Just three miles from the quaint Northshore town of Mandeville is Fontainebleau State Park, a convenient and scenic getaway with some truly spectacular kayaking. It also happens to be a short drive from New Orleans, which means that within an hour after leaving the French Quarter, you can be paddling pristine streams full of native fishes and cypress trees.
Fontainebleau is a park with a past. It was once the site of a large sugar mill built under the direction of Creole planter and senator Bernard de Marigny in 1829. Marigny’s plantation fell into disrepair long ago, but today you can tour the brick structures that remain. You’ll also learn more about the illustrious man himself inside the park’s visitor center, where handmade tools and furniture are on display.
Outside the visitor center you’ll find a pier stretching over enormous Lake Pontchartrain, a prime spot for sunset-watching. A man-made beach offers sunbathers a chance to catch some rays, and for younger visitors, a water playground is open seasonally.
An old rail line at the north end of the park has been converted into part of the Tammany Trace, a 27-mile path that visitors can walk, bike or horseback ride through. By the way, this and the other trails in Fontainebleau State Park offer fabulous chances to see some of the more than 400 species of birds and other wildlife that live or migrate through the park.
Relax in comfort after a day of hiking, biking and birding at one of the primitive campsites, cabins or RV sites. You may also indulge yourself with a stay at one of the park’s waterfront cabins overlooking Lake Pontchartrain.
There are plenty of other state parks nearby including Fairview-Riverside, St. Bernard and Bayou Segnette. The sights and sounds of Mandeville and Covington are a short ride a way (and for intrepid travelers, both are accessible via the Tammany Trace). Swamp tour operators and kayaking outfitters are in the area as well.
Entrance fee: $3 per person; free for seniors age 62 and older, and children age 3 and younger.