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These 5 river tubing experiences will float your worries away

River tubing is a great way to see nature

A man floating on a river in an inner tube on a cloudy day with hills in the background
Zac Gudakov / Unsplash

Summer is heating up, and while that means getting active and and embracing adventure, it’s also a good time to relax and kick back. With river tubing, you get both; the excitement of nature alongside trainquility. The “calmcation” has emerged as the top camping trend of the year, and floating along a trainquil river pairs nicely with this idea.

But where can you find the best river tubing spots? This curated selection of five highly coveted tubing destinations is a good place to get started.

Rainbow River: Florida

The Rainbow River in Florida on a warm day with people river tubing in it
Steven Martin / Flickr

How could something named the Rainbow River not be a magical place to float? Located in Ocala/Marion County, Florida, this 5.7 mile body of water has gentle current and crystle clear waters. The banks’ lush jungle terrain is reminiscent of Central Amerian destinations, right in the heart of the United States.

Keep an eye out for turtles, river otters, and birds, which are abundantly present in the summer months.

KP Hole Park offers a convenient 4-hour tubing package that provides a tube and return shuttle with entry. For a quicker float, head to Rainbow Springs State Park for a 1.5-hour float package, including tube rental and tram access.

If this is your first time tubing, you’re traveling with young children, or seeking a restorative float, this is a great choice, thanks to the river’s predictably calm turquoise waters.

Platte River: Michigan

An aerial view of the platte river with dense trees surrounding the path.
Don Harrison / Flickr

Michigan is a great place to see the leaves change in the fall, but during the summer months, floating a portion of the 29.5-mile Platte River is a must.

This river passes through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a natural paradise comprised of sandy bluffs, beaches, lakes, and forests. While the dunes aren’t directly visible along most of the float path, the end of the river empties into Lake Michigan, providing a rewarding dune view at the end.

There are two floating options in the area. For a shorter float (or an easily repeatable one), float from the Platte River picnic area over to the Kittendorf landing. When you reach the landing, it’s a 10 minute walk back to the parking lot.

For a longer float (2 to 3 hours), you can enter at Fish Weir, which will take you to end of the river, where it opens into Lake Michigan. It’s almost a ceremonious arrival to the lake is great for taking a dip and enjoying a beachside picnic at the end of your tubing experience.

Riverside Canoes offers tubes and shuttle trips for visitors alongside paddleboards, rafts, fishing boats, canoes, and kayaks. There are no rapids, the water is clear, and the flow is gentle, even slowed when winds are high. This makes Platte River one of the best choices for an easy social float.

Salt River: Arizona

a group of outdoor enthusiasts floating down the salt river alongside a sandy bank on a sunny day
Outdoor Craziness / Wikimedia Commons

The Salt River meanders through the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, lined with willow, cottonwood, and mesquite trees. Floaters can enjoy red rock plateaus featuring artistic strokes of sandstone and limestone layers, aged millions of years.

Even in the dead of summer, you’ll stay cool, as the lake is spring-fed. Expect wildlife sightings, including herons, wild horses, and bighorn sheep along the ride.

Salt River Tubing is the go-to outfitter for floats in this region, with options ranging from 2 to 4.5 hours. You can bring your own tube or rent one of theirs. But you can also go on your own if you’re able to bring two vehicles to park at your beginning and ending locations.

Keep in mind that the Tonto National Forest charges an entry fee of $10 per vehicle, so make the most of your pass by enjoying sights like the Superstition Mountains and Canyon Lake before or after your tubing experience.

San Marcos River: Texas

A group of tubers floating down the San Marcos river
Sean Loyless / Flickr

Maybe you associate Texas with barren, dry land and gusting tumbleweeds. But Texas’ greenbelts, located in the central region of the state, dispel the state’s dessert reputation.

There are several float-worthy rivers here, ranging from the Frio to the Guadalupe, that run along some of the best Texas state parks. But my personal favorite has always been the San Marcos.

This river offers lush wooded banks, small mossy limestone formations, and the occasional small rapid along the way. And it’s less crowded than popular alternatives like the Guadalupe, which means it’s cleaner, quieter, and more relaxing.

The color of the water is a bright emerald-blue, and incredibly clear, revealing small turtles traversing the river floor. You can hop in and out alongside many spots on the San Marcos, and even tie a tube up along some of the small banks.

If you want to elevate your experience, I recommend Son’s Blue River Camp. This outdoor riverside resort provides tubes and shuttles along a short stretch of the river all day long, as well as cabanas and glamping accommodations to extend your trip.

Yampa River: Colorado

a group of people floating along Yampa River on a clear day
Library of Congress / picryl

The Yampa river, located in Steamboat Springs, is free-flowing. This means it’s unaffected by dams or other artificial berriers. It’s about as natural and unadulturated you can get, and often has a faster flow than other options on the list.

There are floods and droughts to mind as this river ebbs and flows through the warmer months, so keep an eye on weather conditions. But it’s worth finding the sweet spot of water flow to enjoy sandstone cliffs and mountain views from the comfort of your tube.

The Yampa offers several access points, both private and public. The Friends of the Yampa River have complied this helpful guide of access points to help you sift through your options.

If you need to rent a tube and a shuttle, Bucking Rainbow Outfitters has you covered, also offering shoe and lifejacket rentels out of their Blue Sky West Tube Shack.

How to make sure your river tubing experience is awesome

Nobody wants to be stuck on a tube for hours on end, feeling parched and sunburnt by the end. Here are a few tips that can keep you comfy on the water.

  • Don’t risk your toes: Flip-flops usually won’t cut it for river tubing, as strong currents and rocky floors can be dangerous. Invest in a pair of water shoes for full-foot coverage and easy drainage.
  • Bring water: You should carry 2 bottles of water for every hour you’re out on the water. Most outfitters allow or rent coolers, making it easy to bring extra. And if you’re tubing on a river that allows alcohol, take it easy, especially on the hottest days of the year.
  • Bring sunscreen: Even if it’s cloudy on your float day, make sure to apply sunscreen. The water also reflects the sun’s light, so it will be hitting you from all angles. SPF tops and bottoms can also be a lifesaver.
  • Pack your stuff correctly: Dry sacks are the best way to go when bringing gear on your tubing trip. You’ll have peace of mind that your cellphone, keys, and wallet will stay dry. Dry sacks usually float when they fall off your tube, making them easy to retrieve.

And of course, don’t forget the fun bits like waterproof speakers, water toys, and snacks! This is, afterall, a party on the water.

Otherwise, keep an eye on local regulations, make reservations early if you’re booking through an outfitter, and otherwise, kick back and let these iconic rivers wash your worries away.

Rachel Dennis
Artist & writer with a flair for the outdoors, sustainability & travel. Off-duty chef, bookworm, and conversation lover.
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