Imagine no helmets, no self-bailing rafts and bulky life jackets. Rafting was in its infancy in the U.S. when we became Maine’s rafting pioneers in 1976. And we were in love–with the Kennebec River, the rafting and sharing the incredible beauty of western Maine. In 1983, we became a year-round resort by adding snowmobiling to our repertoire and we changed our name to Northern Outdoors. Over the course of the next four decades, we added the Dead and Penobscot rivers (we pioneered both those rivers, too!). With trips from May to September, grilled riverside lunches, experienced guides and amazing scenery, Northern Outdoors continues to offer a tradition of the best rafting adventures in Maine. For more on Northern Outdoors’ rich history, check out our historic Maine guides and stories!
For co-founder Suzie Hockmeyer, her love of Maine’s wilderness started early–she spent every summer of her childhood at her grandfather’s farm in Belgrade, Maine. Fishing, swimming, hunting–you name it, Suzie did it. So it wasn’t a far stretch for her and her husband Wayne to start a backcountry expedition company in the late 1970s running out of Moosehead Lake that offered hunting and fishing in remote areas. Watch her June 2016 Interview on WCSH6 TV here about Northern’s early days.
In 1976, Suzie and Wayne knew that the Kennebec River was ending its role as a log-running river and could now be used recreationally. It would possess some pristine fishing spots, but no one had ever rafted it, commercially or recreationally. After making elaborate plans to have a professional rafting team from West Virginia scout the river, they ended up rafting it solo because the WV team had to cancel. Scary, yes. Exciting? Definitely. That spring, Northern Outdoors became the first outfitter to raft the Kennebec River and the first commercial rafting trip in all of Maine. We’ll admit there was a bit of log dodging since active logging continued on the Kennebec into the fall.
1976 – First rafting trip ever on the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers
1978 – First rafting trip ever on the Dead River
1981 – Jim Yearwood joined Northern Outdoors as river guide
1983 – Built main lodge in The Forks and changed name to Northern Outdoors
1983 – Russell Walters joined Northern Outdoors as a kayak instructor
1983 – Added snowmobiling to become year-round resort with year-round staff
1996–2000 – Added more cabins to the resort
1996 – Co-owner Jim Yearwood founded Kennebec River Brewery
2002 – Opened Kennebec River Campground
2008 – Connected ATV trail direct to the main lodge
2012 – Hosted Untamed Adventure Race in June, the largest adventure race in the U.S.
2019 – Established Katahdin Adventure Base Camp at Big Moose Inn Cabins & Campground
Since the beginning, we have stressed the importance of training and safety–our guides learn everything they need to know on the river and off. We train our people longer than most outfitters in Maine and our guides tend stay on for at least five years, sometimes decades. Our low turnover speaks volumes about us and our guides. Just take a look at one of our early employees, Jim Yearwood, who’s now a co-owner, and co-owner Russell Walters, who also started as a kayak instrutor in the early 1980s.
Many rafting companies are seasonal and so are their staff. We wanted to hold onto those fantastic individuals who come our way and we do. When we transitioned to a year-round resort, our first order of business was to hire the best staff and provide year-round employment with advancement opportunities. Our people are experts at what they do–and all our guides are Registered Maine Guides.
As we enter our fourth decade, our commitment to providing guests with a superior quality outdoor recreation experience continues with passion and dedication. That’s why almost 20,000 guests choose Northern Outdoors every year for their adventure vacation in whitewater rafting, ATVing, hiking, team building, fishing, hunting and snowmobiling.