Tammany Trace

Tammany Trace: Louisiana’s “Hall of Fame” Trail

Earlier this month, the Tammany Trace was named one of the Hall of Fame trails by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and I thought it was about time I blogged about this wonderful bicycling spot in Louisiana.

I was just getting back into bicycling a few years ago when I came up with the idea of bicycling 55 miles for my 55th birthday. Seasoned cyclists are used to knocking that out in one morning, but I reserved a whole weekend. I had not ridden more than 10 miles at a time in 30 years.

Thirty years!!!!!!

I found the perfect route in The Tammany Trace, a rails-to-trails project on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The Tammany Trace is 27.35 miles from the western point in downtown Covington through Mandeville and Abita Springs to the end point at Highway 190 west of Slidell.

Double that and you’re close to 55 miles. (Eventually, another four miles will be paved to extend the trail into the center of Slidell.)

Louisiana may not be the most bicycle friendly state, but it has much to brag about with the well-maintained Tammany Trace, built on an abandoned Illinois Central Gulf Railroad corridor. The Rails-to-Trail Conservancy, a nationwide trails organization has named 30 Hall of Fame trails for their scenery, historic significance and other values. The asphalt trail is free of car traffic and dedicated to cyclists, walkers, in-line skaters and such.

My favorite stretch is the 12 miles between Mandeville and Covington. It passes bayous and shady pine forests, quaint towns with farmers markets, museums and cool eateries.

The popular Abita Springs Brew Pub and Restaurant is right on the trail. Abita beer and root beer is bottled a little over a mile away. I’m not into beer, but here’s an excellent article on craft breweries to explore on and near the trail.

I loved getting off the trail and exploring these three spots:

Downtown Covington: From art galleries to a hardware store that has been around since 1876, there  is a lot of see in downtown Covington. There’s a farmer’s market each Wednesday and Saturday.

Lake Ponchartrain Shore: We stayed at a guest house in what is known as Old Mandeville on the most recent trip, and that was great as it was only a few blocks away from the trail in one direction and the shore of Lake  Pontchartrain in the other. Lakefront Park on the shore is another great to place to cycle and people watch. And the homes on Lakefront Drive overlooking the park are gorgeous.

Dusk at Lakefront Park

Fountainbleau State Park: This is what Louisiana state parks are supposed to look like — live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and lovely cabins on the water.

In the Northshore you can get great New Orleans-style meals without the hassle of the city.  Some of the popular New Orleans spots such as Acme Oyster House, Mandina’s and Cafe du Monde have Northshore locations.  There also are some nice independent restaurants too. We liked Nuvolari’s, an old Italian restaurant just a couple of blocks from Lake Ponchartrain in Mandeville.

The Tammany Trace is in St. Tammany Parish, one of Louisiana’s so-called  “Florida parishes” because they were once part of western Florida.  With that history, the parish has a vibe that is a blend of Florida and Louisiana. It is Louisiana’s fastest growing and most affluent parish.

The Tammany Trace will always be a special place for me as it was there when I discovered (at age 55 then) that I could still ride a bike.

Tammany Trace bike path
The Tammany Trace bike path winds through the heart of Abita Springs.
Photo courtesy: LouisianaNorthshore.com