On this gorgeous fall weekend, we took advantage of the weather to revisit two of our favorite hiking trails on the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. Despite being surrounded by towns and cars and people, the Northlake Nature Center and Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge offer quiet seclusion deep within nature. (Well, they were quiet until we arrived with our two wild kiddos!)
Part of the experience of any trip we take is getting there. The kids have come to crave their snack-filled, Scooby Doo watching car ride as the beginning of their grand adventure. Once we arrive at our first stop, their tummies are full and they have enough energy built up to run a marathon. As usual, our five-year-old darted out of the car before we even stopped the engine. He was on a hunt for lizards, something he has become a pro at catching.
Northlake Nature Center
It’s been more than a year since we last visited the Northlake Nature Center, located across the street from Fountainbleau State Park. The initial entrance looked the same. But as we started walking into the woods, we noticed many improvements to the boardwalk and new trails weaving in between old ones. It was shaded and cool in the forest. And although we caught sight of monstrous mosquitoes, they seemed to spare us from harm during our mid-afternoon walk.
Engraved signs shaped like rocks provided a non-intrusive education on the area’s wide variety of trees and their names. At the beaver pond, our oldest spotted the distinctive head of a red-eared slider turtle. As we watched, several more popped up around him. From here, we took the Eagle Trail, which led us past a small cypress-tupelo swamp. It then traveled through a pine forest to the edge of the Nature Center near Pelican Park (a local ball park).
The path changed many times, from the initial boardwalk to a cushy pine needle pathway. Then it became a paved portion of a bicycle trail followed by a wide road lined with large rocks. It began to rain on us at this point, and the kids tucked away inside their strollers. We turned onto the last leg of the trail and ran our way back to the beginning boardwalk. When we reached the beaver pond again, they sprinted and squealed their way to the car, spooking any wild animals that may have been lurking in the shadows.
Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge
From the Nature Center, we headed toward Lacombe and the remote Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. As it was Sunday, the Visitor’s Center was closed. This hands-on display inside an old church is definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been before. The main hiking path in Big Branch is the Boy Scout Road boardwalk and trail, located off Transmitter Road. The boardwalk itself begins through one of the most peaceful settings in south Louisiana. A scattered pine forest opens up into a marsh decorated with lily pads and their lovely white blooms. Although only a 1/4-mile long, the boardwalk brings you to a magical place not often experienced. Unfortunately the rain picked back up, and once again we were deterred from venturing out along the 4.5-mile Boy Scout Road leading to Bayou Lacombe. Perhaps next time, we’ll discover what lies beyond the boardwalk…