Autumn in Southeast Louisiana is prime time for outdoor activities. The weather is cooler (though not yet actually cool!), the sun is shining, and wildlife and wildflowers that had been hiding from the summer heat are coming back out for one last hurrah before winter.
Today Big Branch Marsh Wildlife Refuge hosted "Wild Things" an interactive festival and showcase of some of the region's best nature destinations and wildlife organizations in the area, plus great crafts and attractions for the whole family.
For those that didn't make it to today's festival to scope out future day trips and weekend adventures, however, here are a few local family fun favorites:
- The Tammany Trace - This 28-mile long, no-charge paved trail stretches along a scenic route from Covington to Slidell. Goldenrod, asters, and other fall wildflowers decorate both sides of the trail, inviting lovely fluttering butterflies to come and sip. Also, the surrounding forest provides excellent opportunities for bird watching. There are also more than a dozen stream crossings that allow a great vantage point to stop and see turtles, water snakes, and other wetland wildlife from a safe distance. Whether you prefer to walk, run, bicycle, or ride a horse, the Tammany Trace is not to be missed! Plan your Tammany Trace trip at their website.
- The Northlake Nature Center - Known as St. Tammany Parish's secret garden. With mixed pine forest, a beaver pond, and Bayou Castine, the opportunities to see wildlife here are endless! Come dressed in comfy shoes, ready to stroll down one of three loop trails. At .75, 1.2, and 1.75 miles, respectively, these trails can be completed even with preschoolers. The 400 acre nature center is open from dawn to dusk daily and there is no entry fee. On November 6, 2010, the autumn installment of their Walk in the Woods Nature series will start at 8 a.m. However, if for those more in the mood to visit freestyle, but who want to sneak in some extra education for the kiddos, print free nature activities right from the Northlake Nature Center website.
- Pearl River Wildlife Management Area - This is the section of the Pearl River where the swamp tours companies run their boats. Though the tours are not free, local residents can usually get a significant discount simply. Whether you're local or visiting, the swamp tours are a must-do. While water temperatures stay above 70 degrees, you're likely to see both small and large alligators on the tour, which may visit the boat to get a little snack from the captain. (They get their snacks from the captain, and only the captain. Feeding gators is not encouraged for anyone else. There's a fine line in the gator's mind between providing a snack and becoming a snack.) Even after waters cool to below gator-active temperatures, swamp tours regularly see egrets and herons, osprey, nutria, and lots of other swamp denizens. The captains are extremely knowledgeable about swamp ecology, swamp culture and history, and how wetlands are both affected by and protect people from the ravages of hurricanes. Two of the more popular swamp tour companies are Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours and Pearl River Eco-Tours.
So, if your Sunday isn't already swamped, get out there and swamp it . . .or trace it, or center it around nature!
This piece was originally written for Examiner.com.