New Orleans is a flat city. Some describe it as a bowl, since parts of the city are lower than sea level, but when you’re actually in the city, it just feels flat. Overwhelmingly flat, especially to those who have lived in more topographically rich environments. The city is so flat that in the 1933, the Works Progress Administration built “Monkey Hill” in Audubon Zoo for local kids to enjoy, which was for a long time the highest point in the city.
According to Tulane professor Richard Campanella in his book Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day,
The hill measured 27.5 feet above m.s.l, depending on the amount of joyous dirt kicking and grass stomping on the “summit,” until it was heavily relandscaped in late 2000 with concrete walkways, statues of a pride of lions, and a rope bridge connecting the top to surrounding sidewalks. Because Monkey Hill is based on the high natural levee, about 11 feet above m.s.l, its local relief is only about 16 feet. (Campanella 53)
Growing up in New Orleans, I somehow misconstrued a hill on the batture (known locally as “the Fly” ) near Audubon Zoo as Monkey Hill.
Local kids ride their bikes on the hill, and my high school cross country team trained by running up and down the hill and several other smaller hills on the batture.
Because of the trees surrounding the zoo, it’s difficult to determine if this hill is higher than Monkey Hill.
Although Monkey Hill is the most famous hill in the city, the current highest point is actually “The Mountain” in Couturie Forest Arboretum in City Park.
There are education stations posted along the trail, and after following the left fork along the lagoon, the trail to the right quickly rises up to “The Mountain.”
On the summit is a wooden deck made of stumps and a circular wooden bench.
The climb is underwhelming. Not only does it take 30 seconds to ascend, once you are at the top, the forest blocks the view of the surrounding area, so you can’t tell how high you are.
Whichever you want to consider the highest point in New Orleans ”” symbolically Monkey Hill or actually The Mountain ”” the only choices are artificial hills. The city has no natural hills or mountains. The Arboretum itself, though, is nice. The trails are lush, and there is a deck area overlooking the lagoon.
While “The Mountain” is the highest point, City Park is a relatively low-lying area of the city, so it took a lot of damage during flooding from Katrina. The Arboretum has a new master plan (PDF) detailing how they plan to rebuild the area.