Dead River

Photo credit: Magic Falls Rafting Company



The Dead River is one of the longest continuous sections of whitewater in the Northeast, with approximately thirty rapids in a 13.35 mile stretch ranging from Class II to Class IV.  There are only 8 water releases for rafting each year on this river.  Click here to view the 2017 high water release dates.  The river mainly consists of granite boulder rapids with many holes and pour-overs.  The river edge has lots of thick vegetation which makes it more difficult to rescue swimmers and gear, and the average river width is 120 feet.  Put in elevation is 1,000 feet, and take out elevation is 591 feet, for a total drop of 409 feet.  River difficulty is heavily influenced by release level and periods of heavy rain.  At 1,200 – 1,800 cfs most rapids are Class II, with the exception of the first and last few rapids.  At 2,000 – 3,500 cfs rapids are Class III, and at 4,500 and up rapids are Class IV.

DEAD RIVER RAPIDS miles 0 – 3.6

Spencer Rips at mile 0.3 is a Class III rapid.  There is a wavetrain at the end of the rapid.  The next three rapids are unnamed, all Class II rapids offering some surf waves.  At mile 1.4 Quatro Wave Train, a Class II rapid, offers one of the best spots to play on the river.  At 3,500+ cfs a series of surf waves form on river right.  More surf waves form below Quatro at 5,500 cfs and up.  The Mine Field, a Class III+ rapid, stretches for 1.1 miles, starting at mile 1.5.  This is best run at medium and high water levels, due to boulders at low water and holes at high water.  A Class II unnamed rapid is at mile 2.7, followed by Haydens Rapid at mile 3.2, a challenging Class III+ rapid.  The river becomes very narrow, and has large holes and waves at higher water levels.

Dead River Rapids Miles 4 – 7.6

Two unnamed rapids follow Haydens Rapid and are easy Class II rapids.  At mile 4, two miles of quickwater form The Basin with an occasional drop.  Four unnamed rapids are between mile 5 and mile 6.7, all easy Class II rapids with the final rapid Class II+ depending on the water level.  Enchanted Rapid is a Class III rapid at mile 7, and blends into Elephant Rock Rapid when water levels reach 2,400 cfs and higher.  Elephant Rock Rapid is located at mile 7.6 and is usually a pour-over Class III rapid.  A hydraulic forms at higher water levels, and at the bottom of the rapid on river right is “Pinball,” a narrow section between “Elephant’s Foot” and a rock ledge.  Two more unnamed rapids are below Elephant Rock, both easy Class II+ rapids.

Dead River Rapids Miles 8 – 9.5

Pine Tree Beach Rapid is a Class II+ rapid at mile 8, and is near Pine Tree Beach which is frequently used as a lunch stop for rafting trips.  At mile 8.5 another unnamed rapid, similar to Quattro, offers Class II+ rapids and good waves and holes to play in.  Mile Long Rapid starts at mile 8.9 and increases in difficulty as it goes downstream to a Class III+ rapid.  At high water the rapid is full of holes.  Unfortunately GPS measurements discovered the rapid is actually only 3/4 mile long, although there are no plans to change the name.


At mile 9.6, at the bottom of (not really) Mile Long Rapid a Class III+ rapid called Evil Nasty Hole lingers.  As the name suggests, the hole and hydraulic is very strong, and dangerous.  It has been the site of several close calls, an evacuation and fatality.  The hole is very deceiving, with a strong recirculating current with a steep drop-off.  Formed by a large flat round rock, the hole is a huge, deep hydraulic.  The hole does not form in low release levels, and at 2,500 cfs Evil Nasty Hole is a slight pour-over.  By 3,000 cfs the hole has formed, and by 4,500 cfs it becomes a dangerous hydraulic.  Water levels above 6,000 cfs make the hole, well, Evil and Nasty, not to mention dangerous.

Evil Nasty Deception

It is not uncommon for rafters to mistake Evil Nasty as other less life-threatening holes, as there are many in the area which look similar.  Evil Nasty is also preceded by a calmer section of water that can be taken to avoid a large boiling wave train that runs down the center of the river.  Unfortunately, the calm section of river ends with Evil Nasty Hole, then a ledge drop.  Other holes near Evil Nasty are on the right, making the rapids hard to read for paddlers who are unfamiliar with the river.  Evil Nasty Hole can also form at lower water levels if there have recently been periods of heavy rain.  Inflow from side streams can increase the water level and make Evil Nasty very dangerous, even at 2,400 cfs.

Dead River Rapids Miles 9.7 – 11

Just below Evil Nasty Hole and Mile Long Rapids is Recovery Pool.  This is a wide area along the left shore where groups often gather after the wild ride down Mile Long and past Evil Nasty.  This section is followed by three unnamed rapids. The first feels like an easy Class III after Mile Long and is located at mile 9.8.  The next two are Class II rapids between mile 10 and 10.3.  Upper Spruce Ledge is at mile 10.7 and is a Class III rapid, followed by Class III Lower Spruce Ledge at mile 11.  Lower becomes a bony Class II at 1,800 cfs and below.

Home Stretch- Miles 11.3 – 13.35

A short, unnamed Class II drop forms at mile 11.3.  Upper Poplar Hill Falls is a steep Class III rapid at mile 11.6, with many rocks and holes at the bottom.  Lower Poplar Hill Falls are the largest rapids on the Dead River.  Located at mile 11.9, these rapids range from Class III in low water to Class IV at 5,000 cfs and up.  This is the last rapid of the river, and is followed by an access road, a public parking area, and then Downtown West Forks.