Sunday, March 8, 2020

Cross Country Skiing to Raquette Falls

Despite a modest snow forecasted in the end of February, strong winds brought lake effect snow deep into the Adirondacks.  By Saturday, February 29th, well over a foot fell at my house in Tupper Lake.  I wanted to take advantage of the new snow and headed to the small settlement of Coreys between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake the next morning.  I have visited this area before to climb the peaks of the Seward Range last summer.  This time I headed to the lowlands along the Raquette River.  I have read that a trip to Raquette Falls on cross country skis stands as one of the classic ski tours in the Adirondacks.

The Raquette River makes up the western boundary of the High Peaks Wilderness.  While the river serves as the main mode of travel in this area, a trail travels upriver near Stoney Creek in Coreys to Raquette Falls.  While marked as a horse trail; hikers, and in my case skiers, also use the trail.  In past winters the road plowing stopped short of the trailhead.  I was pleased to see the road and the trailhead both plowed open.  Despite a temperature of -4F earlier in the morning, it had climbed to the teens by the time I started skiing with beautiful blue skies.


I wasn't sure what to expect of the trail conditions.  I anticipated the trail would be still unbroken, making for a tough slog.  A set of snowshoe tracks left a shallow trench of packed snow.  Even out of the trench, the well consolidated snow kept me afloat with minimal sinking.

The trail follows an old logging road and is usually fairly wide

Snowshoe trench from previous day

The first half of the trail travels on gentle terrain with easy elevation changes.  Although the trail follows the river, the route travels high enough that the river remains out of sight for the most part.  After just over two miles, the trail splits at a signed junction.  The trail to Raquette Falls sees the majority of the traffic and the other trail was unbroken. 

Traveling under a low tree canopy


From the junction, the route maintains its gentle course for the first mile or so.  The trail drops closer to the river at this point with hillier terrain.  The first good views of the river are found at this point.  The rest of the trail sees more aggressive hills as the route climbs and descends back and forth to the river a few times.  The day I set out, the snow conditions were perfect for cross country skiing and the hills skied nicely.  The terrain should be manageable by most intermediate skiers, but in icier conditions, the hills may cause problems.

A small creek that didn't quite freeze all the way

Deer tracks

Heading into thick stand of hardwoods

Skiing through a tunnel of balsam

The forest after a foot or so of snow

The hardwoods held the snow in this stretch

The frozen river

Another dense stand of hardwoods

And back into coniferous trees

After four miles, the trail comes to another junction.  Visible from this junction to the left is a DEC Outpost.  In the winter the structure remains closed, but houses a ranger during the snowless season.  A sign marks the route to the falls on the trail to the right just past the junction.  Heading straight bypasses the falls and leads to lean-tos and I believe serves as the portage of the falls for river travelers.

Looking at the tree canopy in coniferous trees

A narrow stretch of trail

Frozen creek

DEC Outpost

Junction to the falls

The trail features its most ambitious hill after the junction as it descends to the river.  The hill runs fairly long with a couple sharp turns.  For skiers not confident in their descending and turning abilities, it may be better to remove your skis until you get by the turns.  Even with perfect snow conditions I approached the descent cautiously making sure to keep my speed in check.  Once at the bottom of the hill, the now open water of the river came into sight.

Closer to the falls, the river opens

Tree canopy of hardwoods

The last stretch before the falls travels a narrow section of trail above a small gorge with the river in sight.  The sound of the falls and rapids are constant. There is one short but punchy hill that must be negotiated before dropping to the falls.  Oddly the set of snowshoe tracks stopped a few hundred feet before the actual falls.  

Raquette Falls

Ice formation on part of the falls

While Raquette Falls isn't terribly high, it remains a worthwhile destination.  What the falls lacks in height, it makes up with volume.  A large volume of water pushes over the drop, making quite the frothy pool below the falls.  The winter allows for nice ice formations around the falls as well.  While technically there is an upper and lower falls, the lower falls seems to be the main attraction.  The trail didn't seem skiable beyond the lower falls.  I took off my skis to get a closer look at the falls and take some photos.  The falls made a nice spot for a snack and drink before returning.

Another look at the falls
Rapids above the falls

According to the trailhead sign, the trail to the falls runs about 4.3 miles.  The return trip retraces the route back.  On my return, I had a nice ski track to follow from my way in and another skier that made it to the falls.  The ski back passed by quickly.  I stopped briefly to visit a lean-to for a quick break.  By the time I reached the trailhead, I past a couple more groups of skiers and someone traveling on snowshoes.

Ancient piece of logging equipment 

Raquette River Lean-to #5

Where the open water ends on the river

Tracks in the hardwoods

Frozen bog

The roundtrip ski to the falls and back covers 8.6 miles according to the trailhead sign.  I probably added another few tenths of a mile of skiing.  With my breaks to visit the lean-to, the outpost, travel beyond the Lower Falls, and time at the falls, I still managed to complete the trip in just over three and a half hours.  I will add that the conditions were prime, allowing for fast travel.  

This was my ninth cross country ski outing for the season, and by far the best. The great conditions certainly helped. The trail offers just enough terrain changes to keep it interesting while traveling through a pleasant forest.  Of course the falls are a nice highlight.  Several lean-tos along the route also make nice places to rest.  I would recommend a trip to Raquette Falls as a cross country ski destination.  

Raquette Falls

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