It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: be safe. River tubing can be dangerous. Remember to always wear a secure life jacket when tubing.
Thru-hikes are rewarding, waterfall hikes are nice, but sometimes summer fun calls for something a bit more relaxing. When the temperatures spike and the water calls your name, head to your nearest river for some tubing this summer.
Not sure where to start with your river tubing adventure? We’ve got you covered.
Maximize Your Summer Fun by Planning a River Tubing Trip
Tubing is great summer fun because it requires minimal equipment (a floating inner tube, bathing suit and life jacket are all you really need) but delivers maximum fun. There are two ways to tube: towed and free-floating.
Towed tubing is when you hang on for dear life to your inner tube as it’s towed behind a boat or personal watercraft. This adds some speed and excitement to tubing and requires a large body of water where motorized watercraft are permitted.
For the rest of us, a nice, relaxing float using the river current to propel us downstream will do the trick. This type of tubing is called free-floating. When free-floating, tubers steer with their hands and feet and often take breaks to swim in the water or sunbathe on the riverbank.
River Tubing Basics
Before you head out for a day on the river, here’s what you need to know about river tubing.
Rent or BYO
Most popular river tubing spots have at least one outfitter willing to rent tubes and safety equipment, such as life jackets and helmets, to those who need them. If you bring your own tube, remember to pack an easy means of inflating it—a bike pump or air mattress pump will do the trick, as well as your own life jacket.
Those participating in towed tubing will likely begin and end their adventure in the same place, like a boat dock. Those that choose to free-float will need to consider how they’ll get back to their car once the trip is complete. One option is to round up a group of friends and use multiple cars to shuttle your party back to the launching-off point after the trip. Many tube rental outfitters also provide shuttle services, which can be arranged prior to starting your trip.
Leave no trace
Like any outdoor adventure, it’s important to practice leave no trace principles while out on the water. This means packing out every single item that you carry into the river, including food scraps, cans, and all garbage you accumulate throughout the day. Refrain from using glass as it can break and cause injury.
All items in your tube should be properly secured to your tube or your body so that you don’t lose them to the water. Flip-flops aren’t a good idea because they can easily float away—wear river shoes or hiking sandals instead.
Check water quality
Before you head out on your float it’s a good idea to check the water quality of the body of water you’ll be enjoying. Strong summer rains can often lower water quality and raise the presence of bacteria like E. coli, which can cause flu-like symptoms in those affected.
Check on current water conditions.
Even a slow-moving river can pose a threat to the unprepared. Before hitting the water, understand the type of environment you’re entering. Are there major rapids downstream? Has a recent rainstorm increased the flow of the river? Even if you consider yourself a strong swimmer, it’s always a good idea to wear a life jacket.
Check in with the nearest ranger station or tubing outfitter for details on the current water conditions.
How to Turn Your River Tubing Trip into a Camping Trip
Why spend just a day floating in the water when you can spend a whole weekend camping next to it? Turning your river tubing trip into a camping adventure is easy when you take just a few things into consideration.
What to pack
Chances are this isn’t your first camping rodeo, so to speak, so you know what you’ll need to pack to set up camp for the weekend (basics include a tent, sleeping bag, food, utensils and cook stove, clothes, toiletries and illumination in the form of lantern or headlamp.) Here are some additional items to consider packing when combining floating and camping:
- Floating tubes (and a pump to inflate them)
- Bathing suits
- Beach towels
- Sunglasses and hat
- Water shoes
- Clothesline to dry wet items
- Dry boxes to keep important items free of water while out on the river
- Mesh bags to keep items secure in the tube
- Water bottle
- Small cooler and bungee cord to keep it closed
- Cooler to hold cold drinks (you’ll be thirsty after a long day in the sun!)
While it might sound cool to tube to your campsite, the logistics of actually traveling to your campground on a tube can be tricky, provided you’re bringing camping gear. Will you be able to pile your cooler, tent, camp chairs, clothing and sleeping bag into your tube and still enjoy your float to the campsite? Can you ensure that your sleeping bag and other essential items will remain dry? If your campground destination doesn’t provide potable water, do you have the capacity to haul your own drinking water down the river?
If your answer to all of those considerations is yes, go for it. But if that sounds like too big a burden for your flimsy floatation device to bear, consider setting up camp as a home base and arriving to your launching off point on foot or by car instead.
5 Great River Tubing Destinations Across the U.S.
Ready to grab your tube and hit the river? Below you’ll find some of the most popular river tubing options across the U.S.A., including suggestions on where to camp nearby.
1. Clackamas River — Estacada, Oregon
When the Oregon summers grow hot and hazy, Portlanders head to the Clackamas River to escape the heat. One of the Clackamas River’s most popular floats is from Milo McIver State Park to Barton Park, a low-key, 3-4 hour float; or from Barton Park further downriver to Carver Park. Barton to Carver is by far the busiest section of the river to float, because of its close proximity to Portland but, if you’re in the mood for it, the crowds can lend a fun and festive feel to the day. The Barton to Carver float takes 3-4 hours and includes a scattering of easy-going class II rapids, making it perfect for beginners.
No matter which section of the river you choose to float, you’ll need to bring two cars or schedule a shuttle. Oregon River Rentals (details below) provides a shuttle service between Barton and Carver Parks for $10 per person.
- Clackamas River Outfitters: Clackamas River Outfitters offer river tube rentals at their Estacada Outpost Store in Estacada, Oregon. Swing by to pick up your tube before hitting the river, or try your hand at something new by renting a kayak or stand up paddleboard.
- Oregon River Rentals: Providing tube rentals and shuttle services to those floating the lower Clackamas River. Kayaks, rafts and paddleboards are also available to rent.
Camp Nearby: Barton Park
This 112-site campground offers 103 sites with electricity and water and seven primitive tent camping sites. While this county park is a draw in and of itself, the true popularity of Barton is the great access it provides to the Clackamas River. Barton’s put-in site is one of the most popular for tubers and the campground makes a great home base for a weekend of fun on the river.
2. Guadalupe River — New Braunfels, Texas
Considered by many to be the most popular river to float in all of Texas, tubing the Guadalupe River is the equivalent to showing up at one big party where all of the guests are dressed in bathing suits. The flow rate of the river is controlled by water released from the dam at Canyon Lake and can vary greatly by the day. Be prepared to encounter rapids and boulders, no matter how slowly the water is running.
One of the most popular tubing portions of the river is called “The Horseshoe.” This is a loop float that begins and ends at two different sections of Horseshoe Bridge as it crosses over the river, and takes about an hour to float. Some tubers choose to exit at the bridge, take a quick five-minute walk back to where they started, and begin The Horseshoe all over again. Others choose to continue on to “The Chute,” a river channel that’s a few hundred yards long and bounces tubers over small whitewater rapids, providing a fun and adventurous ride.
- River Sports Tubes: Conveniently located right in the middle of Horseshoe Loop, River Sports Tubes offers tube rentals and three float options—short, medium or long—with shuttle service provided. They have a minimum age requirement of 5 years old, but the age limit may change based on water conditions.
- Shanty Tubes: Shanty Tubes offers tube, kayak and raft rentals, as well as shuttle services on the Guadalupe River. They also offer guided rafting and kayaking trips. Their onsite Tiki Bar is a fun and popular place to unwind after a long day on the river.
Camp Nearby: Shanty River Center Campground
Camping is available at the Shanty River Center and is located within walking distance of the Guadalupe River. The campground is located near the beginning of Horseshoe Bridge, providing quick and easy access to the Horseshoe Loop, but campsites are not riverfront and do not have electric or water hookups, though campers do have access to restrooms and showers. Two-person “shanty shacks” are also available to rent at the campground. These small camping cabins have air conditioning, electricity, and a full-size bed. Pillows and bedding are not provided
3. French Broad River — Asheville, North Carolina
The French Broad River is one of the oldest rivers in the world and makes a fun day trip for those visiting vibrant Asheville, North Carolina. The French Broad runs right through the heart of the city and on a warm summer day the water is packed with tubers, kayakers and stand up paddle boarders. With its calm water, shallow depths and warm temperatures (averaging 75 degrees in the summer), this river is the ultimate lazy river float and a great option for kids, too.
After your day on the water is over, visit one of Asheville’s many delicious restaurants and breweries. New Belgium Brewery’s east coast operation is headquartered in Asheville right on the river, and most tubers float right by it during their trip down the river.
- Zen Tubing: Offering two floating options (one which goes through Asheville’s urban River Arts District and the other which winds through more nature-based South Asheville), Zen Tubing is one of the French Broad River’s biggest outfitters. Shuttles run continuously from 10am until 3pm every day. Reservations are not required. Kids under 4-years-old are not permitted.
- French Broad Outfitters: Offering tube rentals and shuttle services, French Broad Outfitters is another one of Asheville’s best outfitters. For tubers that want to BYO tube, French Broad Outfitters offers a shuttle service for $10 per person. The minimum age for tube rentals is six.
Camp Nearby: Lake Powhatan Campground
While there are not too many great camping options within the city of Asheville that also provide great access to the French Broad River, there are some wonderful campgrounds just a short drive away. Check out the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area and Campground, a large campground offering full hookup, standard electric, and primitive campsites, as well as a handful of glamping sites in fully furnished canvas tents. While it will take you about 20 minutes to drive to tubing outfitters on the French Broad River, there is swimming and kayaking available in Lake Powhatan (no tubes allowed), located just a short walk from the campground.
4. Esopus Creek — Phoenicia, New York
While the name sounds quite gentle and unassuming, Esopus Creek is not a relaxed and lazy river. The class II whitewater makes for a bumpy ride best suited for thrill seekers and those that don’t worry about getting tossed from their tube and can handle a few bumps and bruises. If that sounds like the kind of tubing adventure you’re after, then head to the town of Phoenicia in upstate New York where you’ll be surrounded by the Catskill Mountains.
Because of the rough rapids, life jackets and a helmet are recommended for everyone no matter their experience level, as is sturdy footwear made for the water. This isn’t an appropriate float trip for small kids, so leave the young ones at home. This float trip should also not be attempted on your own — hook up with the local guide company, they’ll know which areas of the river are suitable for floating and which should be avoided.
- The Town Tinker Tube Rentals: The Town Tinker Tube Rentals has been providing tube rentals, safety gear and shuttle services on the Esopus for over thirty years and is now the only company operating out of Phoenicia. The company requires that all tubers wear life jackets, helmets and foot protection. When you sign up for one of their tubing trips, the company provides tubes, life jackets and shuttle services. The minimum age is 12 years old.
Camp Nearby: Phoenicia Black Bear Campground
For camping right on Esopus Creek, head to Phoenicia Black Bear Campground. The campground offers group and individual tent camping sites as well as RV sites both on and off of the creek. Only the RV campsites have electricity. A dump station is also available.
Aside from its great location right on Esopus Creek, Phoenicia Black Bear Campground is right in the center of Phoenicia, a funky mountain town that was voted one of the Best Small Towns to Visit in America.
5. Yampa River — Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Locals in Steamboat Springs know that when ski season is over and warm summer days have finally arrived in the mountains there’s only one thing to do: tube the Yampa River. While it’s possible to jostle for parking and shuttle yourself on the Yampa, the easiest way to tube the river is to hook up with one of the local outfitters (more info below). Take note, however, that reservations with the tubing companies are recommended, as they only allowed to run a limited number of trips down the river each day.
While the Yampa is considered a fairly calm tubing river, check the river flow to see if water levels are safe. If the levels are above 700 cubic feet per second, tubing is not advised. Those renting tubes from commercial outfitters are only allowed to tube downstream from 5th Street to the James Brown Bridge. If you’re tubing on your own, the City of Steamboat requests that you go no further than Fetcher Park and leave the upper stretch of the river to anglers. When you’re done floating the Yampa, head into Steamboat and grab lunch, do a little shopping, or check out one of the town’s breweries.
- Backdoor Sports: When you rent your tube from Backdoor Sports, the tubing adventure begins right from the shop. Float until you reach the James Brown Bridge where a large sign directs tubers to exit the water. Backdoor Sports then shuttles tubers back to their outpost. Tube reservations are recommended and not accepted after 1pm.
- Bucking Rainbow Outfitters: Offering tube rentals and shuttle services from their “tube shack” right on the banks of the Yampa River, Bucking Rainbow Outfitters offers single and double tube rentals. Life jackets and shuttle services are included with the cost of a tube rental.
Camp Nearby: Steamboat Springs KOA
For the closest camping to Steamboat Springs, reserve a site at the Steamboat Springs KOA, located just west of downtown. Offering RV, tent sites and camping cabins, this campground has all of the amenities you’ll need, including warm showers, laundry facilities, a heated pool, mini golf and a dog park. The campground is located less than 3 miles from the tube rental companies, making for a quick drive or an enjoyable walk on a nice day.