Across the water from New Orleans, on the northeastern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Slidell is a jumping off point for adventures in the mysterious Honey Island Swamp.
Right beside Slidell, the Pearl River Basin harbors some of the most pristine swampland in the country, ripe for guided tours to see American alligators and a rich variety of birds in their natural habitat.
Established as a railroad camp in the 1880s, Slidell has a lot more to keep you around, whether you want to take fishing trips into the vast tidal areas all around, or simply tuck into some of the best seafood you’ve ever tasted.
You can ride or walk the course of that historic railroad, stroll next to the bayou in town and ramble around an arty downtown district hopping with eateries and antique stores.
1. Honey Island Swamp
Head east of Slidell and you’ll soon find yourself in primeval swampland, on an 70,000-acre strip bounded by the Old Pearl River in the west and the Pearl River in the east.
Around half of Honey Island Swamp is protected by the Pearl River Wildlife Area, which has a campground next to the Old Pearl River on the edge of Slidell.
This region of vast bottomland forest, mixed hardwood and bald cypress is practically untouched by civilization, and almost impenetrable unless you have a boat to navigate its labyrinth of bayous and streams.
Fortunately there’s a lineup of tour companies waiting to take you into the swamp for a guided adventure, and we’ll talk about these later.
2. Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge
Upstream from the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area is another 36,000 acres of protected swampland and bottomland hardwood forest in the Pearl River Basin.
The remoteness of the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge helps make it one of the most undisturbed swamplands in the entire United States.
During high water periods in winter and spring more than 90% of this landscape can be flooded, forming a giant web of bayous, sloughs and lakes inhabited by threatened species like the gulf sturgeon and ringed sawback turtle.
Dryer regions are under a layer of slash and loblolly pine forest, supporting another threatened species, the gopher tortoise.
Much of the reserve is only accessible by boat, and there’s no shortage of companies providing experiences like fishing, paddling and birdwatching.
By road you can get to a fishing area and picnic pavilion by the Pearl River Turnaround, while the Jim Schmidt Boardwalk at this spot guides you through floodplain cypress forest.
3. Swamp Tours
The way to see Honey Island Swamp is on a guided tour, either aboard a boat or paddling in a kayak or canoe.
And while this habitat may seem dangerous and forbidding, your experienced guide will help you distinguish fact from Hollywood fiction.
As you make your way between moss-draped cypresses you’re guaranteed to see a lot of alligators, which tend to keep their distance, unless they’re coaxed with food by your guide.
Other species that should make an appearance, depending on the season, are great blue herons, ospreys, swallowtail kites, egrets, bald eagles, nutria, feral pigs and pileated woodpeckers, although the fabled Honey Island Swamp monster cryptid is a bit more reclusive.
A few local companies providing tours are Cajun Encounters, Dr Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours, Pearl River Eco Tours and Honey Island Kayak Tours.
4. Mardi Gras
Slidell’s Mardi Gras parades are smaller and more intimate than in New Orleans, and attract a fraction of the tourists. But this may not be a bad thing, especially if you’re on the hunt for an authentic Mardi Gras experience.
You know the season is approaching when the cinnamon-scented aroma of king cake wafts on the breeze, and there are four bakeries, a couple going back decades, making this treat in Slidell.
The season begins weeks before Fat Tuesday, with the Krewe of Bilge boat parade, and ramps up to the Krewe of Selene on the Friday night before Mardi Gras. The latter is an all-women’s parade, throwing elaborately crafted purses.
Slidell has eateries for a wide range of cuisines, but seafood is what draws visitors from miles around.
There are more than 20 seafood restaurants in Slidell, many with romantic locations by the marina on Lake Pontchartrain or out on Bayou Bonfouca in the shade of bald cypresses.
Menus are filled with bayou classics like gumbo, boiled crawfish (in season), crab and shrimp, and other favorites like étouffée, oyster po-boys and blackened specialties.
Seafood restaurants in Slidell run the gamut from cozy mom-and-pop joints to contemporary destination restaurants.
A few highly-rated picks are Kenney Seafood (400 Pontchartrain Dr), Palmettos on the Bayou (1901 Bayou Ln), Phil’s Marina Cafe (1194 Harbor Dr) and Peck’s Seafood Restaurant (2315 Gause Blvd E).
6. Olde Towne Slidell
Slidell has the kind of downtown area where you can leave the car behind for a couple of hours.
This is Historic Olde Towne Slidell, on ten square blocks enclosed by Front St in the west and Sgt Alfred St in the east.
A little jaunt around this district will turn up a wide choice of restaurants, independent shops, a fine local history museum (more later) and cute public spaces like little Griffith Park.
Be sure to check out the eight murals adorning walls around Olde Towne Slidell, and then set your sights on the Historic Antique District to the north, with six different establishments for antiques and collectibles in the space of a single block.
7. Heritage Park
On the east side of Olde Towne Slidell is an adorable park by Bayou Bonfouca. More than a peaceful and shaded spot for a picnic or walk, Heritage Park has an amphitheater that hosts numerous events throughout the year.
To name a few, you’ve got movie nights, outdoor concerts, Slidell’s annual Christmas light display, an Easter egg hunt and, biggest of all, the Slidell Heritage Festival on the Saturday before the 4th of July.
For facilities, Heritage Park has an all-abilities playground, splash pad, seven shelters, a large gazebo, a free boat launch/marina and a waterfront walking path dotted with benches.
8. Fishing Charters
The Northshore is a major destination for fishing charters, with upwards of a dozen skippers operating out of St. Tammany Parish.
One thing going for Slidell is its flexibility, offering easy access to Lake Pontchartrain of course, along with a host of other bodies of water, like the Rigolets strait, Lake Catherine, Lake Borgne and Biloxi Marsh.
Residing in these waters is an overwhelming variety of fish species, including but by no means limited to some enormous trout, redfish and flounder, but also tarpon, bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass.
Mostly operating out of Slidell’s Rigolets Marina, local charter captains know these waters intimately, and excursions are normally half-day experiences, with no trouble catching your limit.
9. Tammany Trace Bike Trail
One way to experience the natural beauty of the Northshore, without getting wet, is on two wheels via this fantastic rail trail along the old Illinois Central Railroad corridor.
Slidell is at the eastern end of the Tammany Trace Bike Trail, the first rail trail in the state, paved with asphalt and running for 31 miles to downtown Covington.
Much of the trail leads you through a ravine of lofty pines and moss-laden oaks on the lakeshore, with a lot of little detours to make along the route.
Some stops to consider are the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and its visitor center, the 2,800-acre Fontainebleau State Park and Abita Springs, with a farmers’ market and regular jazz performances at the preserved station by the trail.
Finally the Covington trailhead features a museum and another farmers’ market, on Wednesdays during the growing season.
10. Camp Salmen Nature Park
Next to the eastern trailhead for the Tammany Trace Bike Trail is a 130-acre expanse of nature on Bayou Liberty, all with a compelling history.
Commanded by gnarled old oaks, this space was included in Spanish land grants and got its name from a trading post and ferry crossing that grew up on Bayou Liberty.
Now Camp Salmen evokes the kind of swampy scenery encountered by early settlers, serving as a natural observatory brimming with native plants and birdlife.
You can come to walk the trails, with meandering stretches of boardwalk, finding out a bit more about the park’s story at spots like Salmen Lodge (c. 1830). If you have a kayak or canoe, there’s a paddling trail on Bayou Liberty with a launch in the park.
11. Slidell Museum
For the inside track on Slidell’s past there’s a local history museum at the old Slidell Town Hall & Jail, built in 1907. With two floors of exhibits, this is a first-class attraction, taking you back to Slidell’s earliest days as a railroad camp in the 1880s.
You’ll be introduced to some key figures in the city’s past, like the banker Frédéric Émile d’Erlanger (1832-1911), who named Slidell after his father-in-law, John Slidell (1793-1871), Confederate commissioner to France.
Another prominent character is Fritz Salmen (1854-1934), originator of a local shipbuilding industry that later helped power the war effort in WWII.
As well as more than 800 pieces of local Mardi Gras memorabilia there are some fun curiosities, like period costume, an historic baby scale, a super 8 camera, and a preserved Ediphone, complete with wax recording cylinders.
12. Slidell Little Theatre
This beloved community theater has dazzled audiences in St. Tammany Parish for half a century now. The Slidell Little Theatre was founded in 1963 and in its time has produced upwards of 350 mainstage shows.
There are six productions a year at this intimate, 200-seat venue, along with Young Actors Theater (YATs) for ages 4-18 in summer and Senior Actors’ Theater (SATs).
Talented volunteers from a wild diversity of backgrounds come together to make these dramas, musicals and comedies a big success.
For an idea of what’s on offer, the mainstage season at the time of writing featured Mamma Mia!, Matilda, Clue and Moon over Buffalo, to name a few.
13. Northshore Beach
Between Slidell and the city of Mandeville to the west, Fontainebleau State Park encompasses a big chunk of the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline.
One of its best features is little more than ten minutes from downtown Slidell at Northshore Beach, a public sandy beach with free access on a secluded piece of shoreline.
This is a lovely place where you can relax on the sand or grass, gaze out over the massive estuary and cool off in the clean water.
There are picnic tables here, as well as two shaded pavilions, and a host of excellent seafood spots close by if you want to bring a picnic (Phil’s Marina Cafe and Middendorf’s in particular).
14. Fritchie Park
This attractive community park covers 176 acres in the south of Slidell. Fritchie Park comes to the fore in late April as the scene for Slidell’s annual All-You-Can-Eat Crawfish Cook-Off.
These kinds of events are common, with several on the northshore alone, but few, if any, come close to this cook-off for size. There are more than 50 teams competing for prizes each year, cooking up an amazing 25 tons of delicious crawfish.
For the remainder of the year, Fritchie Park is a recreation spot, with a baseball field, two softball fields, an 18-hole disc golf course and a nature trail.
This is also the location for the Camellia City Bark Park, with play pools, a water station and separate off-leash areas for larger and smaller dogs.
15. John Slidell Park
By the intersection of I-59 and I-12 is another picture perfect park, in the shade of towering pines. The ample shade makes John Slidell Park a year-round go-to, even in the sweltering summer months.
For amenities you’ve got baseball and softball fields, age-specific playground equipment for kids, volleyball courts and a basketball court (inside at the gym).
The park’s main asset though is its dense stands of forest, woven with trails for restorative walks and interspersed with some open green space for picnics.