Whitewater rafting is something every Active Outdoors enthusiast should try at some point, and Spring is the perfect time. So is Summer, or, for that matter, Fall. As long as the water is flowing, it’s a good time for rafting, as our correspondents have discovered when they went rafting on the Concord River in Massachusetts, the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire, the Penobscot River in Maine and elsewhere. Don’t let the cold water scare you. You’ll be wearing a wetsuit and a paddling jacket if it’s cold.
Whitewater rafting is pure sensory overload, a wild rollercoaster ride with smiles guaranteed. I’ve gone rafting twice on the Kennebec River in Maine, once in the spring and once in the fall. I also did an early-summer raft trip on the Hudson River in New York. My sweetheart Marilyn floated the Deerfield in Massachusetts in May while I took a whitewater kayak lesson. All of those experiences have been memorable.
Even if you’ve been rafting before, the experience on every river is slightly different. On Maine’s Kennebec, for example, you start fast. The second you push away from the bank, the current grabs you and you go plunging into Class II and IV rapids (the higher the number, the higher the waves, the more exciting the ride.) On my first rafting trip, within seconds, everyone in our raft was laughing and shrieking for the sheer joy of it—and the ride hadn’t really started yet. The first five miles were pure rollercoaster; the last seven miles, pure relaxation. I floated that first time with New England Outdoor Center, but they have since sold their Kennebec River operation to another successful guide service, Magic Falls Rafting Company. NEOC still runs trips on the Penobscot.
A “big-water release” and a small raft drew me to the Kennebec River the second time with Windfall Outdoor Center. Big water rafting in a small raft is rafting taken to it’s logical conclusion—bigger waves, faster water, and a smaller boat that bounces around more. Fun! Because you need one guide for each raft and the smaller raft has fewer people, you pay a little extra to be in the small raft, and a little more for coveted “Big Water” release days (when the dams are opened fully to test the turbines). But if you’ve already tried rafting, are ready for a bigger thrill, but not yet ready to do it on your own in a kayak, this is the way to go.
On the Deerfield in western Massachusetts, you start and finish slowly and get your wild ride in the middle on a number of Class II-III rapids, with one very exciting Class IV moment at Zoar Gap. This is an excellent trip for first-timers, scary-fun but not overwhelming. My sweetheart Marilyn rafted with Zoar Outdoor while I took a whitewater kayaking clinic with them.
The Hudson River, which I floated with the Hudson River Rafting Company starts quickly with a trip down the Indian River to join the Hudson. Then it’s in and out of Class III and IV rapids most of the way, with quiet pockets between to relax and re-group (and maybe take a swim alongside the floating raft!). Great ride!
Because of liability insurance concerns, there are typically age and size restrictions on who can go rafting. Check ahead of time if you want to bring very small children – your options may be limited. Other than that, rafting is an adventure that a whole family from kids to healthy, mobile great-grandparents can share and enjoy together.
Even non-swimmers are welcome on most rafting expeditions. For safety’s sake, you’re wearing a helmet and a heavy-duty PFD (Personal Flotation Device) at all times while you’re in or on the river.
So don’t be timid. Relax and go with the flow.
A Raft of Options:
Here’s a (probably incomplete) list of rafting options around New England and New York. While I’ve taken trips with four of these companies, it seems to me that any who have stayed in business any length of time know what they are doing. There’s too much competition for the weak to survive. My advice: Look over the websites, call and ask lots and lots of questions about what’s included in the price, and then book with the one that seems best for you.
Maine (Dead, Kennebec, and Penobscot Rivers)
New Hampshire and Maine (Androscoggin, Magalloway, Rapid Rivers)
Massachusetts and Vermont (Concord, Deerfield and West Rivers)
New York (Hudson River)
What To Bring
Proper dress for whitewater rafting includes a bathing suit or river shorts that will stay on. That’s all you need in warm weather. If the water’s cold, you’ll wear these under a wetsuit they’ll provide. If you have your own wetsuit or dry suit, by all means bring it.
Footwear: Sneakers you don’t mind getting wet are OK, but river sandals are better. They’ll provide neoprene booties in cold weather. Wool or polypro socks will help keep your feet warm.
On the water, you’ll want cheap sunglasses (in case you lose them) with a retainer. Waterproof sunblock and a brimmed hat are nice if the sun is shining. You spend a lot of time out in the sun at mid-day while rafting.
In Spring and early summer, blackflies and mosquitoes can be a problem—waterproof insect repellent is a good idea.
By all means bring a waterproof camera. If you don’t have one, buy a waterproof bag for your digital point-and-shoot at any good camera shop.