Livin' it up at...Fort Polk?
When we received orders to Polk in 2009, we also received condolences as if we were amidst a death processional in progress, which is funny because most don’t know that Louisiana is actually home to incredible funeral marches. “The armpit of hell” some called it. “The place where marriages go to die.” So needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive about the 2 years ahead of us. And I wish I could say we arrived to a warm welcome but a house rented sight unseen that had been vacant for 6 months and NOT attended to by the rental property managers before our arrival was not indeed a pleasant transition. But every move is going to have surprises, horrors, highs, and lows. That’s what makes military life filled with stories and memories. It’s about mindset and taking advantage of the greatness every duty station has to offer. Yes, even those duty stations that make people hug you and say, “I am so sorry.”
So, with that being said, here are the top 5 things NOT to miss in Fort Polk, LA. Food and culture are in abundance in Louisiana Cajun country, so live it up because you’ll never have another opportunity like it!
BEST burger joint out of the 9 PCS moves we’ve made in 15 years. We talk about these burgers and fries often. And always get the Cajun Fries. Located in the heart of Leesville! The food is fresh, ambiance is local and cozy, and it’s made to order!
2. Ranch House
Another mom and pop restaurant located in Leesville that is no frills but all delicious. Expect picnic table table cloths and a busy crowd but the brisket baked potato and homemade peach tea are NOT to be missed.
3. Natchitoches (pronounced: Nack-a-tish)
This historic river front city is easily missed but also an easy day trip from Polk. Make it more than once and AT LEAST once during the holiday season. Quaint shops, great restaurants, and home to timeless treasure known as Steel Magnolia!
4. Drive thru margarita stops
Yes, this is a real thing and it exists in Leesville, LA. Can’t say I’ve ever seen it anywhere else in my life but just drive on up and grab a margarita to go. Of course, girls night out will require a DD anyway, so make sure to add the daiquiri and margarita stops to the night’s festivities.
5. Small town Mardi Gras parades
Don’t even go to New Orleans. Ok, go at least once to say you’ve been there but no need to go during Mardi Gras. The small town parades and celebrations are incredible. The floats and festivals (regionally organized by groups referred to as krewes) will not disappoint. The “biggest” city near Fort Polk is Alexandria and their annual parade is a blast. Get there and set up shop about an hour early to get a good seat – and the good candy and beads. Confession: I ended up in the ER 8 months pregnant from jumping up and down for beads and candy a bit too exuberantly. I was THAT lady.
Down for a real up close and personal with Louisiana’s most natural wildlife? Don’t miss this remotely located Alligator adventure outside of Natchitoches. You will see gators so big that jump so high out of the water that you’ll never ever want to go near a lake again. Completely fascinating and terrifying at the same time. You won’t see a place like this anywhere else. This is NOT your average Florida-esque alligator encounter.
Overall, it’s really what you make it. In the military, ‘home is where the heart is’ takes on a whole new meaning when sometimes your heart isn’t lovin’ where you are, but if you dig deep enough and open your eyes and ears to the local flair, I promise you’ll make memories, have fun, and leave with stories you’ll share for generations (and you’ll miss really great Cajun Fries and Peach tea).
about the author
Erica McMannes is an Army spouse. She’s found something worth treasuring in each of their 9 PCS moves in the past 15 years to include Fort Rucker (3 times), Giebelstadt, Germany, Fort Riley, KS, Fort Polk, LA, Monterey, CA, Fort Lee, VA and currently Fort Eustis, VA. She has 2 kiddos and is CEO of MadSkills.