Travel Updates:

Louisiana is currently in Phase III of the White House reopening strategy. Governor Edwards has issued a statewide mask mandate indoors and outdoors when 6 ft. social distancing is not possible. Businesses including restaurants, churches, salons, and gyms are operating at 75% occupancy. Many St. Tammany businesses and events have modified their services to welcome patrons safely during this time....

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Mandeville Trailhead Market

Wheelchair Accessibility for Travelers in St. Tammany Parish

By: Jim and Barbara Twardowski

A relaxing retreat of fun, food, and nature awaits those who venture to St. Tammany Parish.

Earn your bragging rights by crossing the world’s longest continuous bridge spanning over water. Just shy of 24 miles, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway connects Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) to the Northshore.

For more than a century, families seeking an escape from the city life migrated here for a rejuvenating break beneath the shade of tall pine trees. Whether you are attending an annual festival or longing for an unhurried weekend away, you’ll find the Northshore welcomes wheelchair users. 

Owner inside of H.J. Smith's & Sons Shop and Museum in Covington, LA

1. Cruise through Covington

Covington contains a variety of wheelchair accessible diversions. Book a stay at the sophisticated Southern Hotel. The upscale boutique property with arched doorways, local art, a library, and a peaceful courtyard provide a restful retreat. The chic Cypress Bar is a lively gathering spot.

It’s an easy walk to the St. Tammy Art Association to see ever-changing exhibits and a variety of classes. Use the ramp located at the back to enter H.J. Smith’s Sons General Store and Museum—a family-owned store since 1876. For a coffee break, head to Coffee Rani where the display case is filled with pastries or indulge in a Creole Cream Cheese waffle cone at HooDoo Ice Cream. For lunch, snag a table at LOLA where the kitchen is inside a train caboose. Make dinner reservations at Del Porto for contemporary Italian fare.

Schedule a visit to coincide with the annual Three Rivers Art Festival where some 300 juried artists set up booths displaying and selling their creations. Go early to avoid the crowds. The tents are lined side by side on streets closed to vehicular traffic so navigating the event in a wheelchair is a breeze.

Exterior view of The Book and the Bean coffee shop in Mandeville, LA

2. Linger Along the Lakefront

Take a stroll beside the seawall on the Mandeville Lakefront—a scenic draw for dog walking, jogging, and bicycling. Wheelchair accessible paths provide unobstructed views of Lake Pontchartrain. Handicapped parking is located along Lakeshore Drive. Stop for a selfie at the gazebo at Carroll Street or snap a picture underneath a 100-year-old Live Oak tree. If you’re traveling with kids, there’s a playground too.

Several restaurants and bars are within a short walking distance. Specializing in seafood, the upscale Rips on the Lake has an elevator. During daylight hours, ask for a table outside on the veranda for a lovely water view. For more casual dining nab a seat outdoors at the Beach House where kids have their own play area. Sample one of 100 craft beers at the Barley Oak while watching the sunset over the lake. An elevator provides access to the second floor. Both establishments welcome dogs. If all you need is an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a cup of coffee at The Book & The Bean, a tiny shop with a ramp on the side and outdoor seating.

Ramp at Fontainebleau State Park cabins in Mandeville, LA

3. Sleep on the Water

Surrounded by water on three sides, Fontainebleau State Park is the site of a former sugar mill built by Mandeville’s founder in 1829. Three ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant cabins are available overlooking Lake Pontchartrain. Enjoy a cool breeze and the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline in one of these unique accommodations on stilts. Reminiscent of 1930s fishing cabins, each unit features modern conveniences like a television, refrigerator, stove, and bathroom with a roll-in shower.

A person using a wheelchair on the Tammany Trace trail

4. Roll on the Rails to Trails

The Tammany Trace provides 31 miles of an asphalted trail through five communities—Mandeville, Covington, Abita Springs, Lacombe, and Slidell. The path presents views of wildlife, bayous, streams, and rivers from elevated vantage points. The wheelchair-accessible trail can be accessed from a variety of spots you might already be visiting—download a map.

People on bikes and wheelchairs on the Boy Scout Road Trail at Northlake Nature Center in St. Tammany

5. Go Birding

Every spring, the Northlake Nature Center in Mandeville hosts the Great Louisiana BirdFest. Commonly seen birds include shorebirds, waterfowl, woodpeckers, migrant warblers, and birds of prey. A wheelchair-accessible boardwalk slices through a cypress swamp.

The Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge’s forests, marshes, and wetlands buffer the communities from storm surges. Located in Lacombe, the 18,000-acre habitat protects birds and wildlife. A well-used boardwalk with elevated viewing areas is the Boy Scout Road Trail Interpretive Site. During the spring and summer, the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker is often sighted along this wheelchair-friendly looping trail.

person in wheelchair browsing stall at St Tammany Community market

6. Shop for One-of-a-kind Finds

Louisiana-inspired items make wonderful souvenirs or gifts. Stop by Southern Avenue for a platter adorned with a gator, hammered fleur de lis earrings, or a bar of Monk Soap made at the local St. Joseph Abbey. More than 80 vendors display their wares at Clayton House. The store is packed with antiques, farmhouse style decor, art, jewelry, and furniture. The wheelchair-friendly aisles are wide. How about an oyster tic tac toe board for your coffee table?

Saturdays, the Mandeville Trailhead Community Market bustles with vendors selling a variety of prepared foods, fresh produce, and a slew of arts and crafts. The booths are stationed beside wheelchair accessible sidewalks and there’s almost always live music. The Camellia City Market in Slidell is also wheelchair friendly. Open every Saturday from 8 am to noon—rain or shine.

The boardwalk at St. Tammany's Heritage and Bayou Bonfouca near Slidell

7. Meander by a Bayou

Heritage Park, near Olde Towne Slidell, overlooks Bayou Bonfouca and you might even glimpse a gentle giant of the sea—the manatees. Across the road is Palmettos On the Bayou. The Acadian-style restaurant prepares Louisiana cuisine under lush cypress trees. For a special treat, attend the Saturday Cajun brunch when a three-piece band accompanies the meal. Wheelchair access to the 5,000 square foot deck and the restaurant is by a ramp located on the side of the restaurant.

A boy feeding Giraffes at St. Tammany's Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, LA

8. Feed the Wildlife

More than 4,000 free-roaming endangered, exotic, and threatened animals live at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom. Hop aboard a wheelchair accessible covered wagon and come-face-to-face with zebras, bison, giraffes, kangaroos, and more as they traverse the 900-acre preserve. Be sure to buy plenty of feed and have the camera ready for photos.

People tasting beer at St Tammany's Abita Brewery in Abita Springs, LA

9. Tour a Brewery

Kick back in Abita Springs. Take a 30-minute guided tour of the Abita Brewery and sample four craft beers. Another option—only offered seasonally—is the craft soda tour. The tours are accessible. Closed-toe shoes are required for anyone participating in a tour. Check the calendar for fun events ranging from crawfish boils to trivia night.

People fishing along the St. Tammany Fishing Pier in Slidell, LA

10. Go Fish

The St. Tammany Parish Fishing Pier in Slidell includes handicapped accessible sections where the railing is lower. Bring your own fishing gear and a license to catch off the 650-foot pier.

A women in a wheelchair viewing an exhibit at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum

11. Museum Hop

A quirky attraction, the Abita Mystery House at UCM (“you-see-em) Museum is packed with an eclectic collection of more than 50,000 objects. Enter a vintage gas station and make your way through several accessible buildings to examine everything from aliens and scary clowns to funny signs and folk art. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, pick up a locally made treat (baked goods, honey, and jellies) at the Abita Springs Art & Farmers Market from 11 am to 3 pm.

Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum provides a look into the lives of folks living beside the water. Boat models, a collection of maritime artifacts, and photos are displayed throughout the compact facility. An elevator and ramps make the building wheelchair accessible.

Either before or after your visit, head to Madisonville where boats glide along the Tchefuncte River. A fabulous view awaits at the Abita Roasting Company. Don’t let the name fool you, they serve a full menu of breakfast favorites, salads, and sandwiches. Sit outside in the front yard, on the wrap-around porch, or inside the historic and charming Acadian-style house. Access to the restaurant is via a ramp on the side. 

Exterior of patrons dining outdoors at The Chimes in Covington, LALagniappe Dining & Accommodations

The Northshore’s restaurant scene caters to a range of budgets and tastes. Some additional wheelchair accessible choices include Sal & Judy's for Creole Italian. Be sure to buy jars of their Italian and Creole Seasoning to take home. Fine dining at Gallagher’s 527 serves an extensive menu of seafood and steaks. The laid-back Chimes with a huge outdoor double-deck looks out on the Bogue Falaya River and you might even spot a wandering goat or two in the woods. Beer enthusiasts will love the chummy feel at the Abita Brew Pub’s cypress and slate bar. 

*The Northshore's hotels have wheelchair-accessible guest rooms, for a complete listing of hotels, click here. Some that the authors compared with accessible rooms included Homewood Suites Covington, Residence Inn Covington, and Holiday Inn Express Covington-Madisonville.*

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