Grab your tube or inflatable unicorn and float your way through summer on one of these laid-back rivers.
This summer, get in touch with your inner tuber and explore the many meandering waterways across the United States on beer-splashed flotilla parties, peaceful outdoor sojourns, and family-friendly adventures. Less intense than river rafting, but more active than sitting on a beach, tubing is a great way to relax and soak in the season. On these six laid-back routes, you can expect less of a log ride and more of a lazy river experience, so pack the essentials (water guns, koozies, a floating cooler, and bungee cords to strap your crew together), leave your phone behind (we dare you), and plunge into nature on a pumped-up tube.
San Marcos River
San Marcos, Texas
If you’re headed to the San Marcos River, you’ll want to bring one tube for you and one for your beer. Drinking alcohol is legal on the river, but not on its banks, so be sure to finish that Lone Star before you get out of the water (but take the empty can with you, of course). San Marcos is a lively college town, and on the weekends, students slip into the water to wash their worries away. Families love this river in the summertime, when the college crowds head home.
Hundreds of springs feed the river, which is an ancient pilgrimage site for Native American tribes like the Tonkawa and Coahuiltecan. (It is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the Americas: Archaeologists have unearthed stone weapons and mastodon bones near the river’s headwaters, which indicate that people were living here 12,000 years ago.) Today, many locals still believe that the waters have healing properties. You can tube the San Marcos River for more than 15 miles, although the most popular bit is the one-mile stretch between City Park and Rio Vista Park, which takes about an hour to float. Tube rentals and shuttles are easy to find; try the San Marcos Lion’s Club Tube Rental or Texas State Tubes in Martindale.
Van Buren, Missouri
Fancy a float coupled with a campout in the Ozarks? The gravel beaches along the languid, crystalline Current River are ideal for popping a tent. Half-day and full-day trips are also popular on this branch of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which is bordered by towering white bluffs and lush green trees. At The Landing River Store, you can arrange transportation from the parking lots at the end of the route to the put-in points upriver. You can also rent a fun variety of inflatable tubes, banana boats, rafts, and kayaks. Half-day tubing trips start at the Raftyard and last two to three hours; full-day floats start at Waymeyer and take five to six hours. Check out this handy float map to plan your route.
Lihue Plantation Canals
Glide along the irrigation channels of a former sugarcane plantation on this only-in-Kauai tubing trip. With short drops and a lively current, the canal system feels like a natural water park, but what makes it truly special are the numerous cave-like tunnels that cut right through mountains. Kauai Backcountry Adventures, the exclusive operator of this guided tour, provides helmets and headlamps. Tubing trips last about three hours, with one hour spent in the water. Afterward, you can unwind on the Lihue Plantation’s vast estate: Take a dip in a swimming hole, zip line over a jungle valley, or picnic beside a waterfall.
French Broad River
Asheville, North Carolina
Drift right through the middle of artsy Asheville on the French Broad River. More social than secluded, this eclectic and sunny strip boasts waterfront gastropubs and craft breweries with easy river access. Carry a cover-up or change of clothes in a dry bag so you can stop to nosh on chargrilled oysters at the shipping container restaurant Smoky Park Supper Club, grab a bucket of peanuts at The Wedge Brewery, or play lawn games by the bonfires at Bywater Bar. Many tubers splash in at the River Arts District, where you can sort out rides and rentals with French Broad Outfitters. Its tubing trips last two to three hours and cover four miles of the river. Bonus: Dogs are allowed on this river—just be sure to bring a life vest for your bestie.
Fort White, Florida
Nine gurgling springs feed this startlingly clear stream, which feels like an oasis of unspoiled, Old Florida magic. Fish jump, turtles bask on logs, and storks wade near the shoreline under sky-high oaks and pine trees. The water is always 72 degrees, and six full miles of the river are open for floating. Rent tubes in the Ichetucknee Springs State Park or from vendors right outside the park entrance. There’s a daily limit of 750 tubers on this pristine, protected waterway, so get to the North Canoe Launch early. You’ll float for three to four hours to the put-out point, where you can catch a tram back to the launch’s parking lot. (While tubing season on most rivers depends on weather and water level, tubing on the Ichetucknee River is allowed only from Memorial Day to Labor Day.)
Chill out with a low-key cruise on this shallow river full of mild currents and lined with peaceful beaches for pit-stops and picnics. Launch your tube at Steelhead Beach and plan to get out at Mother’s Beach (a three-hour trip) or Sunset Beach (a four-hour trip). You’ll need to arrange your own transportation, so roll out with a squad and park a car at your final destination, or take a rideshare or the Monte Rio Taxi back at the end of the day. Parking lots fill up quickly in the summer, so plan to put in around 10 a.m. Need tubes? Rent them at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville or buy your own at local outfitter King’s Sport & Tackle. Guerneville 5 and 10 also sells inflatables, and they’ll even blow them up for you. You’ll just have to figure out how to fit those giant, newly inflated doughnuts into your car afterward.