Progressive Swamp Tour
Grab your camera, some good walking shoes, and the kids in your life - or a few good friends. Check out our epic adventure through three coastal nature preserves, all in the course of a day!
- story by Lisa Monti, photography by Ellis Anderson
From beginning to end, it took the better part of the day to take in the quiet beauty of the piney woods and pristine marshes, the county’s history as told by hundreds of headstones, authentic Vietnamese cuisine and the primeval swamp with ancient cypress trees and wildlife.
Logtown and Possum Walk
Our first destination was to the site of the once thriving Logtown community, which dates back to the1800s. Once home to major logging operations and large sawmills, Logtown was one of a handful of communities established along the peaceful Pearl River. Residents were displaced in the early 1960s when NASA’s rocket testing site was announced. Today the area’s natural beauty is on full display along the 7.2-mile Possum Walk portion of the Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail.
The Possum Trail, named for an African-American community, runs from Infinity Science Center to the Pearl River. We took the road near the south gate of Stennis Space Center off Mississippi 607 to the Possum Trail entrance. Follow the signs to start out on the wide, slightly elevated boardwalk through the quiet woods that are home to wildlife, birds and insects. Markers identify native plants and the site of the old Dummyline Railroad, among other features dotting the trail. Be aware that alligators and poisonous snakes reside in the area, and do consider using bug spray before setting out.
Without going the distance, even a mile-long stroll provides abundant natural beauty and tranquility among the trees, plants and waterways. Hard to believe that you’re not far from the sprawling Space Center complex and the busy interstate.
After the walk, backtrack to the old Logtown cemetery where the oldest of some 435 headstones dates backs to 1853. Majestic live oak and magnolia trees keep watch over the ancestors of many local families in this peaceful setting.
Then, drive south along the tree-lined two-lane Highway 604, through the community of Pearlington, hugging the state line along the Pearl River. The road ends at Old U.S. 90, where you'll cross the river and head toward Louisiana, over two-lane bridges and past raised camps with playful names. You'll cross the Riolets, the pass that runs between the Mississippi Sound and Lake Ponchartrain. The road runs alongside lovely Lake Catherine for many miles, and the scenery melts away stress with each one.
Dong Phuong Bakery
The New Orleans easternmost suburbs are predominantly Vietnamese, and fans of the French-inspired cuisine of Vietnam are drawn to this area.
One standout culinary destination is Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery (14207 Chef Menteur Highway), worth the 30-minute drive because it consistently makes it to the food critic’s top 10 lists. There is an adjacent restaurant for a sit-down meal but for our day trip lunch, the bakery is all we needed.
The first thing you see inside the door is a help-yourself display of French bread, which has been declared the best in New Orleans. The small loaves sell so quickly that they are constantly replenished with freshly baked batches. Light, airy and crispy, it’s little wonder they sell out so quickly. The bread makes for the start of a perfect to go picnic lunch.
Get in line to order bahn mi (Vietnamese po-boys) with the meat filling of your choice - all dressed with homemade aioli, cucumbers, jalapeños, pickled carrots and daikon and cilantro. And pick up some French pastries for a decadent dessert.
Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge
Heading back Highway 90 about three miles, you will see on your left The Ridge Trail of Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge (20876 Chef Menteur Highway), one of the last remaining marshes along Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne.
Called the nation’s largest urban refuge. Bayou Savage is home to ducks, wildlife and shore birds among 13,000 acres of freshwater marsh, 11,000 acres of brackish marsh plus 200 acres of wooded land.
The Ridge Trail area is considered the best place to enjoy the refuge. The not-quite-mile-long boardwalk loop has a pavilion with tables, the perfect place to enjoy your Dong Phuong sandwiches and pastries.
The Honey Island Swamp Tour
Keep backtracking eastward about 20 miles. Right before you reach the Mississippi line, on the left is the headquarters for Cajun Encounters Honey Island Swamp Tour (55345 Highway 90 East). Turn left at the sign .3 miles past Highway 190. Busloads of visitors from New Orleans, and carloads of travelers gather several times a day to board small flatboats for a tour of the swamp. Tickets for adults are $29 and $19 for children under 12. We thought it was money well-spent.
Each boat carries around 20 passengers and is captained by a knowledgable guide who points out the flowers and creatures close at hand. The captains run the boat engines only intermittently, so you're able to appreciate the peacefulness of the setting.
On our two-hour tour - which we took with tourists from several states as well as India and Canada - we spotted several alligators and turtles sunbathing and swimming. In cooler times of year, the alligators are not particularly active, but one did approach our boat to take advantage of our guide’s offer of a hot dog offered on a stick. A long stick.
We also met up with ibis, herons, and rambunctious raccoons and mercenary wild boars begging for marshmallows. Swamp lilies, purple rice, water hyacinths and stately cypress trees, one deemed 800 years old, make the swamp a stunningly beautiful place, one that feels other-worldly. Our tour ended with an exhilarating ride down the West Pearl with the boat's motor running full-tilt boogie, but even after two-hours, no one was eager for the trip to end.
This itinerary may seem an ambitious one, touching on history, nature and international cuisine, by car, on foot and by boat, but you’ll find that it’s time well spent discovering new experiences close at hand.
Cajun Encounters Tour Company
55345 U.S. 90
Bayou Sauvage NWR Ridge Trail & Boardwalk
20876 Chef Menteur Highway
Dong Phuong Bakery
14207 Chef Menteur Highway