A wave washed over the raft, sweeping me up as easily as if I’d been a piece of driftwood. There was nothing but water–in my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my face…everywhere!
I couldn’t fight the current. Nobody could.
I slid across the raft, colliding with Andrea, the other paddler at the back. Shaun and Heather, the middle paddlers, crashed into both of us like bumper cars, only we had no track, just the slippery rubber raft and the swirling whitewater of the Kennebec River that was determined to pull us down into its spinning vortex.
It was the fall of 2002 and I was in Maine on my first travel adventure trip. To be honest, it was just my second trip as a professional travel writer, so everything was an adventure!
Whitewater Rafting on the Kennebec River FAQ
- The Kennebec River is situated entirely in the state of Maine, and is 170 miles long.
- The Kennebec rises at Moosehead Lake and flows into the Gulf of Maine on the Atlantic Ocean.
- The Harris Station Dam on the Kennebec River at Indian Pond creates rapids that are mainly consistent through the year.
- Rapids on the Kennebec are classed at Class III and Class IV for normal flows and dam releases (check for scheduled changes in dam releases).
- Water releases on the Kennebec vary from 4,500 cfs to 6,500 cfs. Call FPL’s Flow Line at 1-800-557-3569 for more information.
- Rafts are put in on the Kennebec below Harris Station and rafters immediately enter the Gorge, meaning once in you’re committed and there’s no changing your mind.
- The last part of the rafting experience on the Kennebec is an easy float.
- For a full details and instructions from American Whitewater see: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/438/
This YouTube video of rafting on the Kennebec River takes you down the river with Magic Falls.
My whitewater rafting adventure began bright and early in the small community of The Forks, Maine’s whitewater rafting central. While there are numerous different rafting companies, everyone is on the same schedule due to Harris Dam’s timed releases.
I’d chosen Magic Falls Rafting Company for my experience, mainly, I must admit, because of the name. Since I can’t swim and am pretty afraid of the water, I figured it would take a lot of magic for me to enjoy the event–it didn’t, however, actually take magic at all, just a great guide and a company that delivered the safe experience they promised.
My guide from Magic Falls was Lisa, a three-year veteran of the Kennebec, who knew every twist and turn of the rapids. Our boat was nicely balanced with Andrea, her three teenagers, and her friend, Bob. Bob and the oldest of the boys, Matt, took the lead paddles at the front of the raft, while Andrea and I stayed at the back with Lisa.
We’d already taken our lessons in paddling, with the first one being very emphasized–bring that paddle back! While the punishment was supposed to be not getting any lunch for losing a paddle, it didn’t take long to figure out that a raft with a boatload of paddleless rafters would be in big trouble.
I started out with a knot of anticipation that could have been mostly fear in my stomach. Everyone else but Bob was also a first-timer and seemed to share my apprehension. Bob, however, repeatedly joined Lisa in assuring us we’d have the time of our lives.
One of the other rafts held a boat load of young men who’d decided to initiate the groom-to-be in the ups-and-downs of marriage by heading out on the whitewater! Their daredevil antics led us down the river all morning.
Luckily, as Lisa assured us, their guide could put them through a lot tougher paces and more challenging “holes” than she’d guide us through. One of the key advantages of rafting a river like the Kennebec that has predictable water levels is that the guide can tailor-make the trip to each new crew of rafters.
It was an amazing morning, with the first mile through the Gorge being spectacular. In fact, that very first rapid we hit, when the raft surged up like I’d just launched my snowmobile over an enormous snowbank and then splashed down, is what put this trip so high on my 2012 staycation revisits of travel experiences.
This rafting adventure was one of those AHA moments when I realized that not only were my skills transferable (whitewater rafting was like riding my horse when it bucked, and my snowmobile flying over snowdrifts), but that many things have less-than-obvious similarities to capitalize on. Even in that moment I describe at the opening of this article, when it seemed we’d all be thrown from the raft into a bottomless eddy–which, I might add, is as vivid to me today as it was a decade ago–helped launch me into the travel writing career that followed.
My many thanks to the Kennebec and my guide, Lisa!
How to Book a Whitewater Rafting Trip on the Kennebec River in Maine
- River information from American Whitewater – http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/438/#main
- Magic Falls Rafting Company – http://www.magicfalls.com/
- Visit The Forks in Maine for your stay while rafting the Kennebec.
- List of whitewater rafter outfitters in Maine – http://www.visitmaine.net/maine_rafting.htm