Dead - Spencer Falls to West Forks

Dead, Maine, US


Spencer Falls to West Forks

Usual Difficulty II-III(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 13.3 Miles
Avg. Gradient 31 fpm
Max Gradient 47 fpm

Busy day on the Dead

Busy day on the Dead
Photo by Mark Lacroix taken 05/26/02 @ 6000 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Dead River near Dead River, Maine
usgs-01043500 800 - 13000 cfs II-III(IV) 00h27m 1070 cfs (running)

River Description

Located in an isolated corner of Northern New England, the Dead is one of the longest continuous sections of whitewater in the Northeast.  With approximately thirty rapids along a fourteen mile stretch it is an incredibly popular summer whitewater run.

The river is primarily release controlled, although it also runs after periods of heavy rain.  The difficulty of the river changes greatly depending upon release level.  At lower levels (1200–1800) it is primarily class II (except for the very first, and last couple of rapids).  At medium levels (2000–3500) it is class III; and at higher levels (4500–8000) class IV.  The higher releases are generally during May, early June, September, and October.  Expect huge crowds of rafters and boaters during these high-water releases.  Summer releases are normally in the low-to-medium range.

The river is mostly boulder type rapids with lots of holes and pourovers. There is simply too many features and rapids to be completely described. Only the highlights have been documented.

The shoreline and river bed are totally different from the neighboring Kennebec river. There is little shear wall cliffs on this river but thick vegetation grows right up to the rivers edge. This makes it very difficult to rescue swimmers and equipment.


Technical info

Put in elevation........1000'
Take out elevation......591'
Total drop..............409'
Average drop/mile.......31'
Distance................13.35 miles
1st mile drop...........22'
2nd mile drop...........26'
3rd mile drop...........43'
4th mile drop...........27'
5th mile drop...........9'
6th mile drop...........19'
7th mile drop...........37'
8th mile drop...........33'
9th mile drop...........34'
10th mile drop..........38'
11th mile drop..........35'
12th mile drop..........32'
13th mile drop..........47'
13.3 mile drop.... .....7' (20' average)
River width average.....120'
River geology...........small to medium granite boulders 
River water quality.....Good, clear except for higher water releases.
Scenery.................Excellent mountain and forest scenery.   
Wildlife................Occasional deer, moose, hawks, 


Map of The Forks

The Forks, Maine.
Map by Mark Lacroix


Map Key

1. Webb's Dead River Campground & Shuttle Service: Shuttles to the Dead put in, campground with showers. To book a site at Webb's campground or shuttle call River Drivers to make the reservations. That phone number is: 207-663-4475. The cost is $8.00 per person, per night, plus 7% State tax.
2. Appleton�s restaurant: Pizza, subs, ice cream, breakfast (207) 663-2114 .
3. River Drivers: Rafting, etc 207-663-4475.
4. Paddling shop: Dead River Outfitters
5. Berry�s General Store: Gas, Beer, food, supplies, pizza, subs
6. The Ball field campground: Primitive campsites, porta-poties, no showers. Take out for Lower Kennebec.
7. Crab Apple Camping Rafting, hot tub, bar, food.
8. Public Picnic area: also used as Lower Kennebec take out.
9. The Marshall Hotel (Hotel Cocktails): Food, bar, horse shoes, pool table.
10. Dead River takeout.
11. Majic Falls Rafting: Raft trips, camping
12. Three Rivers Whitewater & Kelly Brook campground
13. Northern Outdoors Camping, Rafting, restaurant, hot tub, bar, entertainment
14. North Country Rivers Rafting, etc.
15. Professional River Runners: Rafting, etc.
16. New England Outdoor Center: Rafting, paddling shop, etc.
17. Indian Pond campground
Not on map:
Moxie Gore cabins: : $30 per night
Moxie Outdoor Outfitters: 866-663-2646 Large cabins $75 per night

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-05-27 02:04:48


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.3Spencer RipsIIIPlayspot Photo
0.6Unnamed RapidII
0.7Unnamed RapidII
1.2Unnamed RapidII
1.4Quatro Wave TrainIIPlayspot Photo
1.5The Mine FieldIII+
2.6Recovery Pool
2.7Unnamed RapidII
3.1Haydens Landing (Lunch)
3.2Haydens RapidIII+Playspot
3.4Unnamed RapidII
3.6Unnamed RapidIII
4.0The Basin
4.3Gravel Pit Put-in
5.0Unnamed RapidII
5.8Unnamed RapidII
6.4Unnamed RapidII
6.7Unnamed RapidII+
7.0Enchanted RapidIII
7.0Enchanted Stream
7.6Elephant RockIIIPhoto
7.8Unnamed RapidII+
7.9Unnamed RapidII+
8.0Pine Tree Beach RapidII+
8.4Pine Tree Beach (Lunch)
8.5Unnamed RapidII+
8.9Mile Long RapidIII+
9.6Evil Nasty HoleIII+Hazard
9.7Recovery Pool
9.8Unnamed RapidIII
10.0Unnamed RapidII
10.3Unnamed RapidII
10.7Upper Spruce LedgeIII
11.0Lower Spruce LedgeIII
11.3Unnamed RapidII
11.4Race Course Put-in
11.6Upper Popular Hill FallsIII+
11.9Lower Poplar Hill FallsIII+Photo
12.6Access Road
13.6USGS Gage
14.0Public Parking Area
14.8Downtown West Forks

Rapid Descriptions

Spencer Rips (Class III, Mile 0.3)

Surfing at Spencers

Surfing at Spencers
Photo of Corinne Powers by Mark Lacroix taken 05/26/02 @ 6000 cfs

River narrows and pushes up agaist a rock wall on river right then drops into a pool like area. Good wavetrain at the end but tough to make it back up the eddy.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 0.6)
Short rapid, good surfing at some levels.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 0.7)
Easy rapid.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 1.2)

Slightly longer rapid with some surf waves.

Quatro Wave Train (Class II, Mile 1.4)

Surfing at Quatro

Surfing at Quatro
Photo of Mike Rock and George O'connell by Mark Lacroix taken 05/26/02 @ 6000 cfs

This is one of the best play spots on the river. It is a short ledge drop named for the series of surf waves that form at 3500 and up. Quattro lies on river right after a rather wide sweeping left hand turn. Catch the eddy on the right shore to setup to catch the waves. At lower water levels a nice wide smooth wave forms at the top of the eddy. There is usually enough room for up to 4 boaters to surf at the same time. Other waves below the Quatro wave form and can be surfed but these are more defined at the higher release levels of >5500 cfs. At that level up to a dozen boaters can be surfing at the same time within a very short distance.

The Mine Field (Class III+, Mile 1.5)
After Quattro and a stretch of quickwater come The Minefield, long (1.1 miles) rapid that really shines at medium and higher levels. Filled with boulders at low water, holes at higher water. The difficulty increases halfway down and near the bottom.  Both these spots are located where the river turns to the left.

Recovery Pool
A wide flat area where river opens up and turns left. Trips stop here to regroup and rest after Minefield. Play area at bottom of Minefield on river-right.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 2.7)
Easy rapid, class 1/2 leading into Hayden's Landing.

Haydens Landing (Lunch)

Good lunch spot here. After the large eddy below Haydens the river narrows back down with a few waves and holes along the way. Just above the drop there is a nice beach/campsite on the right often used as a lunch stop. Immediately after this beach the river drops sharply. The best route is river left over the large haystacks but move towards river right about halfway down to avoid a large trashy hole. There are many other smaller holes as you move to the right that need to be avoided.

Haydens Rapid (Class III+, Mile 3.2)
Haydens is a tough rapid, as the river narrows significantly here.  At higher levels it full of huge holes and waves.  The cleanest route is start right-of-center, work a little to the left, the head back right of center towards the bottom. Nice play hole on river right just above pourover. Be careful, big wide eddy below the drop.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 3.4)
Easy rapid, class 1-2.

Unnamed Rapid (Class III, Mile 3.6)

Another easy class 2.

The Basin
Approximately two miles of quickwater split up with an occasional drop/wave.4.

Gravel Pit Put-in
The traditional "half way" point put on, really only one-third of the way down the river.4.27

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 5.0)

A short rapid half-way thru The Basin.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 5.8)
Another easy rapid marks the end of The Basin.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 6.4)

Another easy one. (Mile 6.42–6.62.)

Unnamed Rapid (Class II+, Mile 6.7)
Easy rapid approaching Enchanted Stream (halfway point) on left.

Enchanted Rapid (Class III, Mile 7.0)

Enchanted Rapid blends into Elephant Rock Rapid at 2400 and higher. (Mile 7.04–7.3)


Enchanted Stream
Good lunch spot where pool forms as stream enters the river.

Elephant Rock (Class III, Mile 7.6)

Pinball slot at Elephant Rock

Pinball slot at Elephant Rock
Photo of Tom Foster & Nance by Mark Lacroix taken 07/05/03 @ 2400 cfs

Look for the rock a few feet of the river-right bank at the base of the rapid.  Usually a pour-over, there is a huge surfing hole extending from the rock towards the center of the river that attracts rafts. At higher levels a hydraulic develops here. Best route thru the bottom of the rapid is in the center. Stay left through a nice series of haystacks. At the bottom you can go far right to run "Pinball". This is a narrow slot between the "Elephant's foot" and the river-right wall. (Mile 7.55–7.75)


Unnamed Rapid (Class II+, Mile 7.8)

Easy rapid below Elephant Rock. (Mile 7.80–7.85).


Unnamed Rapid (Class II+, Mile 7.9)

Another easy one. (Mile 7.90–7.95).

Pine Tree Beach Rapid (Class II+, Mile 8.0)
Easy rabid where river turns left.

Pine Tree Beach (Lunch)

A popular lunch spot for rafting trips. Look for the beach on river-left just below the rapid.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II+, Mile 8.5)
A short drop, similar to Quattro. Good play waves/holes.

Mile Long Rapid (Class III+, Mile 8.9)

As the name suggest this is a long rapid that gradually increases in difficulty as one heads downstream. At high release levels this rapid is full of holes, some sticky. The biggest ones are at the bottom of the rapid. The best route at the bottom of Mile Long is in the center along the boiling wave train. Note: After GPS measurements during 2007 and 2008 it was determined that Mail Long Rapid is really only 3/4's of a mile long.  (Mile 8.9–9.67).

Evil Nasty Hole (Class III+, Mile 9.6)

Near the bottom of Mile Long Rapid there is a very dangerous hole and hydraulic. This was the site of a fatality in October 2005; a near drowning in September 2006 that required an airlift evacuation; and numerous other close calls where both raft guides and passengers were trapped and unable to get free without outside assistance. Additionally the fatality in June 2017 was reported [second hand] to have occured here as well.

Evil Nasty Hole at 5500 CFS
Photo taken from river-left shore on 9/2/07.
Bottom of Mile Long at 5500.
Downstream river-left shore view; Evil Nasty Hole in the foreground, FBI Hole on river-right in background. Photo taken on 9/2/07 from shore approximately 10 yards upstream of hole.

The name "Evil Nasty" is one name for this feature. Individual rafting companies and paddling clubs may have their own names for different rapids and features. Regardless of what you call it, this is the well-known dangerous spot on river-left near the bottom of Mile Long Rapid.

The problem hole is fairly benign looking (especially from above). Just looking at it you would not expect it to cause these type of problems, but it is surprisingly retentive with a strong recirculating current. Only after passing by is the steep drop-off and strong hydraulic visible.

The hole is formed by a big, flat, round rock left-of-center. The resulting hydraulic is huge and deep, with a visible horizon line and a "frowny face" characteristic of dangerous holes of this type (sometimes called "drowning machines). At lower release levels the hole does not exist. At 2500 CFS the rock forms a slight pour-over, at 3000 CFS a hole has formed, by 4500 CFS it forms a dangerous hydraulic; at 6000 it's downright nasty. The victim in the 2006 accident later described himself as "fighting like mad", trying to go up, down, left and right to get free before he lost consciousness after being recirculated many times. If a paddler does find themselves in the hole the best approach is to attempt to stay in their boat. The highest risk is to swimmers since the hole is so deep; the hole surges and objects floating on the surface eventually tend to get flushed out.

This is a wide section of the river, this is not the only hole in the vicinity. The bottom of Mile Long is full of holes, including one big wide one near the bottom on river-right called the "FBI Hole". However these have all been generally described as "very flushy" and unlikely to hold someone for long. There is also another raft-surfable hole just upstream of Evil Nasty, so people sometimes may mistake the Evil Nasty one as being surfable.  (This hole upstream of Evil Nasty can also flip boats and rafts, depositing swimmers directly into the path of the bad hole.)

Above Big Nasty is a relative calm section that may draw paddlers towards the left side in an attempt to avoid the large boiling wave train down the center. However the short calm section ends with Evil Nasty Hole followed by a final ledge drop into a flat area on river-left. With several "mean" holes on the right, and Evil Nasty on the left, the cleanest line thru the bottom of Mile Long is generally straight down the boiling wave train in the center of the rapid (although it doesn't appear so from the approach). Some people prefer a right-of-center run as the currents sometime push you left and a larger safety-margin is preferred.

Some descriptions place this hole as much as a quarter-mile below the bottom of Mile Long Rapid. Others place it just before the end of the rapid. These differences are attributed to the lack of a definitive location as to the exact end of the rapid. (Depending upon water level, the characteristics of the rapid can change greatly.) However, below Mile Long the river gets wide and flattens out with a huge open area and eddy along river-left where paddlers and rafts stop and regroup. (This flat area is also immediately above a very recognizible long rock wall lining the left bank.) The problem hole is located on river-left a few dozen yards above the flat area with a narrow channel between it and the left bank. In a hard boat it is fairly easy to skirt the hole between it and the bank, but rafts tend to be drawn back into the hole when this is tried.

At very high levels (7000 CFS and higher) two really big wave-holes form in a row just right-of-center at the end of Mile Long. One kayak was stuck in one of these at 13,000 CFS for a reported 10 minutes until it was literally flipped into the air.


Evil Nasty Hole at a low level.
Comparision showing river features that create Evil Nasty two different years illustrating the difference in release levels since the new USGS gage [upstream] was brought online. August 2015 was also a dry year and inflow from side-streams was minimal.

Recovery Pool
Wide area at bottom of Mile Long where trips stop and regroup along the left bank.

Unnamed Rapid (Class III, Mile 9.8)
Easy rapid after Mile Long.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 10.0)
Class 2 drop, rocky at lower levels.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 10.3)
Another easy rapid.

Upper Spruce Ledge (Class III, Mile 10.7)
Named for the high rock outcropping on river-left, visible from river-right as you approach.

Lower Spruce Ledge (Class III, Mile 11.0)
Bony class 2 at 1800 and lower.

Unnamed Rapid (Class II, Mile 11.3)
Short class 2 drop.

Race Course Put-in
Rest spot on river-left where jeep trail comes to rivers edge.  Look for an opening in the woods with a painted rock. It's also possible to walk out from here.  The road on river-left circles back to the river at the bottom of Lower Poplar. On river-right is an old railroad bed that follows along the river.  This is also the spot there the US Nationals held in the 1990's started.

Upper Popular Hill Falls (Class III+, Mile 11.6)

Upper Popular Hill Falls can be identified by a marked rock on river left. This rock is painted red and has a black insignia on it that looks like a flag or could be a "P". The rapid after this is Upper Popular. The river picks up the pace here, the rapid is much steeper then prior sections. Look out for a number of rocks and holes near the bottom. This rapid can be just as difficult as Lower Popular should you chose a poor route through the rapid. There is a large river wide hole at the bottom that can easily be punched.

Lower Poplar Hill Falls (Class III+, Mile 11.9)

Poplar Hill Falls

Poplar Hill Falls
Photo of Mary, TC, John, Sam, Mo, & Nancy by Mark Lacroix taken 07/05/03 @ 2400 cfs

Class IV above 5000 cfs. This is the biggest rapid on the river. The river channels to the left bank and drops through a long boulder and hole strewn path. Boat scouting is the easiest way to run. Lookout for a nice wave train that leads right into a hole at the top.

There was a fatality here in May 2016 where an adult raft passenger fell out of a raft when the raft tilted going thru a big breaking wave left-of-center in the first quarter of the rapid (about 50-100 yards above the Fry-o-lator hole).  The passenger immediately went unresponsive after entering the ~45-degree water; and was pulled into the raft within a minute. No heartbeat was detected, CPR was started immediately and continued throughout the trip to the hospital. Swims are common in this rapid; there are no significant river features at the site of the accident that appear to pose an undue risk.  The victim was wearing a full wet suit, but since this is the final rapid of a long 12-mile trip, exhaustion or cold are likely the most significant contributing factors to the accident.

Access Road
Jeep access road at bottom of Lower Poplar. Just above the bridge abutments for the old railroad. The road lead out to the Magic Falls facility and public parking area.

Local of (retired) USGS gage.  All that remains is the staff fastened to a tree and extending out of the water.  Buildings appear on river-left shortly after this.

Public Parking Area
Take-out and public parking area next to Magic Falls Rafting facility.

Downtown West Forks
Take-out and paddling hangout at Webb's Campground.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 2 2014 (1689 days ago)
PeterBuehner (156423)
quick trip report for 1300cfs: Three of us put on at 9:30 and set our own shuttle. One paddler had
two swims: one in the first rapid that was just nerves coming into play and tightening him up…and
then he swam about 1/2 of lower poplar before I got him to shore. We didn't get his boat back until
almost the end of that rapid so he had a little hike to catch up to us. The other paddler (there
were three of us on the river) got caught in a little (shallow) hole about halfway through the run
and he pulled his skirt because he was having a hard time rolling up. He self rescued about twenty
feet below where he swam. The run is quite shallow in spots and except for the Poplars would be a
great intro run. The only thing I could think of and what I hammered home a few times to the new
paddler is that if he swims, he needs to get into a feet up position until you are heading for an
eddy. I think foot entrapment is a real risk at this level. The bulk of the run is a casual boulder
dodge. Poplars are solid class III and a bit bigger than the rest of the run. There really isn't
any play on this run (meaning eddy service play hole or wave). There are tons of spots to practice
ferrying, eddying out, peel outs, and general boat control. The water is slow enough that if you
blow your line you can correct it easily. We took out at the public parking area above Webb's at
3pm…without any play stops and a short 10 minute snack break. So it was a long day, but sunny and
75 good company. FWIW this would be a really nice open boat trip or good beginner to intermediate
run with the caveat that foot entrapment is a real concern and with so many boulders you could get
a boat pinned on something pretty easily and have to deal with that. cheers, Peter
July 3 2009 (3484 days ago)
Skip MorrisDetails
Latest update from Nextera Energy: This just in from Nextera Energy.... I suspect the last minute
change is due to the US Canoe Nationals being scheduled on the Dead this weekend. They
really-really wanted the 1300 release level. Kudos to the power company for being responsive to
paddler requests. ---------- Forwarded message ---------- On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 10:29, Carol Clark
wrote: Subject: Dead River Release rescheduled for Satuday and Sunday Hello- Good news. The flow
into Flagstaff Lake has slowed and the weather forecast is more promising. We will be able to do
the 1300 cfs releases of Saturday and Sunday as originally scheduled. Carol Clark, P.E. NextEra
Energy Resources and Kennebec Water Power
June 30 2009 (3487 days ago)
Skip MorrisDetails
This just arrived via email. River will be very high this weekend.
--------------------------------------------------- Due to the rain, I am forced to cancel the
planned 1300 cfs boating flows on the Dead River for this week. As of this morning the dam at
Flagstaff Lake is releasing 6000 cfs and Spencer Stream is adding another 1800 cfs. Flagstaff Lake
is 2" from full. Please forward this e-mail to anyone I missed. Carol Clark, P.E. NextEra Energy
Resources & Kennebec Water Power Company
March 23 2006 (4681 days ago)
clay wrightDetails
Sam Drevo, Eric Southwick and I ran 3 lines off Grand Falls at low water filming 'Royal Flush' - a
point on the river right of center, the crack beside it, and the fishladder. The fishladder was
very shallow at the landing.
No where near the level in these photos.
Clay Wright


Calendar Control Date:
Calendar by Date by Title

October 2016

Dead River Releases
09:00 am -1:00 pm est
full open to 6000 cfs


Dead River Releases The Forks,ME runs 10/05/13 - 10/01/16
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