Over the past decade, the Northshore has seen enough development and growth to become a destin-ation in its own right. Quaint main streets are juxtaposed by industrial stretches. As the Northshore's population has increased, so too have its opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Just an hour away from New Orleans there's African safari fauna, hiking trails, water sports, horseback riding, bird watching and enough festivals to fill a calendar. With 80,000 acres of wildlife reserve, St. Tammany Parish makes the outdoors accessible to those accustomed to city life.
"People have been coming over to the Northshore for more than a century," says Renee Kientz, vice president of communications for the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission. "It's always been a place for people to get away."
Here are 20 ways to do just that.
1. Spend the day in a swamp — Home to alligators, raccoons, wild boar, deer, egrets, herons, nutria, bald eagles, owls, black bears and a renowned swamp monster, the Honey Island Swamp was Louisiana's first nature conservancy.
Harlan Ford, a Slidell native, discovered the Honey Island Swamp Monster 10 or 15 years ago. "He said he'd seen this swamp monster, and a mythology was built up around it," Kientz says. "His daughter has kept the myth alive." Keep your eyes peeled for a 7-foot-tall beast with grayish hair and big, amber eyes.
Cajun Encounters Honey Island Swamp Tours (55345 Hwy 90, Slidell, 985-641-5879; www.cajunencounters.com) and Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tours (41490 Crawford Landing Road, Slidell, 985-641-1769; www.honeyislandswamp.com) provide tours for those seeking a glimpse of the monster and people who just want to enjoy one of the state's most pristine natural resources.
2. Shop for groceries outdoors — The Covington Farmers Market (985-892-1873; www.covingtonfarmersmarket.org) isn't just a place to shop, it's also a place to hear live music, watch chef demonstrations, meet farmers, cheesemakers and coffee roasters. The market is open 8 a.m. to noon Saturday on the side lawn of the Covington Police Department (609 N. Columbia St.) and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Covington Trailhead (419 N. New Hampshire St.).
3. Ride the Trace — Formerly part of the Illinois Railway, the Tammany Trace (21490 Koop Drive, 985-867-9490; www.tammanytrace.org) is 28 miles of trail that's open to pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians, rollerbladers and joggers. It winds through Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, Lacombe and Slidell and has 31 railroad bridges from which to spot rivers, bayous and streams.
One popular trip includes a visit to the Abita Brew Pub (72011 Holly St., Abita Springs, 985-892-5837; www.abitabrewpub.com), where, after a 3.55-mile ride from Covington, you can tour the brewery, eat a po-boy and drink a beer (or a root beer) before continuing the ride. Playgrounds dot the trail and there frequently are festivals at various trailheads.
Brooks' Bike Shop (416 E. Gibson St., Covington, 985-237-3658), Bayou Adventure (27725 Main St., Lacombe, 985-882-9208; www.bayouadventure.com) and Spokesman Professional Bicycle Works (1848 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville, 985-727-7211; www.spokesmanprobikeworks.com) rent bikes for the trail.
4. Charter a fishing boat — With a willing crew and a full day free, anglers can take a charter fishing boat onto the lake with an in-the-know captain who can show them where speckled trout and redfish can be caught. Captain John Haller of Chasing Tail Charters (Rigolets Marina, 52250 Highway 90, Slidell, 601-799-6193; www.fishinglouisiana.net), Captain Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana (53105 Hwy 433, Slidell, 985-781-7811;www.aaofla.com) and Captains Kenny and Laura Kreeger of Lake Pontchartrain Charters (136 Bermuda Drive, Slidell, 985-643-2944; www.lakepontchartraincharters.com) can tell you where to drop your hook.
5. Fish on your own — Public piers dot the Northshore, like the Sunset Point and Mandeville Fishing Pier (Massena Street at Lake Pontchartrain), which reopened earlier this year after being damaged in Hurricane Isaac.
"A lot of people go fishing along Lake Road in Lacombe," Kientz says. "That's really old-school and really easy. They just pull up with a lawn chair and a cane pole."
If you plan to catch fish, you'll need a license. You can purchase one from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (800-256-2749; www.wlf.louisiana.gov/.licenses.fishing).
6. Get in the water — With multiple points of access to bodies of water comes just as many aquatic sports. Visitors can drop kayaks and canoes into Bayou Cane on the south side of the bridge in Mandeville, which empties into Lake Pontchartrain, making it a good place to start a daylong adventure or paddle around for a few hours. If you don't have your own boat, Kayak Tours on the Shore (20439 Weinburger Road, Ponchatoula, 985-951-9437; www.mykayaktour.com) can meet you anywhere you want on the Northshore, including Bayou Cane, and will outfit up to nine people with boats and paddles. Bayou Adventure also rents kayaks and canoes, and both companies offer guided tours.
7. Stand up and paddle — The Bayou Paddle Company (1484 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville, 985-966-7978) offers rentals for this new water sport trend, standup paddle-boarding, which entails a surfboard-type craft that paddlers stand on and row gondola-style. Owner Mark Salvetti takes groups on rivers, bayous and Lake Pontchartrain. He also outfits individuals.
8. Float on a lazy river — Tubing is another way to spend a day on the water, but generally entails less effort and more interesting drinks. The Bogue Chitto Tubing Center (10237 S. Choctaw Road, Bogalusa, 985-735-1173; www.tubingboguechitto.com) rents inner tubes with headrests and cupholders, as well as kayaks and canoes for floating on the Bogue Chitto River.
9. Watch birds — The Northshore is a flyway for migratory birds, and two nature reserves offer good vantage points from which to watch both migratory and local birds. The Northlake Nature Center (23135 Highway 190 E., Mandeville, 985-626-1238; www.northlakenature.org), a 52-acre tract of land along Bayou Castine, hosts The Great Louisiana BirdFest each spring. The Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (61389 Highway 434, Lacombe, 985-882-2000) is another haven to spot migratory species.
10. It's Frolf! —Disc golf, also called "frolf," is golf with Frisbees, and the Northshore has a course of metal baskets for beginners as well as experienced players. When Pelican Park (63350 Pelican Blvd., Mandeville, 985-626-7997; www.pelicanpark.com) isn't hosting tournaments, the course is first-come, first-served, though multiple games can be played simultaneously. Bring your own Frisbee.
11. Feed wild animals — From the shelter of a guided safari wagon, visitors at the Global Wildlife Center (26389 Highway 40, Folsom, 985-796-3585; www.globalwildlife.com) can see bison, giraffes, zebra, camels, deer, ostriches and other wildlife while touring 900 acres of Louisiana country where the animals roam freely. Visitors can buy grain to feed animals that approach the wagon.
12. Visit some gators — Home to more than 2,000 of Louisiana's most ancient inhabitants, the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery (23440 Lowe Davis Road, Covington, 985-892-3669; www.insta-gatorranch.com) gives visitors the chance to get a close-up view of alligators big and small. Watch alligators swim, hold a baby gator, or book in advance to see baby alligators hatching in August.
13. Go downtown — Historic Downtown Covington has lots of things to occupy daytrippers. Between Lee Lane and Columbia Street there are shops and art galleries including Brunner (215 N. Columbia St., Covington, 985-893-0444; www.brunnergallery.com), and Savoye Originals (405 N. Columbia St., Covington, 504-512-3465). The St. Tammany Art Association (320 N. Columbia St., Covington, 985-892-8650; www.sttammanyartassociation.org) hosts art classes and has art exhibits. H.J. Smith's Son General Store and Museum (308 N. Columbia St., Covington, 985-892-0460) has been around since 1876 and offers a look into south Louisiana's storied past. Within walking distance is the Covington Brewhouse (226 E. Lockwood St., Covington, 985-893-2884; www.covingtonbrewhouse.com), which offers tours on Saturdays.
14. Dine al fresco — Palmettos on the Bayou (1901 Bayou Lane, Slidell, 985-643-0050; www.palmettosrestaurant.com), which tells diners they can "come by boat or by car," has a deck where guests can stay outside on the water while drinking a glass of wine and dining on local seafood, turtle soup and creative salads.
15. Go to the Opry — The Abita Springs Opry (22161 Level St., Abita Springs, (985)-892-0711; www.abitaopry.org) offers concerts from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. the third Saturday of every month in the fall and spring. The Opry's goal is to get back to the roots of Louisiana music, mostly featuring old-time country, bluegrass, gospel, zydeco and other genres that reflect the area's diverse cultural heritage.
16. Jazz it up — Built in 1885, the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall (430 Lamarque St., Mandeville, phone n.a.; www.dewdropjazzhall.com) has hosted Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Buddie Petit and other notable jazz artists on its stage. The music continues every other Friday (the next show is a double-bill on Oct. 25). Tickets are $10 at the door.
17. Celebrate the sunset — Every third Friday from March to October, the Covington Farmers Market hosts Sunset at the Landing (www.covingtonfarmersmarket.org/landing.shtml), a series of free concerts at the foot of Columbia Street. The concerts are "bring your own everything," and Jan Biggs, director of the Covington Farmers Market, says it's common for people to bring blankets and picnic baskets.
18. Play golf — If you like your outdoors experience to be in a more manicured setting, there are several golf courses on the Northshore. The Abita Springs Golf and Country Club (73433 Oliver St., Abita Springs, 985-893-2463; www.abitagolf.com) and the Royal Golf Club (201 Royal Drive, Slidell, 985-643-3000) are both public courses with 18 holes.
19. Paint your friends — Paintball Command (21268 Emile Strain Road, Mandeville, 985-809-7668; www.paintball-command.com) provides outdoor fields where combatants can wallop friends and family with paintballs.
20. Get an aerial view — See the sights of the Northshore from up high — then up close as gravity propels you to the ground. Tandem skydiving for adults is available with Skydive N'awlins (62512 Airport Road, Slidell, 985-643-7070; www.skydivenawlins.com).