Deep in the Bayou: Honey Island Swamp Tours
Louisiana is associated with its swamps more than any other state in the South. The southern half of the state has been virtually carved out of wetlands and reclaimed from nature. Although storms like 2005's hurricanes Katrina and Rita have pummeled southern Louisiana since time immemorial and man has changedand in many respects damagedthe region's wetlands through various flood-control and development projects, Louisiana's swamps remain almost unbelievably resilient and are home to countless animals and plants that thrive only here.
To get a true sense of the state, sign up for the boat swamp tour and venture deep into the heart of one of its primeval wetland wildernesses. One of the most interesting tours explores the fascinating Honey Island Swamp, departing from the town of Slidell, on New Orleans Northshore (see p. 419). Naturalists accompany the motorized flat-bottomed boats that quietly penetrate the swamp, all the while recounting wetlands folklore, including tales of a mythical swamp creature called Wookie, as well as helping visitors arrive at a thorough understanding of how the wetlands have shaped the history of southern Louisiana.
Some 70,000 acres of lost-in-time wilderness, Honey Island Swamp is the second largest in Louisiana, after Atchafalaya. It is fed by the Pearl River, one of the only rivers in the state without a levee system, which allows it to flood regularly, nourishing its surrounding wetlands. This is a tranquil, unspoiled place full of tupelo, cypress, and river birch trees. Tours travel 7 or 8 miles into the swamp's almost impenetrable backwaters, where you're apt to see alligators (from spring through fall), gray herons, kingfishers, ancient snapping turtles, and furry nutria (members of the beaver family). A visit here will awaken your inner Audubon.
Where: 30 miles northeast of New Orleans.
Honey Island Swamp Tours: Tel 985-641-1769; www.honeyislandswamp.com. Cost: $23 for half-day tour.
Best times: AprMay and SeptNov, when wildlife is more abundant.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication