Five nearby attractions provide a respite from summer heat and high gas prices.
By Diana Lambdin Meyer

The little boy causing all the commotion was jumping up and down on the San Andreas Fault, attempting to break California off into the Pacific Ocean. A few feet away, his friend was lying spreadeagle across the state of Texas. Other children screamed and laughed as they danced over much of the North American continent on a sunny summer day. Education was the farthest things from their minds. They simply were having fun and staying cool on a hot summer day.

In-ground fountains on the Tammany Trace refresh and entertain. St. Tammany Tourist Commission photo
In July and August, when the South steams like a plate of boiled crawfish, finding a way to keep cool while on a family outing can be a challenge. Here are five regional ideas to help you and your gang chill this summer.

Cooling down on the Northshore

Children usually aren’t excited about geography, but in Mandeville, La., the educational process is disguised as fun. In-ground fountains in the shape of the Lake Pontchartrain basin spray water as giggling children hop from state to state on a nearby U.S. map that’s imprinted on concrete. The aquatic playground is located at the Mandeville Trailhead of the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile rails-to-trails bike path that connects five St. Tammany Parish towns.

The trailhead and its fountains have become a popular destination for families along Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore during hot Louisiana summers. The cool fountains operate daily April through October from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday morning is the busiest time at the trailhead. The community market is open year-round on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers fresh produce, seafood, plants and herbs, plus handmade scarves, jewelry, pottery and other items made by local artisans. Enjoy a Cajun tart or crab and shrimp pie, along with a locally blended cup of tea, available from local food vendors.

After playing in the fountains, rent a bike to travel the trace at the Kickstand Café, 690 Lafitte St., Mandeville. Ride eight miles north to Abita Springs for a visit to the Abita Brew Pub restaurant, 72011 Holly St. The kids can sample root beer brewed with Louisiana sugar cane and adults can cool down with a frosty mug of Purple Haze, a locally brewed beer with a raspberry overtone.

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

Spending a day at the beach is a favorite summer activity, and some of the prettiest shoreline can be found at Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Mississippi portion of this national park–which continues into Florida–includes West Ship Island, located about 11 miles from Gulfport’s mainland. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the island now welcomes visitors. An hour-long ferry ride takes guests to the island. Children will delight in the antics of the Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins that often swim alongside the boat. Ferries depart from the Gulfport Yacht Harbor at the intersection of U.S. Highways 90 and 49. Fares are $22 for adults, $20 for senior adults and $12 for children (3–10).

Families enjoy the pristine white beaches that remain unspoiled by development. Cool off and play in the brilliant blue-green Gulf waters. Sneak in a little education with a tour of Fort Massachusetts, built in 1866 and used as a Confederate prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Visit for helpful information to help you plan a day at West Ship.

Another way to cool off is at Gulf Island Water Park, 13100 16th St., in Gulfport. This park includes a variety of wild slides, plus a lazy river ride, cooling sprays and an area for younger children. Admission is $27.95 for anyone 42 inches or taller, $19.95 for everyone else.

A great indoor activity for a rainy day or to take a break from the sun is the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, 246 Dolan Ave., in Gulfport. Located in a former elementary school, this children’s museum has been a part of the Gulf Coast community since 1991. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the main museum building reopened in June 2006. Admission is $7, and the museum is closed on Sunday and Monday.

The Dolan Avenue Depot at the museum highlights the history of train service to the Gulf Coast in the 1890s. Children have fun putting water in the train engine to create steam and stoking the artificial fire with little nuggets of coal.

Arkansas’s White River

For more information, contact:

• St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, (800) 634-9443,;

• Mississippi Gulf Coast Con-vention & Visitors Bureau, (228) 896-6699,;

• Gaston’s White River Resort, (870) 431-5202,

To visit Branson, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi online at
If the above activities seem just a little too strenuous for a hot summer day, consider floating through the cool waters of Arkansas’s White River. A true Ozark float trip, according to the folks at Gaston’s White River Resort, involves fishing.

Located at 1777 River Road in Lakeview, Ark., just below the Bull Shoals Dam, Gaston’s is considered one of the Ozark’s top trout fishing resorts. With a conference center, children’s activities, golf and tennis–even an airstrip for guests coming in by private plane–Gaston’s offers a variety of activities all year long. But one activity that is not recommended is jumping into the 52-degree White River. It’s a bit too cold, even on a hot summer day. The recommended way to enjoy the river is floating in a 20-foot johnboat with fishing pole in hand.

The cold clear waters of the White River regularly produce five- and six-pound trout, an ideal size for the frying pans provided in the cabins. Or bring your catch to Gaston’s restaurant and the chefs will prepare them for your dinner.

Accommodations, based on double occupancy, start at $94 per night, $119 for a standard cottage with kitchen. An Arkansas fishing license, which can be purchased at Gaston’s, is required for everyone older than 16 years. A boat comes with a room, but motor and chair rentals are extra, as are fishing licenses.

A fishing float trip is a family outing that slows down the pace, opens up opportunities for conversation and certainly creates memories that will last a lifetime.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

^ to top | previous page