Rafting Safety and FAQs

We want you enjoy an amazing whitewater rafting trip in Maine’s wonderful North Woods, whether you’re an avid adventurer or a family looking to explore the outdoors. Below are some of our most frequently asked questions. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us– via phone, Live Chat, or email. We’re here to help! Also see: Rafting Tips for Beginners.

Planning Your Trip

We offer daily trips from early May through mid-October on the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, 8 trips total on the Dead River, and 4 scheduled releases for the Kennebec Turbine Tests.

For exciting whitewater (lots of big, fast rapids), we recommend spring runoff starting in early May – particularly the Dead River releases in early to mid May. Throughout the rafting season, daily dam releases on the Kennebec (May-October) and Penobscot (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day Weekend) rivers guarantee excellent class 4 and 5 rafting adventures. The Dead River has only 8 releases per season and those trips fill up fast. For crisp mornings and gorgeous fall foliage, fewer people and higher water flows, we recommend rafting in September and October. There are daily trips on the Kennebec River through mid October, and two scheduled Kennebec River turbine test days as well as two high water Dead River days.

Nope! On a Northern Outdoors rafting adventure, everyone powers the raft, working as a team with a registered Maine guide. All of our adventures begin with a short practice and safety instruction session before we launch, so newcomers will be ready to go in no time! Many of our guests are first-time rafters and if you are in reasonably good health, then you should have no problem rafting with Northern Outdoors. We have experience working with guests with a wide range of physical disabilities or health conditions. However, certain medical, physical, or size limitations may impact your ability to participate in our adventures. At minimum, our guests must be able to remain seated and balanced while in a whitewater craft; properly wear the provided safety gear, including Coast Guard-approved and rated Personal Flotation Device (PFD) for a maximum chest size of 56 inches; independently enter and exit a raft multiple times in a day; follow our guides’ instructions in all situations; manage all personal care independently or with the assistance of a friend or family member; carry your personal gear; and self-help and “float it out” in the event that a raft capsizes or you are swept out of the raft. If you’re a “veteran rafter” and want to kick it up a notch, the class V Penobscot River, a Dead River release date, or a Kennebec River turbine test day are great options!
Similar to any outdoor activity, whitewater rafting includes inherent risk factors that can’t be entirely avoided or controlled. Although safety cannot be guaranteed, we consider safety as a priority and take precautions to facilitate the happiness and welfare of our guests, including experienced and trained guides, safety equipment such as life jackets and helmets, and safety orientation. However, on rare occasions rafts do capsize and/or guests can be swept out of the raft. In such situations, your professionally trained and state licensed river guide will take steps to assist as circumstances may reasonably allow, but your physical condition should be such that you can self-help and “float it out” without further endangering yourself and others. Please note that higher water levels and other enviromental conditions may be more physically demanding and require greater physical capabilities and cardiovascular and general health levels, and we may require guests to have no current risk factors associated with heart disease or other heart conditions. We reserve the right to refuse anyone the opportunity to participate in any of our adventures if we feel, as determined in our sole discretion, that they may pose a risk to themselves, other guests, or the guides for any reason, or if we feel they may effect other guests’ enjoyment of the adventures. As an example, if water levels are higher than normal, we may decline to let a guest participate in a rafting adventure even if they show up and are ready to participate in the adventure. Still want to know more? Read one (nervous) mother’s perspective about rafting with kids– and how it all worked out!

Cancellation of a trip is unlikely, but if we feel forced to, for any reason, we reserve the right to do so. In the event of abnormal weather conditions, we reserve the right to shorten or lengthen the scheduled section of a river to be run on any given day. If water levels on the river are abnormally high, or low, we reserve the right to switch the river we run on any given day.

There is no minimum number of people required in your group to come rafting– we see solo rafters, and even groups as big as 148!  Our rafts comfortably fit 8 people (6 in a sport raft), so if you have less than 8 you might be paired with other smaller groups to make a full boat. We do need a minimum of 6 people to run a river trip on any given day- that does not mean you need 6 in your group, just that we need at least 6 people TOTAL for a river trip to go on the water. If you book a river trip for a day when we do not end up meeting the 6 person minimum, we will contact you at least one week prior to re-schedule or adjust your trip.

On The River

We supply all water craft (raft or inflatable kayak), life jackets/PFDs, helmets, paddles, professional Registered Maine Guides, shuttle bus transportation, and all meals while on a raft adventure. We attempt to have a video and still photographer on every Penobscot, Kennebec and Dead river raft adventure we run. Northern Outdoors uses the finest equipment available. Our standard Kennebec and Penobscot self-bailing rafts were custom built for us specifically for each river. Our life jackets are Coast Guard-approved and rated for a maximum chest size of 56 inches.

You supply your base layer – bathing suit, athletic shorts/top, etc.  You should also have water shoes (any shoe that secures to your feet–no flip-flops!), and can bring any additional layers that you deem necessary.  Good fabrics include wool or polar fleece, polypropylene, polyester & other synthetic materials.  Avoid wearing anything cotton–T-shirts, sweaters or jeans on the river.  Always wear more clothes than you think you’ll need; our motto is “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!” Footwear must be worn at all times while on the river: water shoes or sandals, sneakers, wet suit booties, etc – anything that will stay on your feet! Crocs don’t do the trick- not even in sport mode! If you don’t have proper footwear or don’t have additional layers that you may want, don’t worry — we have wetsuit tops, wetsuit bottoms, splash tops, and booties available for rent! If you wear sunglasses/glasses, we recommend a pair of chums (which we generally have available for sale on-site). What to Bring Rafting Checklist

YES! This is very important. You must bring any personal medications with you on your adventure, such as bee sting kits / epi pens, asthma inhalers, insulin, etc. Because of our wilderness locations, the nearest emergency medical facilities can be hours away.

Not always! First thing, our Whitewater Rafting Trip Leader will make proper wetsuit recommendations for the day based on evaluation of the weather. For all whitewater adventures in May and after October 1, wetsuits are mandatory, and we strongly recommend them on all cold or overcast days. Under most conditions, a wetsuit will keep you warm and comfortable (and smiling! See our Rainy Day Rafting video.) On very cold days, you may wish to wear a wool or fiberpile sweater and windbreaker over the suit, in addition to a wool or fleece hat and wool or neoprene gloves. (Avoid wearing cotton T-shirts under your wetsuit. Cotton, when wet, stays cold; wool, polypropylene and modern synthetic thermal materials shed water and stay warm.)

Wetsuits are available for rent, at each river base, payable on the morning of your adventure, and priced as follows: Farmer John $10; Top Half or Splash Jacket $5; Full Suit $15; Booties $5.

For your safety and ours, no alcohol or drugs are permitted either before or during the trip. Anyone under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or demonstrating unruly behavior will be denied services, accommodations, and/or trip participation and will be ordered to leave without refund or compensation. While Northern Outdoors has more experience running the Penobscot, Kennebec, and Dead rivers than any other company, it should be noted that we specialize in providing “highly exciting trips” and there is an element of danger present at all times.

Yes, the full-day trips all include a terrific lunch. The standard river meal is steak, chicken, salmon steak or veggie burger grilled over a hardwood fire, accompanied by stir-fried rice, salad and homemade dessert. On the morning of your raft trip, you will get to choose your entree for your lunch (steak, salmon, chicken, veggie burger) before the trip departs. We have the prime spot on the Kennebec for our lunch break–a sunny beach! Note: Guests with special dietary requests should inform their group organizer to notify us, and we will try to accommodate their needs.

Kennebec River: 7:45am at Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort

Dead River: 8-8:30am (confirm with front desk) at Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort

Penobscot River: 7:00am at Katahdin Adventure Base Camp
Check-in time for accommodations is after 4pm.
Guests are required to check out of their accommodations by 11am or before they leave in the morning for an adventure trip, UNLESS you have reserved lodging for that night.
Kennebec/Dead River and Penobscot River check-ins are in different locations, hours apart – please see Maps and Directions

Staying at Northern Outdoors

Northern Outdoors has two locations for whitewater rafting, so you will go to a different resort depending on what river you’re rafting! The Kennebec and Dead Rivers are based out of our flagship resort in The Forks, with Kennebec River Pub and Brewery, a riverside campground, and tons of cabin rentals. The Penobscot River is based out of our Katahdin Adventure Base Camp, located at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket. Big Moose Inn is a beautiful spot situated between two lakes, with two on-site restaurants, inn rooms and suites, cabins, and a wooded campground!
Check-in times and locations are DIFFERENT.
See the Map and Directions to make sure you’re going to the right spot.

All buildings and accommodations at Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort and Katahdin Adventure Base Camp are smoke-free. We ask that you please step outside to smoke. There is a $100 per unit, per night cleaning charge for any accommodation that has been smoked in. Thank you in advance for your understanding and support of a smoke-free environment for all indoors!

So, what do you think? Check out our Kennebec River, Dead River, and Penobscot River rafting trips and please don’t hesitate to contact us to ask ANY questions. We’re here for you!