For generations, the people of southeast Louisiana have lived off the waters that surround them. A drive along the Southern Swamp Byway gives visitors a look at the natural beauty inherent in the state’s bayous, marshes and wetlands. Along the way are small towns full of wildlife, history and good places to eat.
Start your drive in Sorrento, where the Ascension Parish Visitors Center can provide maps and other tourist information. The town’s Cajun Village, a collection of restored Acadian buildings now used as boutique shops and accommodations, also features an alligator pond plus hot café au lait and beignets at the onsite coffee house. North on the byway, are small communities where fishing, hunting and trapping are still a way of life. Several restaurants serve fresh seafood, and small roadside stands offer homemade preserves for sale. At Tickfaw State Park, trails and boardwalks wind 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. Nearby in Springfield, Carter Plantation Golf Course features an 18-hole public golf course and onsite restaurant.
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, 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.
In Ponchatoula, often called the “Strawberry Capital of the World,” the town celebrates its crop at the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival each April. Ponchatoula is a great spot for antiquing; at the Ponchatoula Country Market, vendors sell quilts, handmade crafts, and jams and jellies.
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 - 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 Shops, 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.