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As you bounce your way down the Dead River’s continuous chain of rapids, you’ll probably ask yourself: ‘what idiot named this?’
To be fair, parts of this iconic, northwestern Maine river barely move. it’s those sections that gave the Dead its ironic moniker. But its most famous segment – the 16 miles from Spencer Stream to The Forks – is anything but slow. It hosts one of the longest stretches of continuous whitewater in the East. There are so many rapids, pour-overs, holes and waves that boaters actually lose track.
What’s more, the Dead has a split personality. Some days, it’s fast; others, it’s ‘OMG!’
Much of the Dead is dam controlled. On many days, the dam provides lower-volume ‘recreational releases.’ These allow kayaks and canoes to happily play on the many features of the river. Boaters line up to zip by Elephant Rock and churn through the waves at the challenging Poplar Hill Falls. Maine outfitters such as Three Rivers White Watereven organize tours for folks wanting to experience the Dead in inflatable open kayaks during these releases.
When dam operators turn up the taps, the Dead changes character. High water transforms friendly rapids into monsters. While some experts still bring their kayaks and canoes, the river is usually populated by guided rafts. Several outfitters, including Magic Falls Rafting Company and Northern Outdoors even let clients choose smaller ‘sport rafts’ to tackle the big water, making for a more intense ride. Note: high-water releases are limited each year, so check with Maine outfitters and book early.