The Best Rivers in America for Tubing + Drinking
Nothing better than sipping brews in a giant rubber donut.
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.
The beer-soaked bacchanals we know and love are back this summer after 2020’s little (read: world-shattering) hiatus. Rekindling friendships with people you haven’t seen in 16-ish months will be weird no matter what you do—so, what better social lubricant than a ride down a scenic river with a cooler of 4% domestic bliss floating between you?Behold, the top tubing spots in the country for doing just that. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and be respectful of the environment: Bag your trash, people.
NOTE: These are dry times we live in; tube rentals may not always be operating due to low water levels. It's always a good idea to call ahead.
San Marcos River
San Marcos, Texas
Just down the road from 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 offering two days of camping and river floating. Alas, the fest has been postponed yet again (curse you, coronavirus!), but put it on your calendar for 2022 when the party will be back in full force.
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. 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.
Fort 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.
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 hell 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.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
NOTE: It looks like the Yampa is closed to tubing right now due to low water levels.
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 $23, which includes the shuttle ride.
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.
New Braunfels, Texas
You might call New Braunfels, Texas, the tubing capital of America. This spring-fed beauty in Southeast Texas stays a cool 72-degrees all year round, so no matter how scorching the Texas sun gets, the river stays refreshing and clear to boot. It’s a generally-relaxed (see: 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, and pull over for some lunch and local beer on draft.
Guadalupe RiverNew Braunfels, Texas
Every Texan not floating the aforementioned Comal is probably out on the nearby, just-as-lively Guadalupe. Folks who live 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.
North Bend, Washington
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 $20.
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 ain’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 any number of local gas stations for about $25.
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 there’s a low chance of getting disturbed as you peacefully float along.
Meramec State Park, Missouri
Say what you want about Missouri, but the folks 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. Party on, Missouri!
Man, this river is the business. 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, like, just be discrete for a few minutes 'til you pop out the other side. When you come upon Smith Falls State Park, beach yourself and drink on land for a bit before you resume drinking on the river. –Kastalia Medrano
Shenandoah RiverHarpers Ferry, West Virginia
River Riders will rent you a tube for about $32 a day (or $37 for a highly-coveted deluxe tube with a cup holder). And if the float isn't exciting enough, there's whitewater rafting, ziplining, and mountain biking to boot. Keep in mind that there are still a few Covid-era precautions in place, including advance booking and reduced capacity, but nothing that’ll hinder the fun once you’re on the river.
Where to rent tubes: River Riders offers both flat and whitewater tube trips, as well as full-day tube rentals starting at $32. River and Trail Outfitters has float trips and a climbing wall! Harpers Ferry Adventure Center runs trips as well.
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.
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 $24 per person.
Hadley, New York
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, if you’re feeling it!) 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. —Tiana Attride
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. 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.