A Tranquil Paddle

alan belford

Enjoying Warm Fall Days

With rainy weather - and colder weather - bearing down on us, Wren and I tried to grab as much sun as we could today. After a walk to Middle Saranac Lake from the Ampersand Mountain parking area, we headed for a fall paddle along the Raquette River from Axton Landing - an easy put-in off of Corey's Road between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. Our time was limited thanks to my schedule and the growing night -- which keeps taking bites out of the end of our day -- but I unloaded quickly and we were soon sliding out through the shallow waters.

One of the great things about the Raquette River is that it can be paddled for hours - or in fact days if you have the time - or it can be explored quickly. The landscape is interesting right away so there is plenty to investigate without going far if time is a restriction. A fisherman sat a short way from the launch in a small boat and as we pushed out he motored slowly out the one direction on the river. So we went the other way to leave both him and us alone. Wren watched him go and sat quietly gazing at the shoreline.

We found a number of White-throated Sparrows along the shoreline during our paddle. Photo courtesy of

A Quiet Evening

The Raquette around Axton Landing is lined with deciduous trees - most of which are red maple -and the leaves lay decorating the sandy margins of the stream as we went. Here and there the bright yellow leaves of white birches stood out like torches against the gray trunks in the late afternoon light - as if they might set the forest on fire. Behind the skeletons of maples ranks of balsam, red spruce, and other conifers guarded our passage in dark green and I listened to a few Black-capped Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers call from the forest. With evening coming they were feeding one last time before bed.While the red maples along the river were bare, the paper birch were bright gold.

The river quickly passes along private property and an old cable system which runs above the heads of paddlers as they head south before it reaches signs for trails and lean-tos along the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness Area - offering a somewhat ironic way to explore the High Peaks. Wren laid down to doze while I paddled quietly on - finding a few White-throated Sparrows and a lone Downy Woodpecker. But it was soon time to turn around before we ran out of light. I've long wished I could freeze the light of early evening so that I could explore in it for hours, but I've never quite been able to pull it off. As it was, the day seemed to be growing dimmer each moment, and even though I had lights packed in my dry bag, I didn't want to arrive in the dark.

A Muskrat And A Woodcock

Our return trip was highlighted by a muskrat which first splashed into the water from a rock and then proceeded to swim alongside the canoe for perhaps 50 meters before diving and disappearing into the dark water. Wren watched it with amused - but fairly idle - curiosity. With the light dropping I made faster work on our way in than I had on our way out from the launch - particularly since I was no longer stopping to take photos.

We watched a muskrat for a while as we paddled back to the take-out. Photo courtesy of

We approached the take-out with plenty of light spotting an American Woodcock in flight overhead - the fast twitter of the wingbeats beating as hard as they could to keep the chubby body airborne. Woodcocks are on the move right now and I often see them flying on autumn evenings. I loaded the boat onto the car while Wren nosed the take-out before dropping a stick at my feet for me to throw. Her swim topped off our day and we drove home for dinner in the growing shadows.

Chilly fall weather does not mean the end of paddling and outdoor exploration. Check out our lodging and dining sites and plan your trip today!

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