This small town of 12,000 has one of the only downtown districts in Louisiana to keep hold of its original brick-paved Main Street.
Minden has many more surprising historical details, like the preserved vestiges of a 19th-century Utopian colony at Germantown, and a refined residential district designed on a parallelogram by the German founder, Charles Vedeer in the 1830s.
The town is a jumping off point for some romantic North Louisiana wilderness, with cypress-tupelo forest, lakes and bayous all ready to be discovered at the likes of Lake Bistineau State Park and Kisatchie National Forest.
1. Downtown Minden
Minden has one of only two downtown districts in the state to retain its original red brick-paved roads.
Starting at the water tower in the north you could treat yourself to a rewarding self-guided tour, admiring turn-of-the-century storefronts and calling it at any number of thriving local businesses.
Always hospitable and full of community spirit, downtown Minden hosts regular outdoor events, including the popular Grilling on Main BBQ contest in June and a car show in September.
There are stores on hand for antiques, collectibles, fashion, lingerie, jewelry and children’s clothes, as well as a strong contingent of eateries underpinned by Geaux Fresh (sandwiches), Roma Italian Bistro and Habacu’s (Mexican).
2. Lake Bistineau State Park
A few miles south of Minden is a giant body of water originating in 1800 with an epic logjam on the Red River.
Lake Bistineau was eventually impounded with a permanent dam on Loggy Bayou in 1935 and its twisting, indented shoreline quickly became a magnet for fishing.
On the western shore is Lake Bistineau State Park, in a magnificent swathe of cypress and tupelo forest, affording all kinds of outdoor recreation.
There are five different woodland trails, a swimming beach, several lakeside picnic sites and many acres of open water that can be traversed on a five-mile paddling loop (rentals are available).
Fishing season at Lake Bistineau is January through fall, and some of these freshwater species biting in these clear waters are catfish, black crappie, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, yellow bass and bluegill.
3. Caney Lakes Recreation Complex
A few miles north of Minden is a unit of Kisatchie National Forest, the only National Forest in the state, protecting some 600,000 acres in northern and central Louisiana.
The Caney Lakes Recreation Complex encompasses two bodies of water at the Lower and Upper Caney Lake for a wide spectrum of outdoor recreation.
There’s a day-use beach, open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, as well as amenities for fishing, paddling, boating, water skiing, jet skiing and tubing.
Fish varieties regularly caught at Caney Lakes are bass, catfish and panfish, and you can cast a line from the shore, pier or on a boat.
On the shore you can camp, enjoy a scenic picnic (BBQ pits are provided), play volleyball or stretch your legs along the Sugar Cane National Recreation Trail.
4. Germantown Colony Museum
About ten minutes northeast of Minden you can visit the site of a Utopian Christian colony established by a group of German settlers led by Countess von Leon.
Founded in 1835 in what was then remote wilderness, Germantown survived as a communal colony for the best part of 40 years. In the 1970s two descendants donated an acre of the colony site to Webster Parish Police Jury.
Three original buildings from Germantown survive to this day, and you can peruse indoor exhibits, with dioramas, accounts, farming tools and hunting weapons belonging to the colonists. Tours are offered for free, Thursday through Saturday.
5. Dorcheat Historical Association Museum
There’s a free museum at 116 Pearl St in downtown Minden, documenting the long and compelling story of the town and Webster Parish.
With a series of well-presented displays, the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum recalls the days of the Caddo Native Americans, 19th-century paddle wheelers and the Civil War in Webster Parish.
You can browse detailed profiles of important local personalities, from Grammy and Heisman-winners to astronauts, and learn about the various Hollywood movies that have been filmed in the area.
There’s also info about Minden’s long connection with the Coca-Cola Company, and the devastating tornado of 1933, wiping out 20% of all homes.
6. Bayou Dorcheat Trail
Flowing through Webster Parish, Bayou Dorcheat has long been a navigable waterway, aiding the area’s development in the 19th century, with steamboats from the Red River bringing cargo and enabling trade for farmers.
Today you can live some of that history on a six-mile paddling trail between Dixie Inn, just southwest of Minden, and Sibley.
During this three-hour voyage you’ll see towering bald cypresses, abundant birdlife and curious man-made landmarks like an historic railroad trestle.
Depending on the water level there should be a number of sandbars where you can pull your kayak ashore and take a break.
If you don’t have your own vessel, kayaks, canoes and pirogues are available from Dorcheat Bayou Rentals.
7. Minden Historic Residential District
Heading along Broadway St, you could easily walk from downtown Minden to this delightful residential district with more than 70 contributing buildings on sidewalks shaded by stately mature trees.
Mostly lining a grand stretch of Broadway, the Minden Historic Residential District has opulent architecture in a spectrum of styles, from Greek Revival to Spanish Colonial Revival.
If you’re wondering about the unorthodox street plan in the district, it goes back to founder Charles Hans Veeder, who laid out Minden in the shape of a parallelogram in the 1830s.
8. Academy Park
Traced by beautiful old residences on the west side of the Minden Historic Residential District is a small park with an interesting past.
As hinted by the name, Academy Park is on the site of the Minden Male Academy, constructed in 1850, with an extra 80 acres donated to the campus by Civic Leaders in 1852.
In the decades before the local public school system was established, a host of distinguished figures received an education at this very place, including John Thomas Watkins (1854-1925), who served eight terms as a U.S. representative for Louisiana’s 4th congressional district.
Minden Male Academy closed in 1898, and the park that’s here now has a central fountain, gazebo, tennis court, picnic tables and paths under hardwood trees.
9. Crawfish Hole #2 Steak & Seafood Restaurant
For delicious Cajun specialties in Minden, look no further than this full-service, family-run joint, in business for more than 20 years.
Crawfish Hole #2 Steak & Seafood Restaurant has picked up armfuls of awards since 1999, and has a menu stuffed with regional favorites like fried catfish, frog legs, crab cake, gumbo, étouffée, red beans and rice, boudin balls, po-boys and pecan pie.
Crawfish is sprinkled throughout the menu, boiled of course, but also in po-boys, pies, gumbo, as étouffée, fried or in salads.
10. Ol’ West BBQ
You’ll never need to search long for a great BBQ joint in North Louisiana, and even a small-ish town like Minden has a couple.
At 206 State Rte 531 on the east side of town you’ll find Ol’ West BBQ, a family business that has been part of the dining scene in Minden for years. smoking its meat to perfection out back.
The key to Ol’ West’s longevity is cooking the meat just right, so it’s tender and juicy, then combining it with a unique BBQ sauce with just enough sweetness.
The specialty here is the ribs, along with chopped pork, chicken and a range of classic sides like corn on the cob, potato salad, cole slaw, pinto beans and green beans.
11. Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Site
Along State Highway 154, a comfortable drive southeast of Minden, is the spot where the notorious couple Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) met their end on May 23rd, 1934.
That January, retired Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer (1884-1955) had been coaxed back into service to track them down.
He noticed a pattern to Barrow Gang’s violent sprees, skirting along the edges of five states in a circle, and predicted when they would stop in Louisiana to visit gang member Henry Methvin’s family.
The ambush was a fittingly brutal conclusion to the couple’s short lives, with Hamer’s posse firing 130 rounds, around a fifth of which struck the couple.
Although it’s a little wider today, State Highway hasn’t changed too much since that day, and there’s an old stone marker for the couple, pocked with bullet holes, and a newer plaque commemorating Hamer and his posse.
12. Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum
Even closer to Minden at 15 minutes east on I-20, Gibsland is the town where the infamous pair made their final stop.
This was Ma Canfield’s Cafe, where Bonnie and Clyde picked up sandwiches at 9am before driving into the ambush seven miles down the road. Bonnie was still holding her half-eaten fried bologna sandwich when they pulled her from the car.
The cafe building is now a Bonnie and Clyde museum, loaded with interesting details, artifacts and memorabilia relating to the couple and that fateful day.
On show is a replica of their bullet-riddled V8 Ford, one of Clyde’s Remington shotguns, Bonnie’s hat, broken glass from the scene, the cafe’s cash register and other curiosities like a tire that Clyde stole and gave to a local man.
13. Heavenly Treasures
There’s an adorable antique mall at 103 Main St, southwest of downtown Minden. Open Monday to Saturday and housing booths for numerous vendors, Heavenly Treasures is a trove of antique, vintage, used and new items.
The building is much larger than it seems from the front, and holds a giant selection of furniture, pottery, glassware, paintings, kitchen utensils, vintage appliances, baskets, figurines, vintage clothes, lighting, clocks, old signs and all manner of quirky, newly-crafted items.
Across the road it’s also worth checking out Smokin’ J’s BBQ, known for its brisket/chopped beef and peach cobbler.
14. Historic Minden Cemetery
There’s yet more history to be discovered at Minden Cemetery, which is on a long and narrow plot to the west of downtown.
Still in use, the cemetery’s oldest tombstones are from 1843, but the oldest and now unmarked burials actually date to 1840. Many of these early stones were claimed by a tornado that hit Minden in 1933.
Among the prominent local citizens laid to rest at the cemetery are two U.S. representatives (including John T. Watkins), four state representatives and a state senator, as well as 12 mayors of Minden.
There are also a number of Civil War burials, including 21 Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Mansfield (April 8, 1864).
15. Grilling on Main
For one weekend every June, downtown Minden becomes a smoky paradise as the top pitmasters in the region compete at North Louisiana’s premier BBQ contest.
The main categories at Grilling on Main are ribs, brisket and chicken, with a total of $10,000 prizes up for grabs.
In a world where low-and-slow is the secret to tender and juicy meat, you can expect to see these artists tending their smokers at all hours.
Of course, you’ll get to sample this tasty cooking, and choose from a mouthwatering lineup of food vendors. There’s also live music, shopping, a cornhole tournament and a fireworks show to bring the whole event to a close.