Situated to the north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, the 27.5-mile Tammany Trace was Louisiana's first rail-trail. The Trace, as it’s known to locals, is so named because it traces across St. Tammany Parish, connecting the communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, and Lacombe.
Along the paved pathway, you'll experience the piney woods and moss-draped oaks that earned the area its Ozone Belt nickname. In the late 1800s, New Orleanians seeking respite from the oppressive heat of the coastal plain chose this as a vacation spot. Today, the trail passes many of their stately retreats.
If you begin your journey on the trail's western end in Covington, be sure to peek into the H.J. Smith and Sons General Store and Museum for a glimpse into the town’s past. The trailhead in Covington is also home to a museum and hosts the Covington Farmers Market every Wednesday during the growing season.
Seven miles to the east is the quaint town of Abita Springs, home to the famed Abita Brewpub, which serves a pleasant lunch at trailside seating (park at adjacent Abita Springs Park). The famous local beer and root beer are brewed nearby. For a quirky experience, check out the Abita Mystery House, a trailside attraction of unusual goods that will leave you with plenty of stories.
From Abita Springs, the trail heads south to Mandeville, where a renovated train station now serves as a community trailhead. Looking to get a glimpse into the famed jazz scene of Louisiana? If you’re in town on the night when it is open for a performance, a visit to the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall is an absolute must. If you're out during the weekend, stop by the Saturday morning market at the Mandeville trailhead to browse handmade items and sample a variety of local foods.
Beyond Mandeville, the trail leads southeast through a wetlands landscape. This is the Louisiana of Deep South lore. You'll come within several blocks of Lake Pontchartrain before angling inland toward the bayou. A worthwhile side trip here is the 2,800-acre Fontainebleau State Park, where the brick ruins of a sugar mill built in 1829 still remain. This park is a bird-watcher’s dream, and the professionals at the nature center can give you tips on how to spot some of the region’s finest feathered friends.
The Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge lies between the small fishing town of Lacombe and the lake and offers endless opportunities to explore. The refuge’s visitor center, just off the trail, is a great place to start. If you have a few extra hours to spare, rent a kayak or fishing gear to see a different side of the bayou.
Currently the trail ends at the Slidell-Carollo trailhead, but there are plans to continue the Tammany Trace to downtown Slidell at Heritage Park.
Parking is available at five places along the trail. To reach the Tammany Trace trailhead from the west end point, take I-12 east to LA 59 north in Abita Springs, cross Little Creek and turn left on Koop Drive. Rangers staff a visitor center in a green caboose past the St. Tammany Parish government building. Park beside the caboose.