Southern Swamps Byway
For generations, the people of southeast Louisiana have lived off the waters that surround them. A drive along the LA 22-51 Byway gives visitors a look at the natural beauty inherent in the state’s bayous, marshes and wetlands, where alligators and turtles slip quietly in and out of the water, and time almost seems to stand still. Along the way are charming small towns ideal for a stroll, and lots of good places to eat. Here is a sample of what you will find:
Sorrento to Springfield
Start your drive in Sorrento, where the Ascension Parish Visitors Center can provide maps and other tourist information. Visit the town’s Cajun Village, a collection of restored Acadian buildings. Take a look at the alligator pond, then enjoy a cup of hot café au lait and beignets. As you drive north on Highway 22, you’ll find small communities where fishing, hunting and trapping are still a way of life. Several restaurants serve fresh seafood, and you may see homemade preserves for sale at small roadside stands. Soon you’ll reach Tickfaw State Park, where trails and boardwalks take you through cypress and tupelo swamps and bottomland hardwood forests. Look for snowy egrets, blue herons and other wildlife, or rent a canoe and enjoy the Tickfaw River. End this leg of your drive in Springfield, where you can dine in the restaurant at Carter Plantation, a golf resort community, or try a plate of jambalaya at Sissy’s Cajun Cabin, a diner that serves plate lunches.
Springfield to Laplace
As you make your way from Springfield to the towns of Hammond and Ponchatoula, you will also climb to higher ground. Hammond has a variety of parks where you can picnic. Other attractions include several historic buildings, Southeastern Louisiana University, and the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archives. About five miles to the south is Joyce Wildlife Management Area.* An elevated boardwalk gives visitors here a chance to see swamp vegetation and wildlife. Bring your camera and binoculars.
Nearby is Ponchatoula, often called “Strawberry Capital of the World.” Each April, the town celebrates its crop at a Strawberry Festival. Ponchatoula is a great spot for antiquing; at the Ponchatoula Country Market, vendors sell quilts, handmade crafts, and jams and jellies. Don’t miss one of the area’s most popular restaurants, A Taste of Bavaria, for great German meals, including fresh-baked breads and pastries. Youngsters might enjoy seeing the antique toys at the Collinswood School Museum, which also has a pleasant garden.
As the byway turns south on Interstate 51, you’ll come to the town of Manchac, located on Lake Maurepas. Here you can see the ruins of one of the five lighthouses erected to guide ships on Lake Pontchartrain. Folks come from all around to eat catfish at Middendorf’s Restaurant. The byway continues for about 17 miles, ending at the intersection with Interstate 10 in the town of Laplace. Save room for another meal – Laplace is well-known for its andouille, a spicy Cajun sausage often served in gumbo.
* To visit any of Louisiana’s Wildlife Management Areas, you must have either a valid Louisiana fishing or hunting license OR a Wild Louisiana Stamp. You can buy these online at www.wlf.louisiana.gov or by calling 1-888-765-2602 or at any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses, such as Bass Pro Shop, Walmart and Academy Sports. If you are buying a license or stamp for short-term use, you will be given an authorization number; that, plus a valid I.D., allows you to visit the WMA and hunt or fish. Prices vary for hunting and fishing licenses. The Wild Louisiana Stamps costs $2 for a one-day stamp.