White Water Rafting

You don’t have to be a thrill seeker to consider going on a whitewater rafting adventure in Maine, a state with an abundance of streams and rivers perfectly suited to the sport. In fact, experts insist, “Whitewater rafting is for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. You don’t need to be a fitness fanatic or an Olympic athlete. People of all ages from 8-80 with no previous experience raft Maine’s rivers … Many visitors have likened Maine’s rafting experience to the ultimate, natural theme park ride.”

According to Raft Maine, an association of seven professional whitewater rafting outfitters (trained guides), the Kennebec, Penobscot and Dead Rivers are the state’s official rafting routes. The Kennebec trip is a 12-mile ride that begins at Harris Station on Indian Pond and ends at The Forks, where the Kennebec and Dead Rivers meet. The Penobscot ride begins with two miles through Ripogenus Gorge, then continues an additional 12 miles before ending at Pockwockamus Falls. The Dead River expedition is a 16-mile trek from Grand Falls to The Forks, and follows the longest stretch of continuous whitewater in the eastern U.S.

Don’t ask Seth Coates, general manager of Windfall Rafting in Jackman, to pick a favorite among the three rivers, however. Says Coates, “They’re all my favorites! For playing and paddling around, I like the Dead River. The Kennebec is dependable and good for families, and if you want a challenge, go for the Penobscot.”

Coates has been in the business only three years, but says he’s hooked. “I like a job where I get to be outdoors,” he says. “My favorite nine days of the year are when I’m training new guides.” Coates says he has noticed a change in customers over the past few years—more calls for reservations from “moms and girlfriends”—as the sport has become increasingly family-oriented. “Rafters want to know they’re going to be safe,” he says, “and there are fewer ‘raw rafters’ who want to capsize.”

For the uninitiated, whitewater rafting trips are categorized by degree of difficulty. They range from Class I (easy, no obstacles, small ripples, slow current) to Class VI (nearly impossible, very dangerous, for well-prepared teams of experts only). None of the three key rivers in Maine has rapids greater than Class V. For beginners and the aquaphobic, Raft Maine suggests taking what’s called a “row-frame trip.” These are rides where the guide does all the work, rowing the raft while passengers kick back and enjoy the scenery. A favorite route for this type of trip is a seven-mile journey along the Lower Kennebec.
Coates agrees that newcomers might want to start slowly (“not on the Penobscot”), but he and his Raft Maine colleagues reassure their prospects that a rafting experience is both safe and unforgettable. “Everybody who’s been rafting has a story,” Coates laughs.
Prices for the services of a rafting outfitter vary depending on the month, day of the week and number of people in each group. A one-day trip on the Kennebec averages $80-$120 per person, on the Penobscot $90-$130 per person, and on the Dead $90-$140 per person.