Kayaking Cane Bayou

St. Tammany Trace Bridge over Cane BayouSliding off the wet clay of the boat launch, the traffic sounds of Hwy 190 are soon muffled by the pine flatwoods and cypress forest that immediately surround us.   Our twin kayaks glide along with little encouragement from our paddles, slipping through the marshy water.  The St. Tammany Trace stretches over us as we coast under a wooden bridge and the water expands before us.  It’s 6 AM on a warm Friday morning in June, and though we have put our kayaks in water just a few yards from a major highway, Nature has transported us to a timeless, unchanged Louisiana.

The oppressive heat of full day is hours away.  For now, the sun sits low in the sky and a light morning breeze accompanies us as we paddle along Cane Bayou towards Lake Pontchartrain.   My daughter and I are new to kayaking. It was something we tried and enjoyed once on a vacation trip.  Like so many other things, I thought of kayaking as something out of reach for most people.  How would someone have enough opportunities to kayak to choose to invest in owning one?

In Louisiana, water surrounds us.  Lakes, pondsCane Bayou, rivers, swamps, marshes, and the entire Gulf of Mexico embrace our state. On the Northshore where we live, Lake Pontchartrain, with an area of 630 square miles, touches the towns and small cities of Mandeville, Covington, Madisonville, Slidell, Lacombe and others.  With no access to a boat, my love for the water has been limited to lazy evenings on restaurant patios near the lake, or weekends on the beaches of nearby states.  I longed to explore, and finally found an easy and accessible way to do so: Rent a Kayak (or in our case, 2 Kayaks!) We drove into Seal Sports Friday evening, loaded up our kayaks onto our vehicle, checked out our paddles and PFDs, and with a little advice and directions, were ready for today’s outing.

It’s the stillness that I notice most.  It envelopes us, quieting our voices.  The reeds rustle slightly on our left, and our eyes turn in unison, hoping to catch a glimpse of…what? A nutria? Snake? Oh, I hope it’s not a snake.  My kayak is solid and wide in the water, but a large water moccasin might change that.   The rustling fades and instead my daughter points the rounded edge of her paddle to a  point several yards ahead where we see the leathery head of an alligator emerge.  We both juggle cameras while attempting to paddle quickly and silently towards our first big sighting.  He sinks and rises, lazily zig-zagging away.

Osprey Nest off Cane BayouIt is just over 1.5 miles of paddling through Cane Bayou to reach the point where it empties into Lake Pontchartrain.  The water bends and turns, our view changing with each stroke.  A group of electric-blue dragonflies perch on the heads of cattails. An egret swoops low and lands close by.  A few more ancient reptiles evade us, and somehow my paddle connects with something under the water and a wild thrashing ensues for a few seconds.   My startled screaming will be the remembered highlight of our journey for my daughter.   The nesting Osprey circling along our same route will stay with me. I hope that we will both tuck away this feeling of quiet companionship and shared experience as a memory to revisit at any time.

More on Cane Bayou:  Located east of Mandeville on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Cane Bayou is easily accessible to most people living in St. Tammany Parish and only a 45-minute drive from New Orleans.  Great for beginners. Seal Sports Dive Center and Kayaking in Mandeville rents kayaks and paddleboards on a daily or extended basis.   Cane Bayou access is located on the east side of Fontainebleau State Park along Highway 190, directly across from the fire station.