Grand Isle: One of the Last Peaceful Get Aways  

by: George Payne


Camping at Grand Isle's State Park

    Nestled between the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on one side and Barataria and Caminada Bays on the other, Grand Isle, Louisiana is quickly becoming one of the must see destinations in the South. From fishing to boating to beach combing, Grand Isle is the place for summer relaxation. 

    As best said by The Tourist Commissioner, Mrs. Josie Cheramie,  “Grand Isle is the perfect place for people who need to escape.  It is the place where you will get reacquainted with who you are, and it is the place where you will find yourself once again.  Just like everywhere else, we have some nice hotels and some good restaurants here, but unlike other places, we don’t have a fast paced culture.  Enjoy Grand Isle at your leisure.  The island was built for fishing, bird watching, and just being lazy.  Take a tip from the residents – go slow and enjoy.”  

    Almost eight miles long and a mile wide, Grand Isle is home to approximately 1100 residents and the island maintains close to ten miles of public beaches. Furthermore, as a result of being between salt and fresh water estuaries, Grand Isle is a nature lover’s paradise, and because of its closeness to open water it is a fisherman’s dream.  Regardless if you own a sailboat or cruiser, Grand Isle is an ideal place to spend the weekend or the week.

Trawling just off Grand Isle's Beach

    Born from the collision between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, Grand Isle is rich in geologic history.  Between 2,000 and 800 years ago, the Mississippi River flowed through what is now known as Bayou Lafourche.  All the sediment the river drained from the mid-west U.S. was deposited into the Barataria and Timbalier deltas.  Over the course of time, the deltas sank and became the bays we know today.  Wave and tidal action pushed the excess sand from these bays into the barrier islands of Grand Isle, Grand Terre Island, E. Timbalier Island, and Timbalier Island.  Unfortunately, the same forces that gave birth to Grand Isle are now trying to destroy it.  The constant damage from hurricanes and tidal erosion is causing the Island to move from west to east at about 16 feet per year.  Hopefully, with some intervention, Grand Isle will be around to meet the next millennium. 

    Steeped in history, Grand Isle and its sister island, Grand Terre, were originally settled in the late 1700’s as a fishing village.  The famous “Gentleman Pirate” Jean Lafitte converted the islands into the base of his looting operations.   According to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, Jean Lafitte used Grand Isle and the neighboring island Grand Terre for “his commune…which included a café, bordello, gambling den, warehouses, and a barracoon (for detaining slaves).” 

    Besides the use of the island by pirates, in 1841, the U.S. military constructed Fort Livingston at the mouth of Barataria Pass on Grand Terre.  This fort was designed to protect New Orleans’ back door, Barataria Bay, from attack. Constructed of brick and granite, the fort still stands proudly today.  Although the fort was never involved in military action, 300 Confederate soldiers occupied it during part of the Civil War. The easiest way to view the fort is with binoculars at the observation tower in the State Park.  

    Despite the attack of innumerable hurricanes, the island has several buildings that are over 200 years old.  These houses are located in the center of the island in the mists of large oak trees.  The trees provide the homes with the protection necessary to survive the storms.  Twice a year, the Tourism Commission offers walking tours.  Just by walking by the homes, you can get an idea of what life was like in a turn of the century fishing village. The quaint little neighborhood is a must see for any visitor.

    For fisherman, Grand Isle has a lot to offer. There are over forty-six species of game fish that can be caught within one hour’s boat ride of Grand Isle.  From tuna to tarpon to speckle trout, Grand Isle has it, and best of all, if you want to relax and just surf fish, you have almost ten miles of beach to do it from.  The speckle trout and red fish catches are some of the biggest in Louisiana.  Some of the hottest fishing on the island is from the beach.  The State Park and Caminada Pass offer great action.  The best times to fish are when there is strong tidal movement.  Live shrimp and cacahoes are always a good choice for bait, and medium tackle should be able to land any fish you may catch.  For offshore fishing, check with some of the local marinas to find out which platforms are hot.   

    Furthermore, on July 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, Grand Isle will welcome 15,000 visitors and 3,500 anglers for this year’s International Tarpon Rodeo.  The rodeo is in its 78th year.  During the rodeo the island erupts with live music, good food, and fishing excitement.  During these three days, Grand Isle comes alive, and there is literally something to do 24 hours a day.

    Grand Isle also has Louisiana’s only state-owned and operated beach on the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  Each year over 300,000 visitors come to Grand Isle State Part for beach combing, surf fishing, sun bathing, and primitive camping.  There is a modest fee for using the park, but the quality of the park and beach is superb.  As mentioned before, there is an observation tower located in the park that gives a fabulous view of the area.  And for those boaters who want to camp, the State Park offers campsites that are centered right on the beach, just yards from the water.  It certainly makes for a pleasant night’s sleep listening to the wave lap in. To supplement the campground there are also nice bath facilities located within the park.  It makes for a nice day to be able to rinse off the sea before going back aboard your boat.  Furthermore, for boaters just wanting to picnic, the State Park also has dozens of covered picnic tables.    The park is located on the far east end of the Island.  To get there by car, just stay on the main road until it ends.  The park entrance is just before the end on the right hand side. 

    For nature lovers, Grand Isle is nothing short of heaven.  From migrants to nesting birds, there is something on the island for everyone.  During the spring and fall, the island plays host to thousands of migrating birds.  Occasionally, during a spring storm, it is possible to see a phenomenon known as a fall out.   A fall out occurs when migrating birds become so exhausted by fighting bad weather or winds as they fly across the gulf that they land on the first bush they see.  When this occurs, the island is covered with thousands of resting birds.  It is possible to see as many as fifty tanagers, thirty buntings, and a few other species all in one small tree. 

    The best birding on the island is located at the home of Mr. Bobbie Santinni. His yard is a welcome sanctuary to all birders and migrating birds.  Just as birds seem to know the same routes year after year, they also seem to know to stop in Mr. Santinni’s yard.  If it were not for Santinni, many of the birds would most certainly parish.  His property is located at the end of Coulon Rigaud Road on the right hand side at the end of the road. He welcomes all birders with open arms.  In addition to seeing the birds at Santinni’s, his home was built in 1776.  It was the residence for the town’s midwife.

    Another must see birding spot is Queen Bess Island.  Located approximately four miles due north of Barataria Pass, the island is the nesting home to thousands of brown pelicans.  It is difficult to describe the magnitude of this island in words.  There are so many birds on the island, that when disturbed by a predator, the sky seems to darken from their flight.   As best stated by Captain Ricky, owner of Ricky’s Motel and long time nature lover, “Every time I see these birds I notice something new and different.  I have been out here a thousand times, but each time is more enchanting than the last.  A few years ago, the browns (pelican) were few and far between, but just look at them now.”  For those guests staying at his hotel, Capt. Ricky, if available, will provide free guide service around Queen Bess Island.

    As one can see, Grand Isle is the perfect getaway from it all spot.  It is an area rich in history, nature, fishing, and atmosphere.  It offers all the luxuries we expect from a resort without all the prices and hassle.    Where else in the world can you do so many things with your family in one day and spend so little.  Grand Isle is truly one of the South’s last bargains.  Who knows, once you begin going there, you may never want to leave.


    The boating facilities on the island are nothing short of superb.  There are at least eight different marinas on the island, and they offer a wide variety of services from hoists, to wet and dry boat storage, to boat launches.  All the staff at the marinas are very helpful with fishing and boating advice.  Most notable of the marinas on the east end are the Sand Dollar and Pirate’s Cove.  Most notable on the west end is the Bridge Side Marina.  Furthermore, Cigar’s Marina, located just across Caminada Pass is a one-stop shop for boaters.  Cigar’s offers a restaurant, launch, and accommodations all in one spot. 

    The island offers a wide variety of accommodations.  As expected, there are several good hotels on the island.  The most notable ones are Ricky’s Hotel (all new construction with a lighted pier for good night fishing), Cigar’s (located next to a launch with a restaurant), The Blue Dolphin, and Bridge Side (next to a launch and good bridge fishing).  All the hotels range in price from $40.00 to $100.00 per night.   If you want to stay in an apartment or camp, there are several very good places to stay.  They range in price from $400 to $600 per week, and you can find out which ones are available by calling the Tourist Commission at 504-787-2997.  For those who want to come during the Tarpon Rodeo, accommodations can be hard to come by.  Call early. 

    In addition to the hotels, the eating on the island can range from good to excellent.  The Chicken Shack, located off highway 1 in the center of the island, offers good hamburgers, pizza, and chicken.  Sarah’s, also located in the center, is a tasty diner.  The Sand Dollar and Cigars have excellent food and are a real nice sit down type restaurant.  For a dinner with a view, nothing beats the IceHouse.


    For boaters who trailer their boats, driving directions are as follows: Take Interstate 10 to the 310 spur located just West of New Orleans. Stay on 310 until it ends at Highway 90.  Turn right onto 90 and follow it until you see the Highway 1 exit (It is about twenty miles from the 90/310 exit).  Go south and follow highway.  It will eventually take you through the center of Grand Isle (about 67 miles from the 90/1 exit).  One word of caution, when traveling through Golden Meadow follow all speed limits exactly.   There is no tolerance for error. 

    For boaters approaching via water, there are 2 channels that lead into separate harbors.  They have separate markers for each channel.  The left one leads to the Sand Dollar Mariana and the other leads into the Coast Guard Station and Pirate’s Cove Marina.  All boaters should be careful if they travel through either of the passes around the island.  The passes have strong currents and have scattered shoals thorough out.

Grand Isle’s location is at Latitude 29 degrees 15’/Longitude 90 degrees 00’.