The pine trees were what struck me first. Seemingly stretching to the heavens, verdant, fragrant and flinging a soft bed of earthy nettles all over the sides of the bike trail, it was love at first sight for those trees and me. Mark and I had just set out on the Tammany Trace hike and bike trail and within seconds, my breath was swept away with the breeze. We started at Mandeville and made our way up through Abita Springs and into Covington, then circled back for a leisurely, yet stimulating 24-mile round trip.
Friends in Mobile, Alabama told us about the trail. It’s a favorite getaway for the pair, who makes the trek whenever their schedule allows for it. According to the Tammany Trace website, the 31-mile trail was originally a corridor of the Illinois Central Railroad. The St. Tammany Parish government bought it in 1992 and converted it into an asphalt hike and bike trail. Railroad trestles were transformed into quaint wooden pedestrian bridges and the scenery is bar none. It is part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which works to convert old rail lines into trails to create a nationwide network.
The stretch between Mandeville and Abita Springs includes a tunnel, the aforementioned wooden bridges, creeks, lovely little cottages and of course, those spectacular trees. We passed very serious, lycra-clad bikers, as well as leisure riders like us, walkers, families, couples and solo exercisers. (Note: Animals are not allowed on the trail, so unfortunately you’ll have to leave those dog babies at home.) If you don’t have a bike, they are available for rent.
We spied loads of wildlife, including deep red Cardinals flitting about in the trees, turtles, a snake, skittering squirrels and a raccoon just as curious about us as we were about him (her?).
After about an hour and a half, which included a long break on one of the bridges to take in the scenery and watch the turtles swim in the creek, we hit scenic Abita Springs. We stopped at the Abita Brew Pub for a bite and a beer. The Abita Brewery also is nearby if you’d rather opt for a tour and tasting. The pub is nestled next to a lovely park and tucked behind a collection of trees. I had the Abita Golden, a “continental lager,” and Mark got his favorite, the Andygator Helles Dopplelbock. After a hearty salad with blackened shrimp for me and a plate of wings for Mark, we were fortified and back on the trail.
The next stretch was short and sweet and landed us in the excessively charming Covington. Greeted by an old-timey water tower and a 10-foot bronze statue of Ronald Regan, Covington is welcoming and picturesque. Brick buildings line the streets and shops, restaurants and bars abound. We rode past the Covington Brewhouse (which doesn’t have a tap room), then circled back to the Columbia Tap Room and Grill, where I sampled a Chafunckta Kingfish Ale, from the Mandeville brewers and Mark enjoyed the local Covington Anonymous IPA.
The plan for the final leg of the trip was to take in the entire 12-mile journey, so we hit the road and peddled our way back to Mandeville. It’s flat and, as mentioned, beautiful, so while the last mile or two took a little bit of self-encouragement, overall it was pretty easy going.
We landed back in Mandeville at dusk and rewarded ourselves with dinner at the Old Rail Brewing Company. Our bartender recommended an off menu burger, topped with a fried egg, which Mark devoured with gusto, along with the brewpub’s IPA. I ordered the French dip with much-deserved fries and the amber ale. Over dinner, we planned our next visit, which we decided would be in the other direction through Lacombe toward Slidell. It’s a less populated route and runs through the Fontainebleau State Park.
Living in Uptown with its tree-lined streets and Audubon Park offers plenty of opportunities to experience nature, but nothing compares to heading out of the city and soaking up more expansive vistas, flora and fauna. This bike ride was a much-needed respite for mind, soul and body—though my sore muscles the next day would beg to differ on that last one.