By Chase Berenson
The Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain is filled with nice views, small towns, and day-trippers from New Orleans. It also features the Northlake Nature Center along Bayou Castine, with over five miles of hiking trails just minutes off of Interstate-10.
The entrance to the Northlake Nature Center consists of an elevated boardwalk that takes visitors through a swampy environment and over a pond appropriately named Beaver Pond. The beginning stretch has a nice pavilion overlooking the pond, as well as amphitheater space for groups to gather. The boardwalk leads visitors to the Eagle Loop, which is the first stretch of trail and by far the most visited. Hikers quickly leave the swamp behind them and head into a hardwood forest, which the majority of the remaining trails will be through.
To get beyond the limit of what most center visitors see, hikers must continue beyond the Eagle Loop to where it meets up with the South Loop. This trail meanders through the forest and gradually turns into a pine savanna ecosystem, culminating at the (again appropriately named) Savanna Lake. The trail at this point can turn back to the trailhead, or can join up with the North Loop to add even more miles on the trip. There is also a Savanna Lake Trail that branches off to explore the lake in more detail.
All of the trails through the woods are shaded by the overhead trees, making the Northlake Nature Center a good destination even as the weather starts to warm. To make the complete loop the trails utilize a gas line right-of-way, which means there is no protection from the sun on the return trip to the trailhead. A more enjoyable trip would be hiking to the furthest point of the North Loop and then turning around to return the same way, rather than traversing the right-of-way.
The Northlake Nature Center is on the grounds of a never-finished golf course that was abandoned in 1939 when Governor Richard W. Leche went to prison. As nature has reclaimed the land from the golf course construction days, animals have returned to the Center. There is plenty of evidence of animal life throughout the forests, and if hikers are lucky they might get to see animals, including deer and beavers along the trails and boardwalks.
The Northlake Nature Center is on Highway 190 in Mandeville. It’s open 365 days a year from dawn until dusk, and admission is always free. To celebrate a successful hike, Mandeville has many opportunities to enjoy food and drink.