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May/Jun 2013 Issue

Prepare to Swoon

Choose Louisiana’s Northshore for a getaway rich in recreation.
By Don Redman

For generations, St. Tammany Parish has been the playground for New Orleanians looking to escape the metropolitan lifestyle. It’s been a place to hunt, fish, crab, sail, ride, canoe, camp, golf, and simply rejuvenate.

Tamany Trace

Above: Cycling the Tammany Trace. Louisiana Northshore photos

Below: Touring Honey Island Swamp.

Swamp

Commonly referred to as the Northshore, St. Tammany Parish continues to expand on that theme, and reaches out to New Orleans visitors to cross Lake Pontchartrain for outdoor adventures, activities, and wildlife encounters.

Walk on the wild side

Eastern St. Tammany Parish borders on the Honey Island Swamp, a federally protected wildlife area encompassing nearly 20 miles of swampland straddling the Pearl River between Louisiana and Mississippi. Guided boat tours of the swamp are a big draw for locals and tourists looking for close encounters with alligators and other creatures of the marsh.

There are four tour operators in the area. Cajun Encounters Honey Island Swamp Tours and Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours offer discounts to AAA members. The other operators are Pearl River Eco-Tours and Middle of Nowhere Eco Tours.

The parish offers visitors limitless opportunities to toss a line or a crab net from the banks of its numerous bayous, rivers, or from the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Visitors also can experience the open sea on a fishing charter boat. Most operate out of the Slidell area and offer light tackle guide service.

In Lacombe, a fishing village on the coast of Lake Pontchartrain, visitors are encouraged to get really close and personal with the water. Bayou Adventures, a kayak and fishing outrigger, offers kayak rentals, fishing tackle, and live bait–everything you’ll need to reel in the next redfish, speckled trout, or flounder. They even offer crabbing equipment so you can fill up a bushel of crabs for your next family crab boil. There also are bicycle rentals for use on the jewel of St. Tammany Parish–the Tammany Trace.

Louisiana’s first rails-to-trails conversion of abandoned railroad lines to bicycle paths, the 28-mile-long Tammany Trace winds through scenic wooded areas and over creeks and bayous to connect the historical communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, Lacombe, and Slidell.

St. Tammany’s pristine woodlands can be equally appreciated from the saddle on horseback. There are a number of horseback riding facilities throughout the parish, offering training lessons and trail rides. Splendor Farms in Bush offers rides through creeks and woodlands, across big fields, around lakes, and along the Bogue Chitto River. In addition to offering horseback rides, Splendor Farms has a bed and breakfast on the grounds, as well as petting zoo and a dachshund kennel.

Wildlife observation is decidedly more exotic at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, a rural community in northwest St. Tammany. The center’s animals–numbering more than 3,000–roam 900 acres of savanna-like countryside. Riding aboard large, covered wagons, visitors are afforded an upclose encounter with the animals, including a chance to feed and pet some of them.

While visitors may not be able to feed the alligators at the In- sta-Gator Ranch in Covington, they can hold and even pet them. A guided tour gives visitors a first-hand account of the Louisiana alligator industry. Hundreds of alligators of various ages and sizes are on display in crystal clear water, allowing visitors to observe the gators above and below the surface of the water. In August, visitors can experience the hatching of a baby alligator right in their own hands. There is an additional fee for the experience.

Birding

With 80,000 acres of wildlife refuge, St. Tammany Parish has become a hotbed of birding activity, luring birdwatchers from across the nation. Every spring, numerous bird species pass through south Louisiana on their way from Mexico and South America. Louisiana’s BirdFest, hosted by the Northlake Nature Center, is considered one of the premier birding events in the country. Events this year will be April 12–14 at the 400-acre center on state Highway 190 east of Mandeville. Birdwatchers can hike trails through wetlands, pine, and hardwood forests.

Golf

Birdies of a different sort are another big draw to St. Tammany Parish, home to a number of golf courses in wonderful natural settings. Golf Digest gave Oak Harbor in Slidell and Money Hill in Abita Springs especially high praise. Oak Harbor opened in 1992, and is a par 72 course. Money Hill is wrapped around a 150-acre spring-fed lake.

Where to eat and sleep

Just about any culinary taste can be satisfied here, from crawfish boils to gourmet meals prepared by some of the South’s most noted chefs. In Lacombe, Chef John Besh creates memorable dinners at La Provence, a welcoming Provençal auberge. No matter when hunger hits you, there’s always something tasty and comforting ready to enjoy in Slidell at the Big Easy Diner, which is open 24 hours.

Treats from the tap can be found at the storied Abita Brewery–a favorite of Chef Emeril Lagasse–and at the Covington Brewhouse. Take a short drive north of Covington to Pontchartrain Vineyards to enjoy wonderful wine and evening jazz during the popular Jazz ‘N the Vines events held on select dates April–June.

A variety of inns, motels, and hotels are scattered throughout the parish, which boasts about 2,500 guestrooms. The majestic Maison Réve Farm Bed and Breakfast in Folsom has three guestrooms in its lodge in addition to a quaint Pond Cottage. Nature trails inspired by John Audubon promise guests sightings of deer, wild turkey, ducks, and more.

For more than a century, St. Tammany Parish has been the outdoor playground for New Orleans, and today it proudly continues that tradition and has expanded to become the outdoor destination for the country.

Don Redman is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler magazine.

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, call the St. Tammany Parish Tourist & Convention Commission at (800) 634-9443 or visit www.LouisianaNorthshore.com.

To visit the Louisiana Northshore, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


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