Lake Pontchartrain Information

Lake Pontchartrain lies in southeastern Louisiana in six parishes: Jefferson, Orleans, St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, and Tangipahoa. The New Orleans metroplex encompasses most of Lake Pontchartrain’s southern border. The area on its northern border is known as Northshore. Lake Pontchartrain lies in part of the Pontchartrain Basin, a 4,700 square mile watershed in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi.

Lake Pontchartrain covers 630 square miles with an average depth of 12 feet, but the depth ranges from ten to 16 feet. It is 40 miles wide east to west and 24 miles wide from north to south. Lake Pontchartrain is an estuary and not a lake with brackish water. 

The most famous landmarks are the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge and Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse. The bridge is a 24-mile long parallel pair of bridges and the longest continuous bridge over water on earth. The lighthouse has been rebuilt time and time again since 1837 and is a prized historical landmark. 

Lake Pontchartrain is a freshwater estuary and receives freshwater from Lake Maurepas, the Tangipahoa and Tchefuncte Rivers, Bayous Lacombe and Bonfouca,  the Mississippi River when flooded, and drainage canals, plus saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. Several authorities govern and manage Lake Pontchartrain including several levy districts, the six parishes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

History of Lake Pontchartrain

The early European explorers encountered the Native American tribes of the Bayougoula, Chitimacha, Colapissa, Mougoulacha, Oumas, Quinipissa, and Tangipahoa around Lake Pontchartrain. One of the names attributed to Lake Pontchartrain was Okwata, which means “wide water”. 

French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville named it Lake Pontchartrain after the French Minister of the Marine at the time, the Comte de Pontchartrain. Lake Pontchartrain naturally formed 5,000 years ago from a combination of the rivers feeding it and the surrounding wetlands that created a complex estuarine ecosystem.

The Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse’s history on Pontchartrain Beach began with Alexander Milne from Scotland when his government ordered him to cut his hair, and he immigrated to New Orleans. He purchased large tracts of land and established the Milneburg settlement on Lake Pontchartrain’s southern shores in the early 1830s. 

To spur a tourism industry, Alexander built a railroad from Milneburg to New Orleans where people could board the steam train “Smokey Mary” to the lake. The lake’s first artificial harbor, Port Pontchartrain, at Milneburg provided transport to the health resorts located on Lake Pontchartrain’s northern shore. The railroad constructed a makeshift lighthouse with a square lantern raised between two poles to a height of fifty feet.

The U.S. Congress funded a more functional lighthouse with $5,000 in 1834, but the plans did not draft it high enough at only 18 feet, and it was not built. In 1837, with more funding from congress, an octagonal wooden tower was constructed at 28 feet tall. It had a revolving chandelier that created a flashing light with ten lamps and 14-inch reflectors, which distinguished it from the fixed lights at two nearby ports. 

Numerous renovations to and the rebuilding of the three lighthouses occurred over the years because of hurricanes and disrepair that affected them. The Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse was the only lighthouse with continual keepers throughout the Civil War on the Gulf Coast. 

Three women became Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse keepers from 1882 until 1929. One of these women, Margaret R. Norvell, became keeper when her husband drowned in 1891. She said,

“There isn’t anything unusual in a woman keeping a light in her window to guide men folks home. I just happen to keep a bigger light than most women because I have got to see that so many men get safely home.”

Pontchartrain Beach closed in 1991 and Hurricane Katrina and Rita basically destroyed the lighthouse. The Pontchartrain Conservancy reconstructed the historic lighthouse. Today, it is renamed the New Canal Lighthouse. It has five tiers in a beautiful whitewashed building with a museum and sees a large number of visitors.

Fishing Lake Pontchartrain

Lake Pontchartrain’s game fish species include Guadalupe bass, hybrid striped bass, largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass, striped bass, white bass, yellow bass, bluegill, bowfin, black, bigmouth, and smallmouth buffalo, yellow and black bullhead, blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish, common and grass carp, Rio Grande cichlid, freshwater and red drum, redfish, paddlefish, chain pickerel, alligator, longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar, green, longear, redbreast, and redear sunfish, rainbow trout, walleye, warmouth, and black and white crappie. 

Lake Pontchartrain has an average depth of 12 feet but its water levels fluctuate slightly with the tide coming in and out from the Gulf Coast and during flooding or droughts. It has a full grass bed covering almost the whole lake bottom. The 12-foot average depth allows the sun to reach the lakebed. This condition supports a wide variety of freshwater fish, marine fish, and wildlife. The marine species are transient and include sharks and manatees. 

On Lake Pontchartrain, there are different seasons for catching different species of fish. Lake Pontchartrain is below the saltwater line in Louisiana, so you must have a saltwater fishing license. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries authorizes numerous fishing regulations.

Lake Pontchartrain’s fishing guide services are mostly located around its southern shore and also offer Gulf of Mexico charters. Some charters specialize in specific species and others are ready to go after your catch of any species. Boat ramps, marinas, and fishing piers surround Lake Pontchartrain.

Find experienced local guides on our Lake Pontchartrain Fishing Guides page. 

Boating on Lake Pontchartrain

Airboats, canoes, fishing boats, kayaks, motorboats, paddleboards, sailboats, and yachts are popular on Lake Pontchartrain. Jet skiers and water skiers have no problem finding open water to play in. With a shallow average depth of 12 feet, the keels of boats on Lake Pontchartrain cannot be too deep. 

Plenty of boat ramps and marinas dot Lake Pontchartrain’s shores, but most are not public. Each of the six parishes surrounding the lake maintain their own no-wake zones, and their signs are visible. Bells and/or whistles, fire extinguishers, personal flotation devices, and visual distress signals are the minimum required safety equipment required for boats. 

A whistle must be audible for one-half mile. A power whistle, power horn, and bell are required on vessels over 12 meters. Different class vessels based on overall length may have additional safety equipment requirements. Visual distress signals are required on vessels where the distance between shorelines is over two miles.

Find or sell a boat on our Lake Pontchartrain Boats for Sale page. 

Lake Pontchartrain Marinas

There are many marinas on Lake Pontchartrain offering full service amenities down to the bare essentials, and even a yacht club. Most marinas are located on the southern shore, with a few on the northern shoreline. 

Plan your trip to the lake by finding a marina on our Lake Pontchartrain Marinas page. 

Lake Pontchartrain Real Estate

Lake Pontchartrain is the largest market in Louisiana for lake homes and lake lots. Most of the homes and lots for sale are on the southern shoreline, with a few on the northern border known as the Northshore. The homes range greatly in price from one million on down. 

New Orleans is the closest metroplex just a few minutes from the south end of Lake Pontchartrain, and only 30 to 40 miles across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge from the northern border. St. John Parish School Board, St. Charles Parish Public School, and Jefferson Parish Public School System on the southern side and St. Tammany Parish Public Schools on the northern border serve the educational needs of Lake Pontchartrain. 

To find your dream lake home, explore our Lake Pontchartrain Homes for Sale page. 

Lake Pontchartrain Vacation Homes and Rental Cabins

There are a few vacation home rentals on both the southern and northern borders of Lake Pontchartrain with so many amenities that it is not possible to list them all. Be sure to book early. Most of the vacation rental homes are in New Orleans, from where it is a quick trip to Lake Pontchartrain.

Some of the marinas offer rental cabins, and one park offers railroad car accommodations. Foutainebleau State Park on the northeastern shoreline built over-the-water cabins. A few places offer cottages, RV parks, and there are several bed & breakfasts. 

Find the perfect vacation home on our Lake Pontchartrain Cabins page. 

Camping at Lake Pontchartrain

Fontainebleau State Park offers primitive campsites, cabins, and RV sites and so much more with biking, birding, fishing, hiking, plus exploring the old sugar cane plantation ruins on which this state park was built. Fairview Riverside State Park has over 100 campsites that are premium, improved, and primitive. Both park entrance fees are $3, and camping is extra. Several RV parks are located around Lake Pontchartrain. 

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Lake Pontchartrain Camping page. 

Hiking at Lake Pontchartrain

Fontainebleau State Park has a 27-mile trail for biking, hiking, or horseback riding. The Northlake Nature Center has a trail that is wheelchair accessible and two other trails that are .75 and 1.75 miles. The Boy Scout Road Trail Interpretive Site at the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge has a short boardwalk trail and a four-mile trail. Fairview Riverside State Park has a short paved 1/2-mile trail.

Tammany Trace near Mandeville, Louisiana, is the Tammany Trace Trail that spans almost 28 miles with a separate equestrian trail that parallels the Trace at points. Bayou Sauvage NWR Ridge Trail & Boardwalk is 6.8 miles long and used for hiking, walking, running, and bird watching. The Maurepas Swamp WMA Nature Trail is a 1-mile out and back trail. Some of these trails allow dogs on a leash. 

Hunting Lake Pontchartrain

Lake Pontchartrain provides hunting in several wildlife areas and at private hunting camps. Popular game species on Lake Pontchartrain include alligator, deer, turkey, small and migratory game birds, rabbit, squirrel, and waterfowl. Waterfowl species include scaup, mallard, teal, gadwall, widgeon, shoveler, coot, and rail. 

The Big Branch Marsh NWR, the Manchac WMA, Maurepas Swamp WMR, and the Tammany Wildlife Refuge allow public hunting. There are several private hunting camps as well on Lake Pontchartrain. Hunters need to check hunting regulations and license requirements with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and in the individual hunting areas. 

Things To Do At Lake Pontchartrain

Take a cruise on a yacht or sailboat at one of the cruising charters offering private sails for two or sunset cruises. Or, take a swamp cruise on an airboat. The New Canal Lighthouse and Education Center’s museum features the history of the lighthouse, the environment and ecology of the Pontchartrain Basin, and area history.

The Mandeville Trailhead has public restrooms, pavilions, an amphitheater, picnic facilities, a renovated train station, a splash fountain-sprinkler, free Friday evening concerts, and the Saturday morning Mandeville Community Market. The Mandeville Trailhead is located on the northeast side of Lake Pontchartrain at 675 Lafitte St, Mandeville, Louisiana.

There are nine golf courses around Lake Pontchartrain’s border. A few are country clubs, and others are public courses. Several restaurants with a few that serve alcohol are scattered around Lake Pontchartrain’s shores.

The primary source of entertainment near Lake Pontchartrain is New Orleans. New Orleans was founded in 1718 and is one of the most prized historic cities in the U.S. New Orleans is just minutes away from Lake Pontchartrain’s southern shore, and only 30 to 40 minutes from its northern shore. 

In New Orleans, visitors enjoy haunted history, culinary, and bike tours. Music is everywhere around the clock in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Enjoy world-class philharmonic orchestras, ballet and other dance companies, along with museums and art exhibitions. So many festivals happen every month in New Orleans that people will find something for everyone. 

Plan your trip on our What To Do At Lake Pontchartrain page.

Lake Pontchartrain Weather & Climate

Lake Pontchartrain sees an average of 64 inches of rain, 219 sunny days, and no snow per year. The January low is 45 degrees, the July high is 92 degrees, and April, October, and November are the most pleasant months of the year. Stay tuned to our Lake Pontchartrain Weather Forecast page for updates.

Lake Pontchartrain Zip Codes

Jefferson Parish: 70001, 70002, 70003, 70004, 70005, 70006, 70009, 70010, 70011, 70033, 70036, 70037, 70053, 70054, 70055, 70056, 70058, 70059, 70060, 70062, 70063, 70064, 70065, 70067, 70072, 70073, 70094, 70096, 70097,  70121, 70123, 70141, 70181, 70183, 70358.

Orleans Parish: 70112,  70113, 70114, 70115, 70116, 70117, 70118, 70119, 70122, 70124, 70125, 70126, 70127, 70128, 70129, 70130, 70131, 70139, 70140, 70145, 70146, 70148, 70149, 70150, 70151, 70152, 70153, 70154, 70156, 70157, 70158, 70159, 70160, 70161, 70162, 70163, 70164, 70165, 70166 , 70167, 70170, 70172, 70174, 70175, 70176, 70177, 70178, 70179, 70182, 70184, 70185, 70186, 70187, 70189, 70190, 70195. 

St. Tammany Parish: 70420, 70427, 70431, 70433, 70434. 70435. 70437, 70445, 70447, 70448, 70452, 70457, 70458, 70459, 70460, 70461, 70464, 70469, 70470, 70471.

St. Charles Parish: 70068, 70070, 70047, 70087, 70057, 70079, 70039, 70049, 70080, 70031, 70078.

St. John the Baptist Parish: 70090, 70084, 70051, 70069, 70076.

Tangipahoa Parish: 70454, 70401, 70422, 70444, 70466, 70446, 70456, 70455, 70404, 70451, 70442, 70465, 70436, 70421, 70402.

Flora and Fauna

Lake Pontchartrain lies in the Pontchartrain Basin, a 4,700 square mile watershed in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Lake Pontchartrain’s 12-foot depth supports manatees, otters, and a vibrant population of bald eagles, pelicans, and ospreys, plus other waterfowl species. Sharks swim in from the Gulf of Mexico to have babies.  

All around Lake Pontchartrain’s ecosystem, people will find slow-moving rivers and bayous, peaceful swamps, cypress forests, thriving hardwood forests, and abundant wildlife. Lake Pontchartrain provides vital habitats for countless species of birds, fish, mammals, plants, and reptiles.

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Lake Pontchartrain Current Weather Alerts

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Lake Pontchartrain Weather Forecast


Slight Chance Thunderstorms

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Lake Pontchartrain Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 5/29: 0.36 (-0.64)