Grab the pool noodles, the floaties, a cooler, and some friends.
There’s nothing that says “summer” quite like grabbing a few inner tubes, a cooler (or two!), and some friends and family for a sunny and relaxing afternoon trip down the river. Across the U.S., there are seemingly countless spots to enjoy time spent on the water encountering some special sights that could otherwise not be spied from ashore. But here are 13 of the best spots for a classic American River float (with no need for a boat!).
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WHERE: Grand Junction, Colorado
Floating down the Colorado River in Grand Junction, Colorado, offers quite a scenic ride. Rafters can enjoy a relaxing, calm float all the way along the river until they would reach the state lines of Utah. There’s the opportunity to either “BYOR”—Bring Your Own Raft—or plan a guided excursion with Grand Junction Adventures, which offers guests the chance to choose between rafting, paddle boarding, or kayaking on a 1/4, 1/2, or full-day float. No matter what mode of water transportation down the river is desired, there’s no wrong way to relish in time spent out on the river soaking up the high desert sunshine.
WHERE: Pennsylvania and New York
The 330-mile-long Delaware River splice through the border of Pennsylvania and New York, separating these two states and flowing south through New Jersey and Delaware before eventually emptying into the Delaware Bay. There are plenty of public boat ramps along the river to start the float to any destination. Rafters can bring their own equipment and start and stop anywhere they’d like or get a bit of help from a variety of specialized businesses. In the Catskills, Lander’s River Trips offers packages for floaters to spend a day enjoying all of the river’s adventures with tubes and rafts for rent. And those who are seeking a more organized trip can visit Kittatinny for bookable river trips that include one-way transportation and fun add-ons like floating coolers available for purchase. Over in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Bucks County River Country floaters can sign up to rent single or two-person tubes.
WHERE: Richmond and Scottsville, Virginia
The James River in Virginia is a perfect spot for a Classic American River Float Session. It’s the longest river in Virginia, flowing from the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Chesapeake Bay. Many major cities sit right along the water’s edge making it a convenient place to access and create a customized day float itinerary without having to book an organized tour. Some locations on the upper James feature scenic mountainous sights from Scottsville to Charlottesville, but the waterway also flows through the eclectic mix of untouched nature and urban scenery in Virginia’s capital, Richmond. Those who want an organized experience can book a float with companies like Riverside Outfitters, and those who have their own raft can put it in at Huguenot Flatwater and take it out at Reedy Creek to experience a mostly shallow, meandering flatwater path with plenty of local wildlife to spy.
WHERE: Santa Rosa, California
For more than a century, travelers have forged to the Russian River near Santa Rosa for a swim, paddle, float, wine tasting, or other warm weather outdoor adventure activity. The Russian River winds its way through the lush geography of Wine Country in Northern California, creating a special route with mildly moving water, nature, and the towns along the way that are both large and small, lining the banks for a break. Float down the water at a leisurely pace and spot some wildlife, or embark on a more active affair with kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. If the timing is right, those who are lucky can even embark on a bioluminescent kayaking adventure at sunset. It’s a truly special spot for floating before toasting with a glass of wine in downtown Santa Rosa or at one of the local wineries to celebrate a day well spent.
WHERE: Mesa, Arizona
Floating the waters of the Lower Salt River in Arizona is a fantastic way to stay cool on a hot summer day. Take in the picturesque backdrop of vibrant desert terrain and towering rocky red cliffs. Visitors can go tubing and even have the rare chance to spot wild horses. The best segment to float is located in the Tonto National Forest, which is easily explorable with the purchase of an $8 recreational day pass. Stop at Arizona Salt River Tubing, which is open seven days a week from May to September, to pay $21 per person cost for a tube rental, shuttle bus service back to the parking lot, and a parking spot. Those who want a more organized experience can stop at REI Co-Op Experiences, which offers guided tours as well as equipment for the guests who want to float at their leisure.
The Guadalupe River is one of Texas’ most notable floating destinations flowing down south until it meets the Gulf and offers several different access spots to float. “The Horseshoe,” is a loop float on the upper Guadalupe, “The Chute” is a tube chute style ride that’s a few hundred yards long, and “Around Gruene,” has spots with small rapids that can be a wild ride depending on the water level. In the summertime, those who want to add excitement to their water play can attend Float Fest—a bucket list music festival experience on the river that takes place in July in Gonzales with a star-studded lineup of music artists. A few hours north, in Fort Worth, there’s also the free Rockin’ The River festival each Saturday from July to mid-August—best enjoyed from an innertube with sights and sounds of the waterfront stage right on the Trinity River.
WHERE: Portland, Oregon
Although the Pacific Northwest is traditionally associated with water in the sky, Portland, Oregon, is not unfamiliar with summertime nature-filled activities—including river floating (there’s even a yearly summer event to celebrate!). When the heat of the summer arrives in the City of Roses, families and friends of all ages flock to the scenic Willamette River to float the day away. This body of water runs straight through Portland, which means travelers and locals on innertubes, kayaks, and SUPs can see the city from a whole different perspective before hitting the town and checking out the fantastic bars, brews, and restaurants.
WHERE: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
The Portneuf River, located in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, hosts a mix of a lazy river and thrilling white-water (but manageable!) rapids to explore. This river has won awards for being the “best tubing river in America,” which is no surprise as there are multiple outfitters that rent out tubes ranging from solo, double, triple, and even quad tubes. Floaters can rent their equipment by the hour or by the day, depending on what kind of experience they’re looking for. There are shuttles to take floaters back to the starting point before finishing the day next door to the Lava Hot Springs Swimming Pool and Water Park for a relaxing end to the adventure.
Eau Claire River
WHERE: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Eau Claire River, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and its slow-moving river can be a perfect relaxation opportunity to float, hosting many different starting and landing spots. One of the most popular tube launch points is Phoenix Park, right at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers in downtown Eau Claire. A solid designated spot for getting out of the water is Hobb’s Landing. This roughly 45-minute waterway experience offers an alternative perspective of the city, including the sights of the UW-Eau Claire campus. Stop by Loopy’s Bar and Grill, a tiki bar and restaurant located on the banks of the Chippewa River, to rent out a variety of tube rentals. Loopy’s also offers shuttle services for those embarking on a 1.5- 3 hour tubing session, and ample tasty food to refuel.
WHERE: Spokane, Washington
In Spokane, Washington, the Spokane Riverkeeper (the group that takes special care to ensure the waters are pristine!) actually encourages people to float the waters and enjoy the town’s ample outdoor offerings. This river float stands out for its close proximity—there’s no need to drive an hour to find these refreshing river waters. Floaters can “put in” at Redband Park in Peaceful Valley, right in the heart of downtown Spokane. It’s an easy and peaceful ride—floaters will soon forget they’re weaving through an urban area. Floaters can even enjoy the opportunity to encounter wildlife, including blue heron, osprey, bald eagles, and for those who are super lucky: moose!
WHERE: Bryson City, North Carolina
Floating through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Deep Creek in Bryson City, North Carolina, offers adventurists the chance to enjoy cool, calm waters and idyllic scenery. Multiple tubing companies operate from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day to help take tubers past waterfalls and to swimming holes for a truly memorable experience of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along the way, there are campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails to stop and soak in the sights while appreciating the summertime fun in this scenic spot.
WHERE: Saco, Maine
Saco River in Maine is known for its crystal clear waters and sandy bottom—it’s an ideal day trip for floaters to enjoy a 1-3 hour journey along slow-moving waters with an average depth of three feet. It’s an unspoken rule that there’s a competition for floaters to arrive with the wackiest and most creative inflatable floats (think enormous unicorns) while sharing music and snacks and playing water games. There are plenty of spots along the river to stop for a break, stretch the legs, play frisbee, or grab a snack. Along the way, spy the tree-lined riverbanks, which offer several rope swings to encourage some good old-fashioned summer playtime. Visitors can come with their own equipment or rent at spots like the Saco River Tubing Center, which provides tubes with a backrest and cup holder, shuttle service, lifevest, and parking.
Amerson River Park on the Ocmulgee River
WHERE: Macon, Georgia
In Macon, Georgia, Amerson River Park hosts 180 acres of lush forests, scenic meadows, and lively wetlands surrounded by a river oxbow and a 2-mile float. Beginning from the Jay Hall Memorial Canoe Launch and floating all the way to the Bragg Jam Canoe and Tube Takeout on the Ocmulgee River, this is a top spot to easily relax and enjoy a sunny summertime adventure. Amerson Park is actually the beginning of the “Ocmulgee River Water Trail,” a 200-mile section of the river that ends at the confluence of the Oconee River, where it becomes the Altamaha. So, whether exploring via tube, kayak, or canoe, floating along this waterway makes a fantastic opportunity to cool down and spot some picturesque sights.