There’s much more to Louisiana than extraordinary Mardi Gras celebrations and Creole culture. Look forward to feeding a peacock; zipping above the heads of exotic animals; and hiking to the state’s highest peak–a whopping 535 feet above sea level. Book a stay at one of numerous Louisiana vacation rentals for an unforgettable getaway. Take a look at the top hidden gems in Louisiana.

1. The U.S.S. Orleck Naval Museum, Lake Charles

uss orleck naval museum
Source: Facebook/USS Orleck Naval Museum

After serving America in Vietnam and Korea, the U.S.S. Orleck belonged to the Turkish navy for 15 years. America bought it back and sent it to Lake Charles to serve as a nonprofit museum. As a U.S. Navy destroyer commissioned in 1945, she fired more rounds in support of ground troops in Vietnam than any other ship, gaining the “Top Gun” moniker. Your tour includes the galley, crews’ quarters, officers’ ward room, bridge and more. Besides artifacts for viewing in the display room below deck, there are several 38-caliber guns topside.

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2. Driskill Mountain, Simsboro

driskill mountain trail
Source: Flickr/Lindsay Attaway

Elevation-challenged Driskill Mountain reaches 535 feet above sea level at its peak. It rises proudly in the northern part of Louisiana where James Christopher Driskill and his family settled in 1859. The surname still graces lots of rural mailboxes in the area. The hike begins at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church on State Route 507. Just follow the signs for the one-mile hike along logging roads to reach the summit where you find a kiosk and a picnic table.

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3. Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, St. Martinville

longfellow-evangeline state historic site
Source: Flickr/Maren

The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site preserves the Acadia culture, which Henry Longfellow memorialized in his poem “Evangeline.” The site features a simulated 1800s Acadian farm. The house includes an outdoor kitchen, barn, and other structures. Cattle in the adjacent pasture represent the type raised by the Creoles and the Acadians during the historical era depicted. Other areas include picnic facilities and hiking trails.

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4. Gators & Friends, Greenwood

ziplining at gators & friends
Source: Facebook/Gators & Friends LLC

Gators & Friends–an exotic petting zoo and alligator park–gives you many ways to create an epic family adventure. Start with a zip line experience you won’t find anywhere else. This seven part zip line takes about an hour to complete as you fly over exotic animals and zoom through the trees. In last 720 feet, you fly above the alligators. The half-length zip line tour takes about 30 minutes and still flies over the gators. The park features a go-kart track, a petting zoo, and exhibitions featuring the alligators.

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5. Bayou Segnette State Park, Westwego

water fountain at bayou segnette state park
Source: Facebook/Bayou Segnette State Park

Westwego vacation rentals give you access to Bayou Segnette State Park, which features a swimming pool, wave pool, and a splash pad for cooling off on hot days. The park also includes a boat launch and picnic tables with grills. In this serene space just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, you feel miles away from the noise of the city as you hike the nature trails or just rest on one of the shaded benches, observing the birds and local wildlife.

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6. Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Pioneer

poverty point world heritage site
Source: povertypoint.us

Native Americans built Poverty Point World Heritage Site more than 3,400 years ago. Considered North America’s first city, historians also call it a trade center and an example of engineering genius. With baskets as their only means of transport, the residents used about 2 million cubic yards of soil to build the 72-foot-tall mound, huge half-circles, and other earthen structures that remained unparalleled for over 2,000 years. The museum exhibits feature artifacts found here, including tools, figurines, and stones from 800 miles away.

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7. Rip Van Winkle Gardens, New Iberia

rip van winkle gardens
Source: Facebook/Rip Van winkle gardens

The intrigue of learning about the treasures possibly buried by the pirate Jean Lafitte makes visiting Rip Van Winkle Gardens worth the trip. Add the showy peacocks, a tour of the Jefferson house, more stories of history and tales of infamy by a costumed docent, and it’s a wonderful trip to another time and place. There’s no need to hurry as you stroll through the gardens to enjoy the ancient live oaks, the statues, and the fountains.

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8. Wingate House, Leesville

leesville wingate house
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Visitors notice that the 1905 Wingate house differs from other historic Leesville homes in architectural design, as it features a rounded turret with a bell-shaped roof. Built for central heating, the house includes a furnace room in the basement, and there are no fireplaces. As you tour the house, the guide leaves it up to you to decide whether you believe that Senator Thomas Wingate sold the house in 1918, or that he lost it in a poker game.

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9. Fort Livingston, Isle Grand Terre

fort livingston ruins
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Getting to Fort Livingston requires a boat. Look for boat rentals on Grand Isle at Calm Water Charters, Eveready Marine, or one of the rental venues along Route 1 on Grande Isle. The barrier islands hold a place in history for being favorite hideout spots for pirates, including the infamous Jean Lafitte. In the early 19th century, the government booted pirates from this little island to build the fort. After a hurricane damaged the fort in 1872, the military deserted it. To visit, pull your boat up to the fort at the opening in the jetty, and enter from the west, northwest, or south entrance.

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10. Laurel Valley Plantation, Thibodaux

laurel valley plantation
Source: Facebook/Laurel Valley Plantation Store

Laurel Valley Plantation continues to produce sugar cane and keeps vintage buildings and antique machines intact. The historic village includes a general store and an old locomotive with a Waukesha engine that early workers used to haul sugar cane. The store features local arts and crafts, antiques, and lots of artifacts related to the plantation. Kids enjoy picking up feed the share with animals, including goats, chickens, pigs, and peacocks. Check out the fresh eggs, honey, and pickled quail eggs and other farm products to get some goodies to take back to your vacation rental in Thibodaux.

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