I had always wanted to go whitewater rafting, so when I saw a deal on LivingSocial for U.S. Rafting, I bought it (unusual for me--I usually research every deal before purchasing). U.S. Rafting is a smaller company than many of its competitors in the area, and although I haven't toured with any of those groups, I'd bet that U.S. Rafting's experience is a lot more personal. You get to know the guides and the other people in your group, and they are able to accommodate you individually because of the size of the tour group.
This is a great trip for those who love nature and/or water. West Forks is beautiful. I loved driving through that part of Maine-- you can see the lakes and rivers and the mountains and trees are breathtaking. It's great to see nature unspoiled. I imagine it's even more beautiful in the spring when everything is blooming or towards the end of the season when fall foliage has begun. There are lots of moose crossing signs, but unfortunately, we didn't see any moose (I was really looking forward to that!)
U.S.Rafting also offers other trips, like canoeing and hiking for those who want a more mild experience or who want to add on to their rafting trip. Maybe I'll hike, too, next time.
U.S. Rafting works closely with a local campground and recommends that you camp overnight either before or after your rafting trip (or both) for a nominal fee (sometimes this is included in your package). I would highly recommend this--the trip is fun, but energy consuming, and unless you live nearby, it's a lot to handle in one day. Coming from Boston, my husband and I arrived and camped the night before and then made the 6 hour drive back home after rafting the next day. Next time, we'll probably stay two nights. The campground is way into the woods (the road to get there is great for SUVs but my poor Mustang was traumatized!) The area is quite beautiful if you're into nature. There is a lake where boating is allowed and access to a restroom, but no electricity on the sites. You can hear the coyotes singing at night--it was great! I also suspect that there is plenty of other wildlife in the area... Arrive early enough to pitch camp before it starts to get dark.
A representative from U.S. Rafting came to our campsite to greet us and see if we had any questions or concerns about the trip and to make sure we had everything we would need. He was really friendly.
If you're not into camping, that's okay--they can arrange room accommodations for you in the little "town" area. NOTE: I'm using that term "town" quite loosely--don't expect much!
I don't want to be too long winded, so I'll stick to the main points from here on out:
All of the U.S. Rafting staff is very friendly and very professional. They go out of their way to make the trip fun and special by adapting to the crowd. They do a thorough safety presentation before you get on the bus to head to the river. They also assist you in putting on your floatation gear.
We rode the Kennebec river. I don't remember how much water was released that day, but the rapids were great for a first time experience. I know that they also offer trips on "high release" days, where the rapids are even more intense, and you can also raft on other rivers. I hear the Dead River is more intense. The trip starts out near the dam and you ride about 5 intense rapids before the river starts to smooth out. You can swim one of the smaller rapids and when it completely smooths out, you can float and relax (or stay in the raft if you prefer).
We didn't bring our son on this trip, but I think children have to be 10 years old or so to do the whole trip. However, there were kids who joined the group after the class 3 and 4 rapids, so I think it is okay to bring them and a staff member will wait with them for your raft to arrive at the calm part of the river where they can board the raft and enjoy the rest of the experience.
Do not go on this trip with plans to stay dry. There are opportunities to swim along the way (the water feels warmer late in the season). You can swim in a class 2 rapid, you can swim in the calm part of the river, and there is also a waterhole with a waterfall (beautiful!) were you can swim or even jump from the cliffs! Even if you never leave the boat, water will splash you when you hit a rapid, sometimes soaking you. There is also the risk of falling out of the raft while on the rapids. I think that happened to two people on our trip.
For personal pics, a waterproof camera is a must, but keep in mind, you can also buy a DVD of your trip that chronicles the entire day for an extremely reasonable price (someone actually kayaks ahead of the group to catch you on film as you cross the various rapids). There are also still photos available for sale at a good price. Both the DVD and still shots are a good quality and you are able to watch them back at the lodge even if you decide not to buy (although you should buy them--especially if it's your first trip!).
WHAT TO WEAR
DO NOT bring or wear cotton on the raft!!! YOU WILL BE COLD! I was quite comfortable with UnderArmour brand fitted moisture wick clothing, which I even swam in comfortably. Wear old shoes that you don't mind getting wet. Your shoes actually help you to NOT fall out of the boat, so don't show up with flip flops (these would actually increase your chances of injury while hauling the raft to the river).
There is a small snack provided (snack pack crackers and maybe a few choices) while on the river. When you return to the logde, there is a full meal (typical cookout fare featuring bbq chicken prepared on the grill). The snack and meal are included in your trip. The bar is also open ($).
I LOVED rafting with this company. In fact, when I realized that U.S. Rafting wasn't listed on TripAdvisor I contacted them about it! This trip was the best time I had last summer (and I also spent a weekend in Newport, RI and a week at Disney World!) I'd give it 6 stars if I could!
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