LIZ SALAZAR | HEAD OF FINANCE
YAMPA RIVER - STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO
Updated on 9/2/2020 at 4:42 PM
Is there anything better than sipping canned suds, soaking up the summer sun, and floating down a river in a giant rubber donut? Maybe if you hate fun, but otherwise, the answer is clearly no, there is nothing better. Tubing is hands-down one of the greatest American summer activities, ever.
This being 2020, though, the float scene might not be the beer-soaked bacchanal it’s been in summers past. The rules are a little different, and some tubing companies are closed until next season. That said, when done safely, a river float is an ideal way for you and your pod to enjoy some scenic social distancing with a cooler of 4% domestic bliss floating between you. Behold, the top tubing rivers in the country that are still fun right now, with or without the party.
Ginnie SpringsHigh Springs, Florida
A favorite of both North-Central Floridians and UF students (when they’re not being completely delusional about the quality of their football team), Ginnie Springs is a popular spot to spend the afternoon drinking beer under a canopy of Spanish moss and discussing how Tim Tebow is still the greatest athlete in history.
Where to rent tubes: Ginnie Springs Outdoors runs the show here. Admission is $19 in the summer and $14 in the off-season. Tubes are $6 single, $12 double.
COVID status: The park is currently running at reduced capacity and asks guests to come in groups of 10 or fewer while maintaining social distancing. Also, no mask or snorkel rentals are available right now.
San Marcos RiverSan Marcos, Texas
Just down the road from Austin, San Marcos is a college town in the purest sense, and the crown jewel is the San Marcos River. Every summer when the temps hover above three digits, locals flock to its cool, 72-degree waters to soak up the sun with koozie-covered cans of Lone Star. It's also home to Float Fest, an annual music festival offering two days of camping and river floating. And though this year’s version was canceled, it’s still on track for 2021.
COVID status: All of San Marcos’ riverfront parks are currently closed, so unless you have magic powers or a friend with a riverfront house, this one may have to wait until 2021.
James RiverScottsville, Virginia
On the ride to the drop-off point, a representative from the tubing company will no doubt tell you NOT to jump off the rock in the middle of this river during your float. Because it is private property, and you WILL be trespassing. But who the flip owns a rock in the middle of a river anyway? The riverside beaches give you a front-row seat to watch every tuber on the James summarily gaff off both the guy giving the warning and whomever owns that rock.
COVID status: Masks are required in the shop and on the bus ride, giving you the built-in excuse of “I couldn’t understand what you said with that mask on” when you are chastised for jumping off said rock.
Truckee RiverReno, Nevada
This part of the Sierra Nevada is typically known for some of the world’s best whitewater, but, well, you’ve seen the news: there’s not exactly a ton of snow-melt cascading down the mountains every year. But fear not, the Truckee remains a fun time. Its calm waters now lend themselves to a relaxing day-long booze cruise through the towering deep green trees, blue skies, and occasional mountain tops peeping through.
Where to rent tubes: Sierra Adventures will pick you up and take you on an all-day float tour for $39 per person. For locals, or those who don’t need a pick-up, you can buy a tube at any number of local gas stations for about $25.
COVID status: Local river rafting companies have severely limited the number of rafts on the river, but there are no regulations on tubes. Sierra Adventures requires masks in its store and in all vehicles.
Meramec RiverMeramec State Park, Missouri
In a state with few laws about drinking on the water, floats down the Meramec are basically all-day parties with not-infrequent public nudity. Things got so out of hand at one point, authorities had to actually pass a law banning beer bongs on the water. Not beer mind you, just beer bongs. Party on, Missouri!
COVID status: Reservations are now required due to limited capacity, and some operators are shutting down after Labor Day, a few weeks earlier than usual.
Snoqualmie RiverNorth Bend, Washington
Though the Green River also offers some of the best tubing in Western Washington, what the Snoqualmie lacks in serial killer name recognition it makes up for in tubing excitement. Sure, the water's a little cold, but you'll be floating through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Pacific Northwest. And if lying around drinking beer somehow gets old, the river is lined with rope swings so you can show off for your friends.
Where to rent tubes: Fall City Floating offers shuttle-and-rental packages starting at $35, or skip the shuttle and just rent a tube for $20.
COVID status: Masks are now required at all times except when on the river. Reservations are also required seven days a week.
Guadalupe RiverNew Braunfels, Texas
This river running through Southeast Texas draws tubers from all over the country. Drinking is perfectly legal while you're floating (as long as you clean up) and the folks who live along the route have been known to join the party in years past, handing beers to tubers or just pranking them with rubber spiders and fake alligators. You may not find as many free beers and fake-out river creatures in 2020, but this is still Texas. So at the very least you’ll float by plenty of friendly people drinking just as much as you.
COVID status: All river parks and commercial tube rentals are currently closed. However, if you have your own tube, Rockin R is still offering property access so you start your own float there.
Shenandoah RiverHarpers Ferry, West Virginia
Outfitters at Harpers Ferry will rent you a tube (and one for your beer cooler) for about $30 a day. And if the float isn't exciting enough, there's whitewater rafting, ziplining, and mountain biking to boot.
Where to rent tubes: River Riders offers both flat and whitewater tube trips, as well as full day trips for $42. River and Trail Outfitters has float trips, and a climbing wall! Harpers Ferry Adventure Center runs trips as well.
COVID status: Many operators are limiting trip sizes and only allowing one float trip per day, per person.
Yampa RiverSteamboat Springs, Colorado
On most tubing trips, you start upriver from where you park your car, take a shuttle to the drop point, and when you finish the float, you're ready to drive home. Not so on the Yampa (a rare calm river by Colorado standards), where you finish the trip in the middle of Steamboat Springs. You can spend the rest of the afternoon eating, shopping, or, dare we say, enjoying another beverage.
Where to rent tubes: Backdoor Sports and Bucking Rainbow Outfitters both have spots in downtown Steamboat Springs on, appropriately, Yampa street. Both rent tubes for $20, which includes the shuttle ride.
COVID status: Masks are required in shops and on shuttle rides.
Cahaba RiverHelena, Alabama
The longest free-flowing river in Alabama is actually home to more species of freshwater fish than can be found in ALL THE BODIES OF WATER in the state of California combined. Pretty impressive for a river this size. From mid-May to mid-June, lilies bloom on the banks and islands of the river, making it one of the more unusually picturesque floats in the country.
Where to rent tubes: Limestone Park Canoe Rental rents tubes as well as boats and other watercraft.
Chipola RiverMarianna, Florida
This tributary of the Apalachicola River, located about an hour outside Tallahassee, is teeming with natural beauty like limestone caves and oak trees draped in Spanish moss. It’s also teeming with students from Florida State University who flock here for float parties. The river is fed by 63 underground springs, perfect for a refreshing dip when the blanket of swampy humidity becomes too much to handle.
Apple RiverSomerset, Wisconsin
One of the great Midwestern traditions that doesn't involve football, cornhole, or stuffing your face with brats is a trip down the Apple River. Not only do riders tie their tubes together (with a communal beer cooler in the middle), but the scene is almost like a floating Mardi Gras. Beads are worn... and thrown. And there's even a sandbar midway down the river where the party is always kicking with food, drinks, and beach volleyball.
American RiverSacramento, California
Residents of Sacramento have the lucky privilege of spending sunny Saturdays on this river, which is too shallow for boats but perfect for rafts, tubes, and kayaks. Meaning, you get the peaceful waters to yourself and can spend the day forgetting that you have to root for the Kings.
Where to rent tubes: Operators running on the American mostly rent rafts, so if you want a tube your best bet is to head to your local supercenter and buy one. If you are keen on rafting, try River Rat or American River Raft Rentals.
COVID status: Tie-ups on the river are currently prohibited. Also, if you’re opting for a raft trip you must wear a mask in shops and on shuttle busses, and everyone on your raft must be from the same household.
Ichetucknee RiverFort White, Florida
This crystal-clear river in Ichetucknee Springs State Park is home to eight separate natural water springs -- those old-Florida natural treasures that get forgotten amongst the beaches and condos. The 90-ish-minute float takes you down a narrow stream of 72-degree water and under a shady canopy of oak trees. Feeling adventurous? Don't hesitate to climb one of those trees and jump right in; the current is light so it's an easy swim back to the banks.
Where to rent tubes: Ichetucknee Springs State Park runs a concession where you can rent tubes for as little as $12.50.
COVID status: Tubing at the park is running on a limited basis with specific instructions depending on where you launch, and whether you rent or bring your own tube.
Comal RiverNew Braunfels, Texas
You might call New Braunfels, Texas the tubing capital of America, since every Texan not floating the aforementioned Guadalupe River is probably drinking in the sun on the nearby Comal. This spring-fed beauty stays a cool 72-degrees all year ‘round, too, so no matter how scorching the Texas sun gets the river stays refreshing.
COVID status: All tube rentals and river parks are closed, but some companies are offering paid river access under certain conditions.
Rainbow RiverDunnellon, Florida
Though Florida has about as many great places to tube as it does guys who've been indicted for Medicare fraud, this one is far and away the most scenic. The clear waters allow floaters to see all the way to the bottom of the sub-tropical rainbow spring, making it a prime spot for snorkeling as well. The float takes about two to four hours, and the state park even runs a tram to drive folks upriver to the launch site.
COVID status: The state park is operating with at limited capacity and closes at 5pm. Also, once you leave you will not be allowed back in until the next day.
Niobrara RiverValentine, Nebraska
Man, this river is the business. Come summertime, everyone who knows anything about what’s good in Nebraska finds their way to this spot at least once for tubing and kayaking. You technically can’t have alcohol for the brief part of the river that goes through the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, but, like, just be discrete for a few minutes 'til you pop out the other side. When you come up on Smith Falls State Park, beach yourself and drink on land for a bit before you resume drinking on river. -- Kastalia Medrano
Cape Fear RiverLillington, North Carolina
Though it lacks a creepy, unstable Robert De Niro hiding around every corner crooning, “Come out, come out, wherever you are…” this five-hour float near Fayetteville is entertaining in a far-less-terrifying fashion. The trip runs through pristine Carolina forests, a rock garden, and a single Class I rapid, and allows you to bring all the booze you want so long as it’s not in a glass bottle.
Where to rent tubes: Cape Fear Adventures runs a two-mile trip for $22 per person.
COVID status: Masks are required when not on the river, and you must make online reservations.