Wild Night

Paddling by moonlight turns a quiet river into a wild adventure.

I had paddled the Three Rivers Area many times, but paddling at night transformed it into an entirely new experience. Every paddle stroke was an adrenaline rush. The howl of a distant coyote charged the night air.  And the sudden splashes of beavers and other wildlife exploded like cannonballs in the dark water.

I had pushed off from shore around twilight with Frog Hollow Outdoors, a canoe and kayak educator and rental company in Durham, N.C., that organizes night paddles around the new and full moons year-round. We paddled downriver at dusk with a blue heron gliding ahead of us, the sound of its wings like a whisper over our heads. Clouds scattered the moonlight as we paddled along the Three Rivers Area of North Carolina, where the Eno, Flat, and Neuse Rivers merge on the northwest side of Falls Lake.

As daylight faded, the river transformed into a playground for nocturnal life. Bats flew in kamikaze dips above our heads; frogs croaked a deafening chorus; and owls hooted back and forth. Trees looked like a brilliant electric light show as fireflies twinkled in what appeared to be a light schema of Morse code. Ripples of hungry fish feeding on low-flying mosquitoes were barely visible in the dark waters. Our guide pointed out a beaver lodge that we were able to paddle up to and cast our flashlights on. The beaver swam right under our guide’s kayak, bumping along the bottom of his boat.

Being far removed from residential lighting, I was surprised how effortlessly my vision adjusted. Beginning at dusk and paddling with the gradual decrease in daylight eased everyone into night vision— judging everything by silhouettes and relying more keenly on sound. In shallow and narrow stretches, we were startled by waterlogged trees in the water and low-hanging branches scraping our boats.

Halfway through the paddle, the clouds opened, revealing a stunning panorama of stars overhead. At night, even this shallow, slow-moving river was overflowing with new experiences. •

Lights, Paddle, Action!

We attached glow sticks to our PFDs and to the bow and stern of our boats. Other boats—especially motorboats—are a danger to night paddlers on lakes and open water. We also carried a white flashlight (with extra batteries) for both a navigation aid and to alert other watercraft. Shining a flashlight down on the water’s surface increases its brightness and notifies other vessels of your presence.

Location! Location! Location!
Lakes typically boast higher boat traffic, producing more risk for collisions. But they also offer calm water and expansive views of the night sky. Rivers’ currents change seasonally, so scout the river by daylight first.

Wandering the Dark
Bring a GPS. You’re more likely to be disoriented in the dark. If weather changes and wind, rain, or clouds roll in, being able to get back to shore will be easier with a GPS. Bring a dry bag for storage of electronics.

Moon Over My Hammy
Paddling under a full moon is ideal; however, weather can easily make this a moot point. Meteor showers occur frequently throughout the year, so plan a night paddle to coincide with these natural fireworks. Check weather before departing, as high winds can make lake paddling miserable—and even dangerous.

Places to Go, Things to See: