Tammany Trace – near New Orleans, LA

We love New Orleans and several years ago, we had done a bike tour of the neighborhoods in the city. (This was two years after Hurricane Katrina and the 2-3 foot high water marks could still be seen on the homes where the water had crested.) We were excited to get to town, but first, we had to explore Louisiana’s first rail trail.  We started at the west end of the 28.2-mile Tammany Trace Trail in the cute little town of Covington after driving several miles along Louisiana “highways” (known as two-lane country roads in other states) north of Lake Ponchartrain.  The landscape along these highways mimicked that which the trail traversed: scruffy pines and other trees nestled among soft green underbrush – all rising out of the swampy forests and wetlands with turgid canals on either side of the road/trail.

The “Trace,” so-called because it traces across St. Tammany’s Parish, is very well kept, wide, completely flat and straight as an arrow. The scenery varies only a few very brief times when the trail cuts through the towns of Covington, Abita Springs and Mandeville, where small suburban homes and businesses line the path. Otherwise, it’s a classic “Zen” trail that attracts locals, including, on this day, a handful of young families with strollers and tricycles.  There are many intersections, but the locals were very courteous to bikers and almost always stopped to allow us to pedal through.

In two places, the trail was closed for construction: the first, where a tunnel is being built below an intersection, there was a wide apron of dirt to ride on; but the second closed stretch required us to backtrack and find a parallel highway (this one had four busy lanes and no shoulder). We rode on that for about a quarter mile, then turned on a perpendicular road to get back to the trail.

On the day that we rode, the wind was brutal heading south from Covington then even worse once we turned east at Mandeville, near the mouth of the 23-mile causeway over Lake Pontchartrain. (No, there’s no bike lane on the causeway, but we couldn’t imagine what the wind would have been like on that.) For several miles, it felt as if we were barely progressing, and our bikes would have been blown over, literally, if we’d slowed down too much. Later, we learned that tornadoes and a severe storm were coming, so we were glad to have ridden on this the day before they hit.

The highlight of the Tammany Trace Trail was the Abita Brewing Company and Tap Room in Abita Springs. This is not to be confused with the Abita Brew Pub in Covington, which, while conveniently located right at the trailhead, is not affiliated with the brewery.  The real Abita facility features tours of the brewery, a New Orleans-style brick patio with wrought iron chairs and purple umbrellas, a large open tasting room inside with two bars, and a larger-than-average retail area with Abita gear (t-shirts, glassware, hats, etc.). On tap were their flagship beers, including the iconic Purple Haze and Abita Amber (which Kellie thought was malty and refreshing). Very familiar with Purple Haze, Jim chose to try Wrought Iron West Coast IPA, which he described as hoppy and crisp, a classic West Coast IPA. (We need to work on our beer tasting vocabulary.)

If you’ve got any info or comments about this trail, please include it in the comments below. 

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