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Jazz music fills the air and mixes with the scent of classic Creole cuisine. After a long day on the trail, a steaming plate of seafood now sits in front of you, prepared and cooked to perfection at the hands of a skilled southern chef. We could only be one place: Louisiana.
Situated to the north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, the 28-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.
Just like the New Orleanians who vacationed to the region in the late 1800s, seeking respite from the oppressive heat of the coastal plain, you’ll find relief from the heat under the shade of magnolias and moss-draped oaks that line the trail.
If you begin your journey 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.
The quaint town of Abita Springs is your next destination down the trail. If you’re already hankering for a cold drink, pop into the Abita Brewpub for a tall glass of their legendary Abita Root Beer, which is brewed nearby. For a quirkier experience, check out the Abita Mystery House, a trailside attraction of unusual goods that will leave you with plenty of stories.
A community with plenty of character is 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.
Just east of Mandeville 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 quite a few extra hours to spare, rent a kayak or fishing gear from Bayou Adventure and see a different side of the bayou!
It is a tight contest for the trail’s best quality. Is it the communities along the way; the towns that harken back to days past and are drenched in the rich traditions of the South? Or is it the awe-inspiring natural wonder that surrounds the trail—the pine tree woods, damp wetlands and wildlife-rich bayous? You’ll have to experience the Tammany Trace to decide for yourself.
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