Back in early spring, my friend and I took our first paddle of the season up the Raquette River to Raquette Falls. We paddled against the current, dodging icebergs bigger than our boat. It was a crazy adventure.
Along the way, we stopped at a lean-to for lunch and checked our progress. “Josh, there’s a hiking trail that runs along the river from where we started all the way to the falls!” I said, pointing at the map. I thought about how cool it would be to someday hike the same path we had just canoed.
Summer came and went. I never made it back to the falls. However, when winter arrived, I was reminded of my desire to return to the falls by foot, and after a small snowstorm left the Adirondacks blanketed with several inches of fresh powder, I set out on snowshoes with my two pups to Raquette Falls.
Preparing for nine miles
Before heading out on the 9-mile snowshoe trip, I packed a bag full of extra layers, snacks (dog snacks too!), water, hot tea, a first aid kit, map, and blanket. I also brought a headlamp and extra batteries because we had a late start and would be hiking out in the dark. The sun was due to set at 4:15 p.m., and we would reach the falls close to that time. (If you started early, you could easily complete this hike in daylight.) Although I wasn’t stoked on hiking 4 miles in the dark, I was excited to see the falls glimmering in the evening glow.
We arrived at the trailhead, and I wasn’t surprised to be the only car in the lot. The trail is pretty far off the beaten path, located on Coreys Road off of state Route 3 on the way to Tupper Lake. It’s the same road you would drive down to get to the Seward Range trailhead. This is a seasonal road as of December 10, so if you’re attempting to hike (or ski) this trail after that date, be prepared to add a couple extra miles to your trip. (There is rumor that they will be keeping this road open for the 2019/2020 winter season, but AWD or 4WD vehicles are recommended. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also advises that you keep a shovel in your car in case the plow comes by while you're out adventuring.)
The hike in
Walking in was a breeze. It was a cold day with a high of 20 degrees and lows in the single digits, but while cruising, I was plenty warm. Big, fluffy flakes fell all around us and the low shining sun refracted light off every flake, creating a sparkling snow globe effect. The forest was filled with mostly deciduous trees, a lot of gray birch, some white birch, and a few conifers sprinkled about. The snow clumped atop their branches and glowed a subtle gold. The trail was decently deep, six inches or more in some spots, but breaking trail wasn’t slowing me down. My adrenaline was high, fueled by the beauty that surrounded me and the sight of my happy dogs dancing and frolicking.
A lean-to appeared after about 3.5 miles and I quickly realized it was the same lean-to that Josh and I had stopped at months earlier to eat lunch and bask in the first warmth of spring. I looked at the river and remembered that day fondly. I love how the Adirondacks have a tendency to bring me full circle. Whether I’m re-hiking a trail, or visiting places from a different route, I’m often reminded of past adventures and growth that has occurred in the time between.
The sun was getting low and we still had another mile to trek to the falls. We continued on our way. The forest morphed into a coniferous wonderland and an umbrella of dense pine branches diminished the snowpack beneath my feet. Snowshoes became a nuisance over the rocky trail, but I kept them on, unsure if I’d come across a patch of deeper snow (I didn’t). When I arrived at the falls, the sun had set, but its light lingered, illuminating the sky with a dense pink haze. The river water rushed within the confines of evergreens on either side, around snowy boulders scattered about its bed, and down past my dogs and I, into a gorge. The warm pink reflection from the sky contrasted with the river’s white-capped intensity as if it were about to settle into a deep sleep. I was also ready for a deep sleep.
The hike out was rough. I was tired. My dogs were tired. My calves, shins, and ankles ached. We trudged the long trudge back to the car and every step I wondered if I could keep going. After about two hours, we did finally make it back to my car, which awaited us in a lonely parking lot.
If you’re hiking remotely like this, it’s a great idea to have a buddy to check in with when you finish. There was no phone service on this trail and the odds of someone hiking that trail the next day or even within the week following could be low. If something did happen and I wasn’t able to make it out, a check-in buddy would be able to alert help fairly quickly. Time is crucial, especially in the winter. That being said, I always have a check-in buddy on ANY hike, no matter how remote, who knows what route I took and when I should be back. It’s just good practice.
From Tupper Lake, head towards Saranac Lake on Route 3. Continue about 8 miles, then turn right onto Coreys Road. Drive down Coreys Road for about 2 miles. The trailhead for Raquette Falls will be on the right after the single lane bridge.
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