Float through the end of summer on these terrific tubing rivers
Friday, August 28, 2020
We can’t think of a better summer pastime than floating down a scenic river in a big rubber donut — with a frosty brew in hand. And with America the Beautiful blessed with so many idyllic rivers, we’ve taken on the task of searching out eight of the country’s best rivers for tubing.
We’ll start out West. But first, here’s a bit of information about tubes. Rental tubes are available at each of these rivers, but if you wish to have your own personal tube, you should buy one that’s specially made for tubing rather than trying to adapt a truck or tractor inner tube.
Intex, Caddis Sports, Realtree and Trans American are among popular brand names turning out tubes with such safety and comfort features as handles, back supports, cup holders and mesh bottoms for cooling and better seating. Prices start at about $50.
Snoqualmie River, Washington
This leisurely, four-mile-long float begins a half-mile from Snoqualmie Falls and continues down river to end at Fall City Bridge. A shuttle transports floaters up the river for trips that usually last 4-5 hours. The water is a bit chilly for some visitors, but you’ll rarely hear them complain as they float through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Pacific Northwest.
Russian River, California
This wine country river flows gently into the Pacific near Guerneville. It’s a favorite among floaters — most of whom launch at Steelhead Beach and take out some three hours later at Mother’s Beach. Others float another hour or so to Sunset Beach.
There’s no transportation here, so you’ll have to park a vehicle at your final destination or arrange a rideshare or pick-up by Monte Rio Taxi. Rental tubes are available at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville or you can buy your own at King’s Sport & Tackle. Pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the many beaches along the way.
The Truckee River in Nevada
Truckee River, Nevada
The Truckee River runs right through the heart of Reno where it has always attracted rafters, kayakers and floaters. But a few years ago, the city had the brilliant idea to develop the Truckee River Whitewater Park. This $1.5 million project enhanced the river running experience along a 2,600-foot section that flows virtually in the shadows of the city’s numerous casinos.
A fun 2-3-hour long trip starts up river at Mayberry Park and leads downtown to Wingfield Park, where the Truckee River Whitewater Park originates. You can tube the river on your own, but you might also consider investing in a Tubing Adventure Package from Sierra Adventures, the region’s most experienced outfitter. Prices range from $29 to $69 and include a tube, life jacket and shuttle service.
Yampa River, Colorado
By Colorado standards, the Yampa is a fairly calm river and arguably is the best river in the state for tubing. As the Truckee does in Reno, the Yampa bisects the ever-popular outdoor sports haven of Steamboat Springs. Rental tubes and guided trips are available through several local companies, including Backdoor Sports, The Tube Shack and Bucking Rainbow Outfitters.
The drill, according to those in the know, is to park at the downtown Community Center/Stockbridge Transit Center and ride the Red Line bus to Fletcher Pond (for the longest ride) or Dr. Rich Weiss Park — and enjoy a 2- to 3-hour float back to town. City regulations say no alcohol, (or dogs) on the river, but there are plenty of bars and breweries along the Steamboat riverfront that are most anxious to serve you.
San Marcos River, Texas
Not far from Austin and San Antonio, the Hill Country college town of San Marcos has been dubbed the “coolest small city in Texas,” and it’s a hardy party town to be sure. The river of the same name plays host to plenty of that partying as it flows gently through town, carrying with it a flotilla of tubes, rafts and kayaks.
The spring-fed waters of the San Marcos remain at a constant 72 degrees and boast a level of purity ten times that of the EPA standards for drinking water. Most visiting tubers take advantage of the cheap rentals and shuttle service offered by the Lions Club. Trips typically start at City Park and end at Rio Vista Falls — a scenic run of a little more than a mile.
Meramec River, Missouri
Once a setting for wild partying, public nudity and various kinds of risky and offensive behavior, the Meramec has been substantially tamed in recent years owing to a law enforcement crackdown. Cliff or bluff jumping and rope swings are prohibited, as are beer kegs, bongs and other drinking devices.
There are no restrictions on alcohol itself but the minimum age for consumption (21) is strictly enforced. College kids may not be happy with the rules, but the Meramec has become much more family friendly. Fed by Meramec Spring and many smaller springs, the Meramec is good for floating from early spring to late fall. The most floated section is between Meramec Spring and Meramec State Park. Rental tubes, kayaks and canoes are available at the state park and at Old Cove Canoe & Kayak.
French Broad River, North Carolina
Float right through the center of artsy-craftsy Asheville on this easy-going river. Social more than secluded, this sunny setting boasts a variety of riverfront pubs, restaurants and craft breweries. Arrange a rental with French Broad Outfitters and splash in at the River Arts District. Trips (moderately priced at $20 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12) cover about four miles of river and last 2-3 hours.
You might spot some rare wildlife on the Ichetucknee.
Ichetucknee River, Florida
Fed by nine bubbling springs, this startlingly clear north central Florida river is a throwback to unspoiled Old Florida. Most of its six-mile length is protected within the bounds of Ichetucknee State Park near High Springs and it is open to a daily limit of 750 tubers.
Rental tubes are available at the park or from vendors located outside the park entrance. Some pandemic-related restrictions are presently in effect but two floating options are currently available: following a quick tram ride from the South Entrance, there’s a 45- to 60-minute float from the Midpoint Tube Launch to Dampier’s Landing — or continue an additional hour and a half to South Takeout Point. Wildlife is surprisingly abundant here.
You’ll see fish jumping, turtles basking, herons, egrets and wood storks wading — and possibly even the more elusive bobcat or wild boar lurking among the oaks and pines.
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