One of my all-time favorite summer activities is tubing down a river. It’s a great way to cool off in the summer and it just so happens to be inexpensive as well. My first experience tubing was many years ago in Provo, Utah. I can’t remember the name of the small, meandering river, but I had the time of my life enjoying the scenery and floating along the water. Over the past few years, I’ve tubed down the Salt River in Arizona. Also a great experience, albeit a lot more crowded since tubing is a very popular summer activity on that river (a great way to cool off in hundred-degree weather, of course!)
Over the course of my tubing experiences, I’ve learned some things that make the experience comfortable, fun and safe. Below are my tips for tubing.
Tips for Tubing
- Safety – Not all rivers are great for tubing. You want to pick one that isn’t too fast or full of rapids. A great way to search for a river is to search for companies that offer tube rentals or shuttle buses specifically for tubing. That’s how I came across the Salt River in Arizona. The drawback to this is that it means the river is a popular spot for tubing, so expect more people to be tubing along side you. If this is the case, choose a day in the middle of the week if you want more privacy. *You DON’T want to pick a river known for a lot of drownings, obviously. It means the river is too deep and too fast. Avoid these rivers!
- Tubes – You might be able to rent tubes from a local company. However, their tubes will be pretty basic. The Salt River Tubing Company offers basic, black inner tubes that can withstand a few rocks and branches (if you get too close to the bank of the river, you’ll occasionally hit a branch or two). If you think you’ll tube more often, you can purchase Intex tubes through Amazon. We own a pair of these and they are great. They have a netted bottom in the center, which I absolutely love, cup holders, handles, and their lighter color reflect the light better. They are also a little larger than the rental tubes. They vary in cost, but are currently on sale for $14 and really worth the price.
- Sunscreen – In the middle of summer with the water reflecting light, I can’t stress lathering yourself with sunscreen enough. I’m really fair, so before I go, I put on a coat of sunscreen, wear a lightweight, long sleeved shirt, hat, and continue to put on sunscreen as we float along. I also cover myself up with a towel as the day progresses.
- Waterproof sandals – River bottoms have rocks, so wear a sturdy, waterproof sandal. You’ll be getting into and out of the river along the banks and never know when you might have to stand up on the rocky-bottom of the river. Another reason to choose a mellow, slow-moving river, it’s easier to get into and out of. I personally like my Keen H2O Newport sandals. They are rugged with closed toes to protect your feet.
- Backpack or cooler – You’ll want to bring a lot of water or hydrating drinks and simple snacks. If you want to keep it easy, take a small backpack. If you want to get a little more fancy, there are floating coolers you can purchase (also Intex brand). You’ll want to tie the cooler to a tube so it floats along with you. *A warning about tying yourself to others or a cooler: It can be done, but you need to remember that if the cooler gets stuck, you’ll get stuck, too since you’re tied to it. Many tubing companies discourage tying each others’ tubes up because if one person gets into trouble, the whole group gets into trouble. Tie with caution.
- Paddles – This is completely optional, but this year we took our paddles and were able to avoid getting stuck along the banks of the river. Since we tied our tubes to each other, each outer person had a paddle to navigate larger groups of people, paddle when the water was so slow we were barely moving, and push off from the banks when we got too close to the trees. I don’t think we’ll tube without them again.
- Life vests – This is a personal choice, but if you aren’t the greatest swimmer or the river is deep, you might feel safer wearing a life vest. Your tube isn’t really designed as a flotation device in case of drowning since it can float away from you.
A few more random tips:
- Going in the middle-to-end of summer usually means a lower water level and slower river. It’s easier to get into and out of the river when the water is moving slowly and it’s shallow enough to stand up in without knocking you down.
- Keep your items in a waterproof container; keys, wallet, phone, camera, etc. You WILL get wet tubing.
- Make sure you know your route. This is an advantage to finding a river that offers shuttle buses. They mark the “exits” for you so you know where to get in and get out of the river. If you go rogue, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll make it back to your car or go with two cars, parking one at the “entrance” and one at the “exit.” You’ll also have to navigate your way in and out of the water.
The cost varies depending on if you can coordinate returning back from your departure and you own your tubes. Here’s a breakdown of our costs:
- Tubes – we own these and got them for a smokin’ deal a few years ago. If we divide the cost of our tubes ($15) by the times we’ve used them so far, three, we’re averaging $5 a trip. If you rent tubes, they range in price. At the Salt River Tubing company, they cost $3 (this price is based on also getting the shuttle bus package). Yes, this is cheaper, but it’s $3 each time you go tubing. If you think you will tube again and again, purchasing your tubes will make more sense in the long run.
- Shuttle – this is the more expensive part of the experience for us. The shuttle bus at the Salt River is $14 round trip per person if you own your own tubes, but the shuttle bus/tube package is $17, which is how I calculated the $3 tube rental.
- Snacks/Drinks – completely up to you. However, you need to factor in how long you’ll tube. Tubing the Salt River can take a couple of hours (if you get out at the earlier points or if the river is running swiftly) to up to four hours if you tube the entire route and the river is flowing slowly. Bring enough snacks and drinks for an enjoyable trip.
I look forward to tubing again next year. And just a quick reminder, when you see small rapids, it usually means larger rocks so “butts up!”