6 Things to Do at the Audubon Nature Institute
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Most New Orleans-bound vacationers fill their itinerary with local eats in the French Quarter, historical tours and entertainment. However, the city has much to offer nature lovers, too. Those visiting the Big Easy might venture to the Audubon Nature Institute for immersive wildlife experiences and relaxing strolls through its numerous parks.
If you’ve never been to the Audubon Nature Institute, you’re in for an exciting time. Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip.
What Is the Audubon Nature Institute?
Founded in 1975, the Audubon Nature Institute is a unique facility of the Audubon Commission. Located throughout New Orleans, it comprises nine parks and museums — such as the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, the Audubon Species Survival Center and a zoo and aquarium. There are also four parks, including the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center.
The Audubon Nature Institute is committed to conservation, engaging the public with nature-based experiences, programs, events, and public areas that encourage individual conservation efforts. Seeing that the Audubon Nature Institute is situated on the Gulf Coast, the facility has focused on wildlife rescue and providing ecosystem and endangered species protection.
6 Fun Activities at the Audubon Nature Institute
The Audubon Nature Institute has something for everyone. You can visit and participate in exhibits, events, and activities throughout the various museums and parks, ensuring a fun and educational experience for the whole family. Here are six activities at the Audubon Nature Institute you will want to attend.
1. Be Swarmed by Butterflies
Across the United States and Canada, western monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 99.9% from the 1980s to 2021 — approximately 10 million to 1,914 butterflies. The eastern populations have also dipped by 84% from 1996 to 2014. As of July 2022, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed the monarch butterfly as “endangered.”
Hundreds of other butterfly species are also at risk of extinction due to climate change and habitat loss. Stop by the Audubon Insectarium’s Butterfly Garden, where 20 butterfly species flutter around the room, landing on various plants and visitors. You can view multiple resources about the declining butterfly populations and how to save them.
2. Ride the Swamp Train
Are you staying in New Orleans over the weekend? If so, the Swamp train is the best way for you and your kids to see the Audubon Zoo.
Visiting any zoo can be overwhelming — with so much to do and see, it’s often hard to know where to begin.
The Swamp Train — a narrated ride — operates on Saturday and Sunday, departing every 30 minutes. The four stops include the Endangered Species Carousel, the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit, and a trip to the sea lion and reptile exhibits.
3. Pet a Stingray in the Ray Touchpool
The Shark Discovery at Audubon Aquarium has a 13,000-gallon shark and stingray touchpool that contains the southern, blue-spotted, and cownose stingrays and various shark species.
The experience is safe for people to interact with the wildlife and provides an engaging education about endangered marine species and various threats to our oceans — climate change, overfishing, and other human activities.
Sharks are particularly vulnerable and yet play a crucial role in marine ecosystem health. As apex predators, sharks feed on species below them in the food chain, keeping species populations in check and indicating ocean health.
4. Become an Undersea Explorer
While you’re at the Audubon Aquarium, stop by the Undersea Explorer Virtual Reality (VR) Experience. This interactive exhibit uses 360° 3-D virtual reality technology to swim with humpback whales and their calves in Tonga. You might also choose to dive with tiger sharks in the Caribbean.
The Undersea Explorer VR is appropriate for all ages and requires no physical activity. Visitors sit back in a comfortable seat with a headset that transports them to these underwater experiences.
5. Take a Stroll Through the Nature Center
The Audubon Louisiana Nature Center spans 86 acres of forest and wetlands habitats. After shutting down for over a decade following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Nature Center reopened with $10 million worth of repairs and upgrades.
Visitors can walk its many trails or visit the planetarium and interactive wildlife exhibit to learn more about the local plants and wildlife. Most of the Nature Center is also handicap accessible.
If you are interested in an affordable excursion while visiting New Orleans, the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center has no admission fee. However, you must call ahead to reserve planetarium shows and educational experiences with a larger group.
6. Book a Tee Time at Audubon Golf Course
Are you hoping to make a few birdies during your Big Easy vacation? Book a tee time at the Audubon Golf Course — a 4,220-yard layout with a backdrop of 100-year-old Spanish moss-covered oak trees. The course is an 18-hole par 62 fairway with a pro shop and cafe you can stop at for lunch. People also choose its clubhouse for special events, such as rehearsal dinners and weddings.
The Audubon Golf Course has received several accolades over the years, including being voted No. 1 in Golf Digest’s “Courses Over 100 Years Old” and one of the city’s best golf courses in Gambit’s Best of New Orleans 2021.
Audubon International also recertified the course as a Certified Signature Sanctuary. The Signature Sanctuary Certification is awarded when golf courses have worked with environmental architects and stakeholders to create a sustainable fairway. Long-term monitoring ensures the facility has successfully operated in balance with the local ecosystem.
Endless Nature-Based Fun in New Orleans
When people think about the Big Easy, Mardi Gras, jazz music, and traditional Cajun cuisine come to mind. When planning your New Orleans getaway, you’re likely looking to stay at a historic inn and look for typical city excursions. In fact, most vacationers may overlook the city’s many nature-based activities.
The Audubon Nature Institute offers something for everyone, including children and people with disabilities. A quiet natural escape from the hustle and bustle of Big Easy streets is just what you need for a memorable trip.
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About the author
Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.