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Summer temps are sizzling across the U.S., and there’s no better way to beat the heat than by floating down a refreshingly cool river on an innertube or raft. River tubing and rafting is an affordable, uncomplicated way to spend some time outdoors, especially when the blazing sun makes it too hot for a hike. Whether you want a relaxing float in a serene setting, a fun family outing, or a party on the water, here are 10 rivers in the U.S. that offer epic tubing experiences.
Boise River – Boise, Idaho
Floating the roughly six-mile stretch of the Boise River that runs right through Idaho’s capital city offers both natural beauty and views of a vibrant downtown area loaded with breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, art galleries, and cafés. Boise River Raft and Tube provides tube and raft rentals, a convenient shuttle service that runs every 20 minutes between Barber Park (the entry point) and Ann Morrison Park (the exit point), and helpful maps.
It typically takes about two hours to float the six-mile section. (Watch for people flying off rope swings!) You can’t take your beer or White Claw on the river with you, but you can stop along the Greenbelt (Boise’s tree-lined recreational trail popular for cycling) and enjoy a cold one at one of the numerous watering holes. If you’re feeling really adventurous, head a little farther down the river to the Boise Whitewater Park, where you can surf human-made waves and kayak rapids.
Delaware River – Milford, New Jersey
Sections of the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey offer multiple tubing opportunities. A fun place to rent gear is in the borough of Milford, on the Jersey side, about an hour northwest of Trenton. Delaware River Tubing is a local institution that rents tubes, rafts, kayaks, and canoes (although kayaks and canoes won’t be available again until 2022). About halfway through the three- to four-hour float, each renter receives a free lunch from the “Famous River Hot Dog Man!” The concession includes a floating food stand and an island along the river with picnic tables in the water. Float up, grab your hot dogs, and enjoy them with your toes in the water. You’ll have to wait until you’re off the water if you want an adult beverage, which you can find at many local breweries and bars scattered among small towns nearby.
Oconoluftee River – Cherokee, North Carolina
Gushing down from the Great Smoky Mountains, this beautiful river transforms into a broad, gentle, watery playground complete with rope swings, swimming holes, and leisurely tubing (with a few small rapids to liven things up). Rent tubes and get rides to the entry point from multiple outlets, and then float back to where you started. Watch for wildlife such as elk, turkeys, deer, and more. Float under the Blue Ridge Parkway past Great Smoky Mountain National Park on one side and the Cherokee Reservation on the other. Plan to stop at “The Beach,” where you can take a thrilling leap from a rope swing. You’ll find a plethora of nearby attractions, such as the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and scenic train rides on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers – Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
The Shenandoah River joins the Potomac River in the city of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, just an hour or so from Washington, D.C. If you’re aiming for a relaxing float experience, tube the gentler Shenandoah. For those seeking a little more adventure, the Potomac offers some beginner Class I and II rapids to bounce over. Local vendors provide shuttle service and gear, including floating coolers and tubes designed to hold small coolers if you bring your own.
You can spend an entire day at Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, where, after a tube ride, you can try ziplining, a ropes course, whitewater rafting, and whitewater kayaking. Another option is to explore nearby Chesapeake and Ohio National Park, where you can learn about a historic canal dug in the mid-1800s for transporting coal, lumber, and other products. You can even take a mule-pulled boat to explore the canal and its locks.
Meramec River – Sullivan, Missouri
If you’ve ever wondered why Missouri’s nickname is the “Show-Me State,” you’ll understand as you float past caves, towering limestone bluffs, lush forested hills, and bubbling springs on the Meramec River. The best place to witness the state’s natural beauty on the water is Meramec State Park (about an hour southwest of St. Louis), which features tent and camper/RV sites or rustic cabins available to rent.
The five-mile float begins at the park store, where you can pick up your tube and purchase beer, ice, and snacks. Shuttles take you to Sappington Bridge, where you’ll put your tube in the water and then float back to the store. The park also offers kayak, canoe, and raft rentals. Once you’re out of the water, be sure to check out Meramec Caverns, a spectacular natural wonder just outside the park.
French Broad River – Asheville, North Carolina
If you prefer a tranquil floating experience that ends with a little more excitement, this is the tubing trip for you! Book with any of the multiple vendors in Asheville who will shuttle you a few miles up the river where it’s more serene. As you float into downtown Asheville, things become livelier. You’ll pass the famous 12 Bones Smokehouse (a favorite restaurant of former U.S. President Barack Obama), the River Arts District (home to 150+ artists’ studios and galleries), and dozens of bars, cafés, breweries, and food trucks. Colorado-based New Belgium Brewery opened an outpost near the river, and Wedge Brewing has two locations within walking distance. Many concessions also allow customers to rent kayaks, canoes, rafts, and paddleboards for longer excursions. Beware — you might get blasted with a friendly water cannon as you pass by some places!
Yampa River – Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Once ski season ends, locals and visitors head to the crystal-clear Yampa River for more adventure. The Yampa River flows past gorgeous mountains and into picturesque downtown Steamboat Springs. Despite originating high in the mountains, the river is surprisingly calm, with some playful Class I and II rapids near town. The city has designated separate tube launching areas for commercial operators and individuals to protect the sensitive river ecosystem from overuse.
If you start at one of the designated locations on your own, you can enjoy the river for about four miles. With a vendor (who also provides transportation), you’ll float for about two miles, which is still plenty of time to enjoy the water under the warm Colorado sun. Save your beer for when you exit the water, since alcohol is prohibited. Rest assured, like any legendary ski town, the “Boat” (what locals call Steamboat) offers many fantastic breweries, bars, cafés, and restaurants.
Frio River — Concan, Texas
The Guadalupe and San Marcos Rivers between San Antonio and Austin get all the attention when it comes to tubing, but the Frio River in the Texas Hill Country offers a decidedly different and far more spectacular experience. "Frio" means “cold” in Spanish, and true to its name, this astonishingly clear 200-mile river will keep you cool even on the hottest days of a sweltering Texas summer.
Head to breathtaking Frio Canyon, where a 20-mile stretch of the river between the tiny towns of Concan and Leakey has multiple entry points. Secure gear and shuttle service from tubing companies in either town and choose a launch spot based on how long and far you want to float. Another option is to stay in Garner State Park, which also offers gear rentals. In addition to many splendid hiking trails, the park is known for its nightly summer dance parties at its outdoor pavilion, powered by songs from its famous jukebox, a tradition dating to the 1940s.
Deschutes River – Bend, Oregon
Floating the Deschutes River is a popular summer activity in this central Oregon city best known for outdoor adventures such as hiking, mountain biking, and skiing at nearby Mount Bachelor Ski Resort. The most popular route starts at Riverbend Park and concludes at Drake Park. Midway through the float, you’ll experience Bend Whitewater Park. Watch for signs as you approach the park — officials recommend you get out and look before you float through it, as the rapids can be fast and bouncy.
If you decide to skip this section, there’s a well-marked path that leads around the rapids area, and you can get back in the water once you feel comfortable. The park website has fantastic virtual tours and how-to videos of the route. Well-organized shuttles run visitors up and down the river, so it’s easy to get around. And once you exit at Drake Park, you’re within walking distance of several excellent breweries, such as Deschutes Brewery and Public House, which is credited for starting central Oregon’s craft beer revolution in 1988.
Russian River – Sonoma County, California
Summers get hot even in wine country, and you’ll see plenty of people cooling off in the Russian River. Don’t be surprised if you see blow-up swans, unicorns, and other silly inflated shapes mixed in with traditional tubes and rafts! Although people float various sections of the river, county officials only recommend floating the two-mile route between Steelhead Beach and Sunset Beach. Despite being just two miles long, the route takes about four and a half hours to float due to a slow current. There are no shuttle services here, so in order to float, you’ll need two cars — one to park at each end. Cell phone coverage in the area tends to be spotty, so relying on rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to give you a ride back to your vehicle can be risky.