The Best Rivers in America for Tubing + Drinking

Lose the paddle and let the water do the work.

Float along to live music. | Rockin' the River
Float along to live music. | Rockin' the River

Summertime activities are pretty much broken down to two main locales: the beach or rivers and lakes. And while there are plenty of great beach towns in the U.S., where you can get everything from the perfect lobster roll to beer brewed right on the boardwalk, there’s something about floating down a river, soaking up the summer sun, beer in hand, that feels quintessentially American.

Perhaps it’s because some of the best rivers for tubing aren’t near towns you’ve ever heard of, or because the scenery shifts quickly from mangroves to mountains, or because the entry-level rapids make it feel like you’re embarking on an adventure (without any of the actual danger or fear associated with one). The fact that many of the top rivers for tubing aren’t far from land-locked cities also make them pretty appealing, too, when summer temps start scorching.

And you don’t have to commit too much for this type of water sport (if you can even call it that)—all you need is your swimsuit, some sunscreen, and the beverage of your choice and you’re ready for a day dedicated to lazing in the sun, letting the river slowly drift you downstream. From Steamboat Springs to Sacramento, Austin to the suburbs of Alabama, here are the best rivers for tubing (and drinking) in America.

Rockin' the River, Fort Worth
Kick back and relax. | Rockin' the River

Trinity River

Fort Worth, Texas
Nearest major city: Dallas-Fort Worth
Stretching 710 miles from Texas’s northern tip down to the Gulf Coast, the Trinity River—the longest contained within a single state—runs just a mile west of downtown Dallas. The best time to float here is in summer during the five-week tubing and music series event Rockin’ the River. The free concert takes place at a waterfront stage on the Trinity River, perfectly framing downtown Fort Worth in the backdrop, and features a mix of top Texas country and soul stars. If you’re planning on hanging in the area for a while, splurge on the VIP package that includes access to a shaded area (which will be worth the cost alone), ice-cold beer and soda, and four tubes a week.

Where to rent tubes: Panther Island Pavilion offers seasonal rentals, so you’re better off bringing your own tube. If you’ve forgotten anything else, Backwoods Paddlesports rents everything from drybags ($4) to dog life jackets ($5).

Shenandoah River

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Nearest major city: Washington, D.C.
One of the perks of this river is that it’s great to tube down solo or with a group—and you can even have your cooler floating right alongside. There’s a three-mile stretch that’s pretty laid-back, with just a few rapids here and there. And you can even turn it into an overnight trip sleeping on one of the lodges, tents, or glamping options located on a bluff over the South Fork of the river, where views overlook both the Massanutten range and Shenandoah National Park.

Where to rent tubes: River Riders offers both flat and whitewater tube trips, as well as full-day tube rentals starting at $32. River & Trail Outfitters, which is only about an hour from D.C., runs trips as well.

Catch the concert from the comfort of your float. | FLOAT FEST

San Marcos River

San Marcos, Texas
Nearest major city: Austin
San Marcos is a college town in the purest sense, and its crown jewel is the San Marcos River. Every summer when the temps hover above three digits, locals flock to its cool waters to soak up the sun with koozie-covered cans of Lone Star. It's also home to Float Fest, an annual music festival where you can spend two days camping and river floating while catching big-name acts like Marshmello and Vampire Weekend.

Where to rent tubes: The San Marcos Lions Club has a concession right near the river’s headwaters. Texas State Tubes and Great Gonzo’s Tubes and Shuttles aren’t far away either.

Apple River

Somerset, Wisconsin
Nearest major city: Minneapolis
One of the great Midwestern traditions that doesn't involve football, cornhole, or stuffing your face with brats is a float down the Apple River. Riders tie their tubes together (with a communal beer cooler in the middle), and 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.

Where to rent tubes: River’s Edge and Apple River Hideaway both rent tubes for $15 during the week and $20 on weekends.

This is a side of Florida you don’t hear enough about. | Ichetucknee Springs State Park Tube & Watersports at Paddling Adventures

Ichetucknee River

Fort White, Florida
Nearest major city: Gainesville 
This crystal-clear river in Ichetucknee Springs State Park—about an hour out from the University of Florida, in Gainesville—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 $7.

James River

Scottsville, Virginia
Nearest major city: Richmond
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 (It’s private property, and you will be trespassing.). But who 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 whoever owns that rock.

Where to rent tubes:James River Runners offers 1-4 hour trips for $27 per person and $10 for a cooler tube. Reeling & Rafting offers similar prices, with departures every half hour on weekends.

One of Colorado’s calmer rivers—and that’s saying a lot. | Luke Rague/Shutterstock

Yampa River

Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Nearest major city: Denver
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 pretty calm river by Colorado standards—where you’ll 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 $25 (including the shuttle ride).

Chipola River

Marianna, Florida
Nearest major city: Tallahassee
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.

Where to rent tubes: Chipola River Outfitters rents tubes for $15 a day. You can also try Bear Paw Adventures, which rents regular tubes for $15 or even comfier “Cadillac” tubes for $20.

You’ll definitely want to stop at this “hidden” river bar. | Float In

Comal River

New Braunfels, Texas
Nearest major city: Houston
You might call New Braunfels, Texas, the tubing capital of America. This spring-fed beauty in Southeast Texas—about a 2.5-hour drive from Houston—stays a cool 72 degrees year-round, so no matter how scorching the Texas sun gets, the river stays refreshing. It’s a generally-relaxed (apart from the occasional crowds and party floats) two-mile trip with a couple of chutes to keep things interesting. After the first chute, keep an eye out for the Float In “river club” and pull over for some lunch and local beer on draft.

Where to rent tubes: Texas Tubes, Comal Tubes, and Landa Falls will all rent you tubes with a shuttle ride for $20-30.

Guadalupe River

New Braunfels, Texas
Nearest major city: Houston
Every Texan not floating the aforementioned Comal is probably out on the nearby, just-as-lively Guadalupe. Locals living along the route have been known to join the party in years past, handing beers out to tubers or just pranking them with rubber spiders and fake alligators. And with life slowly returning to normal, we expect you’ll float by plenty of friendly people drinking just as much as you.

Where to rent tubes: Rockin’ R, Tube Haus, and River Sports Tubes all offer rentals from about $17-25 per tube.

Rope swings aren’t the only highlight on the river. | Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

Snoqualmie River

North Bend, Washington
Nearest major city: Seattle
Though the Green River also offers some of the best tubing in Western Washington, the nearby Snoqualmie is really where it’s at. 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 $25.

Truckee River

Reno, Nevada
Nearest major city: Reno
This part of the Sierra Nevada is typically known for some of the world’s best fly fishing and whitewater rafting, but the Truckee River—the only river that flows from Lake Tahoe—is also ideal for those who just want to float along lazy river style. Its calm waters 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 all kinds of all-day float tours (They aren’t exactly cheap, but they are all-inclusive and fun!). For locals or those who don’t need a pick-up, you can buy a tube at many local gas stations for about $25.

American River, CA
Rent everything from a tube to a 12-person raft. | Photo courtesy of American River Raft Rentals

American River

Sacramento, California
Nearest major city: Sacramento
Residents of Sacramento have the privilege of spending sunny Saturdays on this river, which is too shallow for boats but perfect for rafts, tubes, and kayaks—meaning there’s a low chance of getting disturbed as you peacefully float along.

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.

Meramec River

Meramec State Park, Missouri
Nearest major city: St. Louis
Say what you want about Missouri, but the people here love a good time. In a state with few laws about drinking on the water, floats down the Meramec are basically all-day parties with a backdrop of dramatic bluffs and dense, green forest. 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. So keep partying on, Missouri!

Where to rent tubes: Twin Rivers at Brookdale Farms offers float trips at $31 a tube.

Soak up the view of pine woodlands and prairies. | marekuliasz/Shutterstock

Niobrara River

Valentine, Nebraska
Nearest major city: Rapid City, SD
Come summertime, everyone who knows 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 if you’re discrete for a few minutes, you can pop open your cans on the other side. When you come upon Smith Falls State Park (home to the state’s highest waterfall), beach yourself and drink on land for a bit before you resume on the river.

Where to rent tubes: Several local outfitters run daily float trips, including Brewers Canoers, Little Outlaw, and Sharp’s Outfitters. Prices range from about $40-69.

Hands down one of the best in the state. | Flickr/Steven Martin

Rainbow River

Dunnellon, Florida
Nearest major city: Orlando
The entire state is practically one long lazy river, but this one is far and away the most scenic. The clear waters allow floaters to see all the way to the bottom of the subtropical 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 people upriver to the launch site.

Where to rent tubes: Rainbow River Kayak rents tubes for $20 (including a shuttle ride).

Cape Fear River

Lillington, North Carolina
Nearest major city: Raleigh
The largest river system in the state includes more than 6,500 miles of streams that essentially cut through an area the size of New Jersey. Hop on a five-hour float that starts with a calm ride through Carolina forests before heading through a shallow rock garden and Class I rapid. You can also bring all the booze you want, as long as it’s not in a glass bottle.

Where to rent tubes: Cape Fear Adventures runs a two-mile trip for $27 per person (jacket, rube, and return shuttle included).

people in inner tubes floating down a tree lined river
Trade in your tube and go whitewater rafting—if you’re up for braving the rapids. | Sacandaga Outdoor Center

Sacandaga River

Hadley, New York
Nearest major city: Albany
In the Southern Adirondacks, just minutes from Lake George and Saratoga Springs, you’ll want to head for Hadley, a town where the Hudson and Sacandaga Rivers meet. Rent a tube (or a whitewater raft or kayak) from Sacandaga Outdoor Center. From there, you’ll embark on a four-mile float with rushing rapids. Feel free to take a few trips around; you’ll get in and out of the river at the same place.

Where to rent tubes: Sacandaga Outdoor Center rents out single tubes for $35 a day. There’s also plenty of options for canoes, kayaks, and rafts (both guided and private).

Cahaba River

Helena, Alabama
Nearest major city: Birmingham
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 of this size. During late spring and summer, lilies bloom on the banks and islands of the river, making it one of the more picturesque floats in the country.

Where to rent tubes: Limestone Park Canoe Rental rents tubes as well as boats and other watercraft.

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 Matt Meltzer contributed to reporting for this story. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.