There must be a Tennyson poem somewhere describing the joy of a November canoe outing under crisp blue skies.

If not, there should be.

We are putting the final touches on the 2023 paddling season with a two-hour exploration of the Cape Neddick River in York. At 3.7 miles in length we are not talking about the mighty Amazon here. Only the 1-mile tidal portion of the river is navigable. You will want to explore the river within the timeframe of two hours before and after high tide.

This time of year the river is a staging area for a variety of birds, all trying to decide, “should we stay here for the winter or move southward?” Most will move on. There were blue herons everywhere; in the golden marsh grasses, on top of wooden pilings, and on the wing. Kingfisher calls echoed from shore to shore. Along the western shoreline 60 Canada geese rode the tide up the river. Cormorants flew constantly up and down the channel. Mallards dabbled in the shallows. A pair of bald eagles called back and forth from riverside oaks.

A long line of weathered pilings cross the river 100 yards out from the boat launch, remnants of the Portsmouth, Kittery & York Street Railway, and electric trolley line that served locals and summer tourists for 25 years, ending service in 1923.

The late autumn colors were dazzling, especially the red oaks with their leaves pulsating a rainbow of soft browns, golden yellows and shiny greens. With the low afternoon light filtering through them it was magical. We passed by a small apple tree with its yellow fruit sitting below the tree in the sun-drenched silky marsh grass. The air was filled with the pleasing aroma of decaying apples.


There are many homes along both sides of the river, most far up from the water. Green mown lawns and pastures lead down to the water. A nippy west wind battled with the warmth of the sun on our faces. It was invigorating, enjoying the coolness and the warmth at the same time.

Just before you reach Route 1, you will come to a rock-strewn stream spilling down into the tidal portion of the river. This is the turnaround point.

Back near the launch site a beautiful lagoon sits just east of the Shore Road bridge. This lagoon is the inner portion of Cape Neddick Harbor. The opening out to the open ocean has a southerly orientation, so it is protected from big waves except when there is a brisk south wind. The sandy bottom, coupled with the rich green water, has a Caribbean look and feel minus the tropical temperatures.

The half-mile long Cape Neddick Beach provides a delightful walk, beachcombing, and relaxation on the white sand. Two miles to the south sits a small island. On top of this imposing fortress of rock sits Nubble Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine. It reminded us of pictures we have seen of the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. Otherworldly.

If you venture out to the mouth of the lagoon you will see a pencil-thin lighthouse 6 miles offshore, shimmering in the cool maritime air. This is Boon Island Light, the tallest lighthouse in Maine, and location for Kenneth Roberts epic tale of a harrowing December 1710 shipwreck.

At the eastern edge of the beach tiny wavelets had combed the golden grasses and wet sand into artistic wave-like formations, dazzling in the mid-afternoon sun. We took many pictures at various angles trying to get that perfect shot.


The bird sightings did not end with the river portion of our outing. A chatty yellowlegs circled our canoe while a juvenile loon eyed our approach.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 1) for help in getting to the boat launch behind the Harborside Restaurant on the Shore Road in York, just south of the bridge over the mouth of the Cape Neddick River. Launching here is free after Nov. 1. The Cape Neddick Oceanside Campground is just across the road.

We will see you next April for another season of canoeing in Maine. Enjoy a lovely winter on your skis, skates, and snowshoes.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact:

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