At 630 square miles (1,632 square kilometers), Lake Pontchartrain is one of the largest bodies of water in the US. It’s beloved by locals as a place to fish, sail, and swim, and its shores and waters shelter a huge variety of wildlife and marine life, including blue crabs, Atlantic stingrays, pelicans, ospreys, and even bull sharks.
Technically, Lake Pontchartrain is not actually a lake at all. It’s an estuary that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever its official designation, it makes a fun day trip from the city of New Orleans, whether for a fishing excursion or pleasure cruise, as part of an airboat swamp tour, or simply for a shoreline picnic.
There are a number of lakeside beaches open to the public, including Fontainebleau State Park on the North Shore. The North Shore is accessible by a 24-mile (39-kilometer) causeway (one of the longest bridges in the world), which connects the shoreline communities with downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter.
Things to Know Before You Go
For a great photo opportunity, drive across the causeway at sunset when the lake reflects the colors in the sky to impressive effect.
There’s a pleasant running/walking path that follows the route of Lakeshore Drive past the University of New Orleans.
If you drive across the causeway, plan to stop off for a bite to eat at one of the pretty lakeside restaurants in the town of Madisonville along the North Shore.
How to Get There
The lake sits to the north of New Orleans city. Most people access the lake via I-610, using the West End exit. From there a scenic road—Lakeshore Drive—hugs the shore through the Metairie district and is ideal for a sightseeing drive. To reach the North Shore, take the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.
When to Get There
Lake Pontchartrain is publicly accessible at all times. The shoreline beaches are busier on weekends when local families come to enjoy picnics.
Exploring the Bayou
Many New Orleans visitors first glimpse the lake on the way to explore the region’s swamps and bayous. From airboat swamp tours to kayaking and more, bayous are an essential part of Louisiana life, and each one is home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem. On a bayou visit, you might see alligators, many types of birds, nutria (large rodents a similar to groundhogs), and the famous stands of cypress trees covered with low-hanging Spanish moss.