What would you call meeting the full force of nature in nothing but an inflatable raft? We’d call it fun as heck.
Guided by Sean of Three Rivers Whitewater, we put our raft in at the mouth of the Kennebec River, just below Indian Pond. This was, of course, after a hearty breakfast and thorough safety speech back at the Boatman’s Bar and Grill. At the time of our river rafting trip, the Kennebec was roaring by at 5,000 cubic feet of water per second—making for a heck of a ride. The Kennebec features rapids that range from class 2 to class 4. A class 2 rapid feels similar to running over a pothole in your car. A class 4 feels more like if the car were swallowed whole. The intensity of these rapids is largely due to the river’s output, regulated by the Harris Station Dam.
Built on the Kennebec river between 1952 and 1954, the Harris Station Dam is 175 feet tall. This hydroelectric dam was designed to be the biggest in the state of Maine, and still is. At max output, it can let out up to 8,400 cubic feet of water per second, helping the dam’s three generators send electricity all the way down to Massachusetts. That kind of output also makes for some wild rapids.
With five paddlers in our raft, and Sean guiding us at the stern, we made our way down the river. The journey starts easy with some class two rapids to splash you into the right mindset. We hit the river in mid-July, so the water was almost warm, the result of the fact that the dam pulls its water from the sun-heated top of Indian Pond. While we all had some nerves setting out, Sean assured us that the Kennebec was an ideal rafting river. While there are rapids galore, it’s also a deep river. This protects from one of the greatest dangers in rafting: getting a limb stuck between two rocks.
Some notable rapids included White Washer, the second class 4 rapid on the river, as well as Magic Falls, which is the largest class 4 rapid on the entire Kennebec. We headed sideways into rapids, took some backwards, and even managed to “surf” a couple of times. In certain rapids, you can get the raft positioned so that you’re paddling upriver in such a way that you’re actually stationary while surfing the face of a surging rapid. Definitely something to add to your bucket list.
Another highlight: falling out of the raft. We did this intentionally through a set of class two rapids at Sean’s behest. There are actually plenty of places on the river to dip in and float around. On the lazier lower reaches of the river, the sun was shining and a refreshing dip in the river felt incredible. In fact, some of the guides will swim the entire river for fun. Though that’s very much an activity best left to the professionals, especially around those class 4 rapids.
All told, we rafted for around twelve miles, all the way from the tip of the Kennebec to just north of where it meets the Dead River at a lazy section of water called “The Forks.”
Some of the essentials to consider, should you want to head out on a rafting trip.
- Sun block
- Bug spray
- Sunglasses (with strap)
- Water shoes or sandals with straps
- Bathing suit (if summer), Wetsuit (if spring or fall)
- Sun shirt
If you’re looking for a rafting trip, we enthusiastically recommend the Kennebec.