacha tribe. European settlement began in the 1780’s while Louisiana was under Spanish rule. The government divided the island into four land grants, and the original landowners developed their property into farms, eventually plantations, raising crops such as sugar cane and cotton as well as cattle.
Pirates, including Privateer Jean Lafitte, frequented the area in the early 1800s, and construction of Fort Livingston began in the 1830s on neighboring Grand Terre Island. Occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, the site today is a Louisiana State Commemorative Area. Following the Civil War, plantations declined and vacation resorts started to spring up on the island catering to wealthy families.
There’s a solitary strip of road that cuts a path through the marsh and black mangroves to connect a traveler between Louisiana’s mainland and the state’s only inhabited barrier island. Grand Isle is the end of the road for Louisiana Highway 1, and it’s arguably one of the most dramatic locations along the 436-mile-long highway.
The island’s economy revolves around fishing and recreational use of the beaches, as well as several large oil and gas company facilities.
Grand Isle is a small community of about 1,500 permanent residents and a scattering of small businesses. More than 12,000 tourists visit the island annually to participate in fishing rodeos and enjoy the wide open beaches and bird sightings.
Whether you seek serenity or lots of activities, here is a sampling of what’s available on this small island:
Grand Isle is one of Louisiana's birding hotspots, and is the only barrier island with sizable woods that can be reached by highway. Most of the migratory birds of the eastern United States can be seen here during the spectacular "fallouts" that occur during rainy weather or the passage of cold fronts in the spring.
The Nature Conservancy maintains nature hikes through the island’s last remaining stand of oak-hackberry forest, where the birds tend to congregate when in town. The annual spring Migratory Bird Festival celebrates migratory bird arrivals. Year round, Grand Isle is home to many species of wading birds such as Herons, Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills.
Charter boats go deep-sea fishing for snapper to marlin, along with coastal and marsh fishing for speckled trout, redfish, croaker and drum…a fisherman's idea of heaven.
Grand Isle hosts 280 species of fish. You can catch fish from almost any spot on or off the island. There are two major piers—one at the state park and one known as the “Old Fishing Bridge” next to the Caminada Bridge. There are more than 30 charter fishing companies, several marinas and bait shops and kayak rentals.
Around the historic town of Grand Isle (on the Gulf of Mexico at the end of LA 1) is reputed to be one of the top ten fishing spots in the world.
Grand Isle State Park
Raw, natural, tranquil and beautiful describe one of the last natural preservation areas on Grand Isle. This state park is approximately 150 acres with raw landscape, pristine beaches, a 400-foot fishing pier and home to hundreds of species of fish and birds. The park features the only pier in Louisiana that goes into the Gulf of Mexico and an observation tower that gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the east end of Grand Isle and the ruins of Fort Livingston on Grand Terre island.
Wake Side Cable Park
Wake Side is Louisiana’s first and only salt water cable park. Visitors are pulled by rope attached to a cable system that provides a constant pulling speed. The run is about 600 feet long and will include two jumps and a water obstacle.
Seven miles of white sand beaches are open to the public via 12 crossovers. Much of the beach area has been reinforced with rock jetties, a new dune line with beach grasses and sand that stave off erosion and create healthier beaches, ideal for many different adventures, such as swimming, surfing, wade fishing and crabbing. Parking is also available.
Featuring native butterflies and plants, the Butterfly Dome offers a glimpse into the habitat of butterflies. The Dome is maintained through private donations and features guided (advance scheduling required) or self-guided tours.
Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, owned and maintained by the state of Louisiana, is a 230-acre tract of barrier beachfront located on the southwestern tip of Jefferson Parish.
Grand Isle's Tour of Historic Homes features proud survivors of numerous hurricanes. You can download the historic home audio podcast online at iTunes or rent a preloaded iPod at the Tourism/Port Commission office.
Grand Isle, Louisiana allows visitors everything from serenity to nonstop activity…worth a look.