Boat launch into Bayou Courtableau

Bayou Courtableau

Bayou Courtableau at Steamboat Turnaround

What's the Story?

Originally called the Opelousas River, Bayou Courtableau’s name was changed to honor the memory of Jacques Courtableau, a wealthy and influential landowner. The bayou was historically connected to the Atchafalaya River but today receives up to 1,040 cubic feet per second of fresh water from the Atchafalaya via the Teche-Vermilion Pumping Station in Krotz Springs. Bayou Courtableau flows through the towns of Washington and Port Barre, where it feeds into Bayou Teche.

Steamboat transportation arrived in western Louisiana in the early 1800s. Ocean-going boats that traversed the Atlantic between New Orleans and Europe were too large to safely navigate the bayous and rivers of the Atchafalaya Basin, so smaller, shallow draft vessels were constructed and quickly became the primary means of carrying cargo and passengers throughout the lower part of the Basin. This heyday lasted for more than 50 years, with boats transporting goods such as cotton and cottonseed, sugar, molasses and poultry throughout the region. 

As the number of steamboats grew and the frequency of their visits increased, small villages, towns and cities along the bayous developed into trading and population centers. The width of Bayou Courtableau at the town of Washington was originally too narrow to maintain steam craft operations until Captain George W. Haygood completed a turning basin in 1848, allowing the boats to reverse course and head back downstream. Goods were then brought south by raft or barge and transferred to steamboats at the turning basin. These boats typically carried passengers in apartments in the top portion of the vessel and commodities for sale in the lower cargo or hold area. 

In 1896 the Southern Pacific Railroad was extended through Opelousas, and many Washington residents moved to that city as it grew. The last steamboat departed the downtown wharf in 1900, falling victim to the success of the railroad system throughout the U.S.

This site’s geology/geomorphology: Pleistocene meander-belt deposits of Mississippi River blanketed by Peoria Loess


Site GPS Coordinates: 30.615283, -92.050141
Closest Address: Front Street, Washington, LA 70589
Driving Directions: From Alexandria, take I-49 S toward Lafayette. Take Exit 25 onto LA 103 W. Shortly after exiting, take first right onto Elizabeth Street, then left onto Front Street, which dead-ends at the boat launch.

Trail Site Information

Nearby Parking
No Entrance Fees