Sullivan Falls

I’m visiting Maine soon with friends and we’d like to play in Sullivan Falls. I’ve been watching videos online and it looks like a hard place to get into trouble.

We’re all experienced paddlers, 3/4 have tested combat rolls, we’ll be dressed for the water and have rescue skills and gear. A long swim to an eddy with friends to fetch the kayak sounds like the worst case scenario. (We also have good repair kits and experience). What am I missing?

Would love to hear thoughts/advice from anyone who has been there.



Can be a VERY long swim

– Last Updated: Aug-25-13 11:18 AM EST –

The Falls changes a lot depending on the strength of a given tide. You have to be ready for quite a range in its behaviors.

The swim to an eddy when it is running strongly inland is not a moderate swim sideways, it can be a quarter of a mile upriver. Too much power in the water to be able to get to the side. Though that changes too - I have been there on days when you could capsize in an eddy line that would do a big circle then drop you right back where you likely launched into the current. Downriver (outgoing tide) hits calmer water a little earlier from my recall.

There can also be some bodacious haystacks, ones that have sent coaches in into a roll, again depending on the exact force of the water.

Videos don't necessarily do it justice. Some of the pushiest water is also the most serene looking.

That said, they have a nice little park there with not fancy but serviceable bathrooms and a covered structure. I don't know how long it is open. There is a gate at the entrance so it'd be worth checking to see if there is a time in the year that they lock it.

Check in with Nate Hanson. He is from up that way.

When things go wrong at sullivan, it’s because rescues are not done very quickly. If it takes a few minutes to execute a rescue you will likely get swept beyond the closest eddy. In some cases that means the only way to get reunite with the group is to carry boats across private property through woods for a hundred yards or so to get back to the upstream eddy. Current is too fast to attain from one eddy to another around a few of the downstream points. This is particularly true on the flood. It’s necessary that everyone avoids carrying over private land, so we don’t see repercussions against paddlers using the tidal falls park as an access point.

At higher flows there are more serious dangers. Current is very fast, and the ledges that are normally exposed, creating safe eddies behind them, are instead underwater, creating dangerous holes.

Yesterday, at 13’ range, we had a 17.5 foot boat do a full endo, which gives some idea of the size and power of the waves. Above 12’ tidal range there are two substantial holes that persist through most of the ebb, and these could trap a sea kayak. They are difficult to see when dropping in from above, if you don’t anticipate where they are.

If the videos you’re seeing are the ones I think you’re seeing, then I’ll point out that all videos I’ve seen of Sullivan feature low-volume days, and also show the current when it is near slack. This doesn’t represent the most challenging conditions. At mid-current we’ve had trouble getting any video worth posting, so you are seeing the slowest current of the day. Near slack water we can have 3 or 4 boats all surfing lazily on the same wave, which makes for good video, but perhaps make the venue look a little more approachable than it is at most times of day. At the strongest current, it’s really hard to get decent video, particularly with a wide-angle lens.


I forgot to add, I don’t think planning to swim your way into an eddy is a plan that will get you very far at sullivan. Even trying to paddle a swimmer back into the eddy has rarely worked when I’ve seen it tried. In my experience, you need combined rescue and towing techniques that happen quickly and smoothly.

great info!
Just what I was looking for thanks, and I also very much appreciate your email Nate, I’ll reply more thoroughly to that tomorrow when I check in with the others.


I can attest to that. Be careful above 13. Big nasty holes.

You also need to keep an eye out for lobster boats. They get up quite a head of steam and can sometimes run up, but mostly down the falls.

forgot to add
My last answer focused on the hazards at Sullivan, and I thought I’d add that it is indeed a really fun and fairly unique spot to play if you know what you’re getting into, or go with someone who does.

There’s good surfing from perfect first-time waves to stuff that will challenge even the pros, eddylines for all abilities, and you’re guaranteed to see seals playing around in there too.

Heck the put-in even has flush toilets, picnic tables, and barbeques!

Tough saltwater playspot to beat, in my opinion.

more info?
Would love to see more info, especially where the put in is.

put in

The google map shows the falls at the beginning of the flood. Small waves over the barely submerged ledges in the middle of the falls, and lager wave train developing off the eddy at the top of the screen. Later in the flood that spot gets good. Also later in the flood there is decent surfing right at the top of the eddy at the bottom left of the picture - right at the put-in.

(That bridge to the far left is the one you don’t want to be disappearing under if your swimming.) :slight_smile:

How does it look on ebb? I suspect some ginormous eddies :slight_smile: And, swimming is advised against …

During the ebb those ripples in the middle of the picture become exposed as a few ledges (except at higher ranges when they remain submerged, creating holes). There is a big eddy alongside the put-in, and another one on the opposite shore. The flow diverges on either side of the ledges in the middle, and creates wave trains on either side. What those look like varies enormously with tidal range.

Thanks for the info!
Been thinking of doing a tidal tour with some buddies. If you’re ever down in Massachusetts I can give you info on one or two near me.


Thanks. Sounds good.

Hi Lyn,

Here’s a video of the falls about a week before your group came up this fall. Thought you might be interested.


Thanks Nate, it was great to meet you!

I’m going to try to make it up there several times next summer (when the tide’s < 10’), what a fun spot. Not many places near me to find water moving like that.


Nice video
Thanks for posting it.