Review: U.S. Rafting – Kennebec & Dead River
One of the reviews I’ve been most stoked to write all summer is this one. There is hardly any summer activity in New England I can think of more intense than white water rafting, and going with U.S. Rafting pretty much just guarantees you’re going to push all your own limits. I mean, we totally went over this last week in the unofficial trip report. I’m mortified of water, yet this rather insane group of guides gets me out there year after year… and loving it.
I was going to write up a massive trip report of what rapids we hit, how, who fell out, what happened, etc., but the video below seriously speaks for itself. The two-day trip was epic and we hit it all on both the Kennebec River and the Dead River. I cannot wait for next year!
So, where to start with this review? U.S. Rafting is located way the heck up in West Forks, Maine. If you somehow drive without stopping to West Forks from my area (Manchester, NH) and don’t hit traffic you’re looking at a solid 4.5 hour trip. Once there, you’re only 40 minutes away from the Canadian border, so seriously – you’re really up there. Fortunately the drive up there is pretty nice and never really seems to feel like a 4.5 hour drive. I’m suspecting it’s because we always break it up with a lunch break stop to Cabella’s (outdoorsy product goodness galore) and Portland Pie (pizza!) in Scarborough, Maine.
There’s also somehow gas stations and food almost all the way up. It’s really only the last hour of the trip that it starts to feel rather remote (Skowhegan to West Forks). Also, since I know someone is thinking it – kiss your cell phone reception (Verizon) goodbye shortly after Skowhegan. You’ll be tempted with a bar here and there but it’s gone, man. Gone. Once in town, Berry’s General Store is your best bet for groceries and supplies. There’s a few other bar/restaurant things around too – but I’ve honestly never checked them out.
If you’re hoping for 5 star accommodations up here, you’ve clearly come to the wrong part of the world. This is the land of campgrounds, bunk houses, cabins, and some rumored motel-esque rooms I’ve never actually seen myself. Personally my group has always opted for Indian Pond Campground at the south end of Indian Pond. Even though we do have to sacrifice things like electricity, running water, and flushing toilets (there’s an outhouse instead), the views from the pond side totally make up for it. If roughing it in the woods isn’t your style, you might want to check out The Outpost accommodations at U.S. Rafting.
As for U.S Rafting itself… oh man. As you’re driving through West Forks, you’re going to notice there’s a ton of rafting companies up there, but I’m telling you – just keep driving and don’t stop until you get to U.S. Rafting. My group has been going with them for three years now and it’s pretty much clear we have the most fun on the water and off. Why? Well, I’ll break it down for you:
The Guides: I haven’t had a chance to meet the owners of the other rafting companies out there, but Bill Lyons (owner of U.S. Rafting) has done a phenomenal job of picking some of the best guides out there. Not only can they pick a sick line, read the river, and keep your entire group safe – they all have these amazing hilarious personalities. Seriously be sure to get to know your guide.
The first year we had Jay Mac – a giant of a guide (well compared to my 5’2″ anyways) who favors lots of chanting and screaming. Trust me… it works. The next year, we had Ray – an insanely friendly and talented guide who picked an epically memorable line on the Kennebec River. And this year we had Jeremy. Jeremy is taking the honors as our favorite guide of all time, so we call dibs on him next year, and year after, and so on. Once Jeremy figured out we weren’t a bunch of egotistical cool kids who just thought we knew what we were doing, he challenged us to the toughest stuff on the Kennebec River and Dead River – and it rocked. We even managed to break our raft, briefly lose half our group, potentially scare the heck out of Jeremy, and lots of other amazing stuff that we’re still talking about more than a week later.
Each guide definitely has their own style, so be sure to let U.S. Rafting know when you’re booking what type of group you are. Are you beginners terrified of falling out of the raft? A crazy bachelor party who will likely be hungover (I remember that group)? So experienced you could guide yourself? Let them know. It helps!
The River: Alright, so we’re all on the same rivers right around the same time. How does U.S. Rafting make it so much more epic?
From what we can tell and have been told by other guides, the other companies have a set plan and everyone has to stick to it regardless of who’s in the raft and how skilled they are. U.S. Rafting on the other hand is way better about changing it up once they’ve gotten a feel for how adventurous and capable the group is. That would be why our group is the one usually surfing and subsequently sinking our raft in a hole while that other company with the yellow rafts goes slowly by sulking (that’s a true story right there). U.S. Rafting will actually get your adrenaline pumping and won’t make you miss the good stuff.
Off River: There’s nothing quite like paddling like a crazy person for a couple of hours, getting soaked to the bone, potentially beat up by some rapids, and then almost magically ending up back where you started your day with a hot lunch of BBQ chicken and sides. To top it off, it’s BYOB friendly and followed by a showing of the video captured by kayaker Noah Hale. I guess under normal circumstances BBQ chicken and a video wouldn’t seem so sweet, but just trust me – it’s going to feel amazing. Always does.
All in all, U.S. Rafting just consistently does an amazing job. We haven’t had a bad experience with them and it actually just keeps getting better. Next year we’re planning on hitting the Penobscot with them, and we already can’t wait. A massive thank you to U.S. Rafting for yet another incredible trip, and a huge thank you to Jeremy for giving us two days of the most memorable rafting days we’ve ever experienced.