Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras spans several days of themed parades and family-friendly events that make Lake Charles and surrounding towns a fabulous place to celebrate Carnival. Southwest Louisiana stakes its claim to the second largest Mardi Gras in the state, a fun and friendly alternative to raucous New Orleans.
Our Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras visit was hosted by the Lake Charles Visitor Bureau. They helped us sample a variety of events so we could share our tips with the McCool Travel network.
Here are fun and family-friendly ways to celebrate a Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras.
Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Parades and Events
Parades are the key component of any Mardi Gras celebration, but why settle for one parade when you can have many? Southwest Louisiana hosts multiple parades over several days of partying. Here are a few of the Lake Charles Mardi Gras parades and events that we enjoyed.
Krewe de Barkus Parade
The popular and slightly wacky Krewe de Barkus Parade features a lakefront procession of costumed dogs and their two-footed companions. Many of the costumed pups ride in style on mini floats made from wagons. The parade is held during the day, and it is a really fun event for kids, families, and, of course, pet lovers.
The Mystical Dog title is awarded to the pet with the most memorable costume. We liked this Walking Dead inspired entry for originality.
>>> See more cute dog costume photos in this Tammilee Tips article.
Lake Charles Children’s Parade
The highlight of Lake Charles Mardi Gras for many kids and their families is the daytime Children’s Parade. The parade follows the same 6-mile route as the evening Mardi Gras parade and it is packed with family-friendly floats. Beads and trinkets fly all along the parade route, putting smiles on the faces of kids lining the street.
We threw beads from the Lake Charles Visitor Bureau float, and it was a highlight of that year’s travels. The moment when you make eye contact with a child as they catch your beads is just magical.
McCool Travel tip: Kids really get caught up in the bead-catching fun and sometimes run after a fallen necklace. Watch the little ones and keep them out of the street.
Krewe of Krewes Mardi Gras Parade
The main parade takes place on Mardi Gras night. The Krewe of Krewes Parade follows the same route as the Children’s Parade but the vibe is a little more on the wild side. This is where you will see krewe floats, many of them two stories high, crowded with bead-throwing adults.
If your goal is to amass a giant collection of bead necklaces, then this is the parade for you. Be ready to catch when plastic cups, balls, and other goodies come flying your way from some of the floats.
Even though many participants (both on and off the floats) are in a partying mood, we did not see anything too wild happen during the parade. Lake Charles prides itself on being a family-friendly place, so partying is kept to a reasonable level on Fat Tuesday.
Iowa Chicken Run
The Iowa Chicken Run (pronounced I-Oh-way) is an incredibly unique community experience and a fun contrast to the extravagance of the major parades. This traditional event combines a slow-moving and rustic parade with music, dance, and chicken chasing.
A convoy of decorated flatbeds and pick-up trucks meanders through town streets, stopping at houses along the way. At each stop, ingredients are donated to add to the communal gumbo. Music and dancing celebrate the food offering, and then it is time for the kids to chase and catch a chicken or two. It is a little hard to describe but a lot of fun to join in.
We have to admit there was some adult fun at the Chicken Run too, mostly involving festive treats doled out by Miss Doris.
>>> See more Iowa Chicken Run photos in this Walking on Travels article.
Royal Gala of Lake Charles Mardi Gras
Most krewe parties are for members only, so visitors rarely see each krewe’s court in their full regalia. The Royal Gala during Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras is an exception, open to all. This is the only event in Louisiana where visitors can watch every Krewe’s Royal Court as they process in full, extravagant costumes.
Fans fill the Lake Charles Civic Center, cheering on their favorite krewes as each court strolls around the arena and pays their respects to the Mardi Gras queens. We were amazed to see the krewes dance and bow in their incredible headdresses without toppling over.
McCool Travel tip: There are more than 70 krewes and each has their time on the floor. Expect a long and slow-moving event where you’ll have plenty of time to see the costumes.
That is a sample of the parades and events we attended during our Lake Charles visit. There are many other parades and special events that are part of a Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras. There is a whole day dedicated to children, with hands-on activities and other fun. The Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook Off draws a horde of hungry partiers for food, music, and dancing.
Preparing for Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras
Parades and special events are the highlight of the festivities but it is worth a little prep work to better enjoy the celebration. We highly recommend donning some purple and gold of your own. Happily, Lake Charles has the perfect museum for inspiration and understanding of the krewe costumes you will see.
Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu
A Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras is not complete until you visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. They house the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the south, tracing the history of celebrations from the early days to the present. There are displays dedicated to costume design, king cake, and float design too, including a parade float you can climb on.
The range of costume styles is impressive. Of course, you will see beautiful, feather-clad headdresses. But you’ll also find some funny themes and a few items that are kind of creepy (cue the animatronic talking baby).
Mardi Gras Lady Store
Shop at the Mardi Gras Lady store to create your own costume or add a little bling to your parade-watching outfit. The store is open seasonally, from November through Mardi Gras. It is packed with masks, necklaces, hats, shirts, and baubles sporting the gold, purple, and green colors of Carnival.
Lake Charles / Southwest Louisiana Visitor Center
The Lake Charles Visitor Center is the place to get oriented, and to pick up schedules and information about all of the fun Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras festivities. During our visit, they had props and a backdrop set up for a perfect Mardi Gras photo. The lakefront location is a nice spot to stretch your legs and there is a gator pond outside.
Dining in Lake Charles Louisiana
Another way to get in the Mardi Gras mood is with a meal and some king cake at one of the local restaurants. If you are lucky, crawfish will be in season. Seafood Palace serves Cajun and Creole dishes and boiled seafood in a casual, family-friendly setting. Steamboat Bill’s is another casual spot to get your crawfish fix.
Sunday Brunch at Blue Dog Cafe in downtown Lake Charles is a tasty spot for hungry folk. The all-you-can-eat buffet comes with bottomless mimosas and live music. The buffet is stocked with a nice mix of cajun dishes and traditional brunch fare including prime rib and made-to-order omelets.
McCool Travel note: Blue Dog Cafe in Lake Charles is now closed. A reminder to support your favorite places so that they can remain in business.
If fine dining is your goal, we recommend Ember Grille and Wine Bar at L’Auberge Casino Resort. The luxe steak-house setting is the perfect place to enjoy delicious meat and seafood creations. Want to splurge on a meat-lovers special occasion meal? The Tomahawk Steak is fantastic!
Where to Stay During Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras
The L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles LA was our base for Mardi Gras festivities. We highly recommend the resort for its luxurious but relaxed vibe. It has an elaborate pool and a small beach area, so it is a nice family destination too.
>>> Read our full review of L’Auberge Lake Charles.
More Reasons to Visit Lake Charles Louisiana
Mardi Gras is an incredible time to visit Lake Charles, but the region has more fun events to offer. Lake Charles has been celebrating their pirate heritage for over 60 years with a multi-day celebration formerly known as Contraband Days. The updated and expanded Louisiana Pirate Festival includes parades, fireworks, a carnival, music, and more. Be sure to pack your favorite pirate costume for the new Louisiana Pirate Fest Costume Ball. The Pirate Festival returns in early May, so make your travel plans now.
>> Read about our visit to nearby (Houma LA) Greenwood Gator Farm.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic region. Follow Fun in Fairfax VA on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.