Water fun and summer go hand and hand, whether it’s wading through roadside creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains, rafting the icy waters of the Nantahala Gorge, or jumping into Georgia swimming holes, snorkeling pristine Florida springs, canoeing dark and twisted waterways of Mangrove swamps, or just trying to catch the perfect bass on the nearest river. Another family water sport that we all enjoy is shooting the rapids of the Chattahoochee River in Helen, Georgia in tubes. But the Chattahoochee River is not the only place to take the kids tubing; in fact, the Southeastern United States offers an array of tubing adventures for all of the family to enjoy.
River Tubing Adventures in the Southeastern United States
River Tubing is a way to unwind, enjoy nature and your fellow tubers.
Should You Use an Outfitter or Do-It-Yourself?
In all honesty, all you really need for a tubing adventure is a river with a current and a tube to float, right? Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn would surely agree. Something to float on and a river to carry you- the perfect summer. However, if you are on vacation, have limited time, (unlike Mark Twain’s fictional characters), or are just visiting for the day, sometimes it’s nice to put your worries and the long hike back to your car in professional outfitter hands. Also, choosing a tube trip as opposed to going solo is great if you don’t know the area or river. Whether you choose an outfitter trip, rent a tube for a day, or bring your own tube (BYOT?), be safe and have a great adventure!
Picking Your River
Not every river is fit for you or your kids. We’ve gone past families happily tubing down a muddy brown river and I was secretly horrified. Having been raised swimming around the crystal clear spring-fed waters of Florida, where you can see right down to the eel grass and sandy bottoms, dark water makes me nervous. My husband, who grew up splashing in swamps and swimming the tannin stained Withlacoochee, laughs at my fears. So check the river out before you commit to your trip, especially any lengthy ones. If you are not comfortable with the way the river looks, it may not be for you.
Another river warning: rivers rise and fall in accordance with the amount of rainfall. One fast ride down one river can be another shallow stumble later on the same river. We’ve had to stand and walk parts of the Chattahoochee because it was too shallow, and at other times zipped on through in record-breaking time. Outfitters cannot control the rivers, but the good guys will let you know what kind of ride you are in for before you rent their tubes! Don’t be afraid to ask either!
Handy Tips on Tubing with Children
Before you begin a family tubing adventure (or any family river adventure for that matter), know your child’s limits beforehand.
- Younger children do not do well on a 3 or more hour trip – most adults don’t fare so well either unless they are in good company! Consider the trip length first, or look for a shorter option.
- Once you are on the river, the current is your master and there is no going back- or stopping for a number two! Keep your child’s bladder abilities in mind before you embark or use swim diapers for youngsters if needed.
- Choose a short trip to start or to acclimatize your child for a wild river tube trip by making use of those lazy rivers in the water parks. LEGOLAND in Lakeland (formerly Cypress Gardens), was where our three year old got her first tubing taste. I have not listed any manmade lazy rivers or water parks, only natural rivers, but you will find plenty around.
- For younger children, they do make tubes with solid bottoms. These are good for adults too! Make use of these.
- Most tube companies will rent you a tether to lash your tubes together. Great for families with small kids. Unfortunately, on the smaller rivers, it causes congestion and you get stuck a lot. (Like on the Chattahoochee in Helen).
- Children are lightweight and will float faster than us heavier adults. Remember that before you unstrap your 5-year-old’s tube.
- PFD (Personal Flotation Device) a.k.a. life jackets are a must, and in a lot of places are required, some rivers by law for everyone and others as per age. If you doubt your swimming abilities in any way, wear one. It may look cool not to, but it’s not cool to drown either!
- Water shoes. (I heard my kids groan) Rocks are slippery, as we learned the hard way and flip flops float away. Bottom line- where is your river? Beautiful sandy bottoms on the Rainbow River may be okay for soft feet, but those rocks in North Carolina won’t be your friend! Buy your water shoes at home before your trip (or plan to stop at a store in a river town on your way) or you will end up paying triple the amount they are worth once you discover you need them at the river.
- You will get wet! Everyone will get wet! Even with those solid tube bottoms. I’ve gotten stuck on waterfalls and taken a tumble, and sometimes we’ve all just stopped for a swim en route. Wear swimsuits and bring a change of clothes in the car, along with dry towels and a plastic bags to hold the wet clothes after your adventure.
- If you MUST bring that phone, invest in a watertight container. They sell waterproof pouches & boxes for phones in sports stores or online(sometimes your car-keys can fit in them too). Remember that waterproof doesn’t necessarily mean submersible. If you need to take pics- bring a waterproof camera instead. Or choose to do a digital detox and enjoy the river.
- As always with kids, bring a bucketful of patience and a shovelful of humor.
Wildlife Encounters and Tubing
You will see a variety of wildlife- in some rivers in abundance, others not so much: fish, otters, Limpkins, Anhinga Birds, Cormorants, even the occasional alligator (Florida) & if you are very lucky, a manatee (Florida). Know that you are not in a theme park and you are a visitor in their home. Be respectful and keep your distance. If you are curious about wildlife inhabiting the local river, ask your outfitter before you set out.
- Avoid the wildlife when possible. They are wild. Take the old-school museum approach- look, admire the beauty, but don’t touch.
- Baby gators only mean that there is a giant momma gator somewhere close.
- Otters may look cute, but they bite.
- Watch hanging branches over the river for two reasons: snakes like to hang out on them and wasps build their nests in them. Seen & encountered them both in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.
- Stay out of the weeds! Gators and snakes like to hide in the weeds and floating islands of grass (probably to get away from us tubers!). Stick to the middle of the run. Need I say more?
- Snakes also occasionally hide under rocks in rivers- don’t know how, but they do. Just be aware that you are in the wild.
- And for those Homo sapiens, you may encounter- your river trip may be passing through their backyard. They do not want you to stop on their lawn, hang on their newly refinished dock and no, they will not let you use their toilet. Or their phone. Just wave and float on by.
Family River Tubing Trips
Tubing in Florida
- Blue Spring State Park, Orange City. A 1/8 mile run, this is a shorter tube run. Great for impatient kids. Being a state park, you can run back to the beginning and put in again as many times as your heart desires. Bring your own or rent tubes from the park’s concessionaire. Park fills up fast. Get there early. Camping permitted (with reservation- see their website). $6 per vehicle (2-8 people). Tube rentals extra. 2100 W. French Avenue, Orange City, FL 32763
- Kelly Park/Rock Springs Run: This county park in Apopka (near Orlando) is notorious for filling up FAST! Get there early or camp in the park. Tube rentals are available outside the park or bring your own for this short run, but popular run and go around as many times as you want. $3 per vehicle (1-2 people) or $5 per vehicle (3-8 people). 400 E Kelly Park Rd, Apopka, FL 32712
- Rainbow Springs State Park. The tubing entrance to the river is actually on the local high school road, not in the State Park headsprings. Go figure. But May 30th to September 5th, tubing is open all week, with a shuttle back to your car. Parking $5. Tram and tube trip $15. $2 key hold. The trip costs the same if you bring your own tube. 2-hour run. Nature Quest runs the State Park tube trip. 10830 180th Ave Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432.
- KP Hole. Another Dunnellon entrance to the Rainbow River, it’s a four-hour float from their swimming hole park on the river, with a shuttle to bring you back from the exit at Blue Run Park. April 1st-Sept. 30th. Last tube rented by 12:45 and kids under 3 not allowed on this 4-hour float. Park fee: $5 per person. Tube & shuttle back: $20 per person (includes park fee). Bring your own tube options available. 9435 SW 190th Ave Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432
- Ginnie Springs Park. A privately owned park in High Springs offers an hour tube run from Devils Spring to Twin Springs with a 15-minute walk back. Day park use: 8 am – 1/2 hour before sunset. Adults $14.02; Kids $3.73. Tube rentals available in the park or bring your own. Primitive camping sites available on first-come, first-serve basis. 5000 NE 60th Ave, High Springs, FL 32643
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Tube launches range from the north launch point (only in Summer Season) or the 1.5-hour float from the mid-point launch (Year-round). Check out their details here. Tube Rentals now available in the park! Starting at $5. Parking $6 per vehicle. 12087 SW U.S. Highway 27 Fort White, FL 32038. The park charges an additional $7 +tax per person to use the tube shuttle to get back.
- Blackwater River, Florida Panhandle. Take the 3.5- 4-hour float down 4 miles of Cold Water Creek. Rentals with shuttle back starts at $22 with Outdoor Adventures Outfitters at 8974 Tomahawk Landing Road, Milton FL, 32570
Tubing in Georgia
- Chestatee River. Just before the turn up the mountain to Dahlonega, the river runs- and so do the tubers on a 30-45 minute float at Canoe Georgia. Memorial Day to Labor Day 10-4. Take a shuttle to the start point, float and walk back to launch point to go again. $6 tube and 1 shuttle trip with Canoe Georgia at 2084 S. Chestatee/Hwy 60, Dahlonega, GA 30533
- Chattahoochee River. Helen. A family favorite. We’ve been using the pink as when we started our Chattahoochee tradition, our little girl was in her pink princess phase. We’ve kept up the tradition ever since. Helen Tubing & Water Park (pink tubes) $ 5 trip with a shuttle back. Water Park extra. Combo ticket options available. 9917 HWY 75, North Helen, GA 30545. Cool River Tubing (green tubes) $8 single trip & $12 all day long all with shuttle. Short & long trips (1 hr or 2 hr) available (same price though!) Adventure Park extra. Combo ticket options available. 112 Poplar Stump Rd, Helen, GA 30545
- Toccoa River. Tube the Toccoa in North Georgia with the Rolling Thunder River Company. Choose 1.5 or 3-mile floats. River adventure speeds change as per water release days. Children under 5 years old not allowed and no flip-flops. 20 Huges St. McCaysville, GA 30555.
Tubing in North Carolina
- Oconaluftee River. Take a 2 mile- 2-hour tube trip through the Cherokee Nation with Cherokee Rapids. Memorial Day to Labor Day. Choose between easy family float (younger kids) and up river rapids. $10 per person, including tube rental & shuttle back. 10.30 to 5.30. Cherokee Rapids is located at 1681 Acquoni Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719
- French Broad River. 2-3 hour float on the French Broad River with the Headwaters Outfitters. Life jackets must be worn. $20 per person for tube rental, life jacket & shuttle. April, May, Sept & Oct. Reservations required. Headwaters Outfitters can be found at 25 Parkway Rd, Rosman, NC 28772
- Downtown Asheville. Float the downtown part of the French Broad River through the Biltmore Estate and River Arts District with French Broad Outfitters. The 4-mile float takes 2 to 3 hours. $20 per person for tube rental & shuttle. Bring Your Own Tube options also available. French Broad Outfitters is located at 704 Riverside Drive, Asheville, NC
- Explore the Green River, Saluda. 1 to 2-hour trips $10 or 3 to 4-hour trips $15. Prices for tube rental and shuttle with NC Tubing. Must be 42 inches or taller. Memorial Day to Labor Day. Wilderness Cove Tubing & Canoeing Outfitters. 3772 Green River Cove Rd, Saluda, NC 28773. Check their website for float times and dates.
- Deep Creek. Bryson City. This is tubing in the actual Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Unfortunately, the Park doesn’t rent tubes, so you have to bring in your own. Choose from many area outfitters to rent a tube- or bring your own and drive up to Deep Creek for the 1-mile river adventure**. Fast rapids & falls on the upper river (not for everyone). The lower half is wider and calmer. Check out Deep Creek Camping & Tube Rentals for $6 tube rentals at 1401 West Deep Creek Road, Bryson City, NC 28713. **Tubing on the upper section of this Deep Creek run is rough & not for everyone.
Tubing in Tennessee
- Tubing in the Smoky Mountains on Little River**. Townsend. May 15th- Labor Day. Upper rapids and swimming hole and lower family friendly river adventures. $15 adults; $12 children ages 6-12; 5 and under free. Includes tube & shuttle. All day tubing. As many trips as you desire with Smoky Mountain River Rat. Whitewater Rafting package options available. 205 Wears Valley Road, Townsend, TN 37882
- Little River. Townsend. $9 per person for tubing on the Little River** with Cowboy Tubing. Fee includes tube rental & shuttle for all day. 8351 TN-73, Townsend, TN 37882.
**Be forewarned that depending on the water levels, tubing on the Little River can be rough, rocky & is not for everyone.
Disclaimer: The Adventures of Mom is not affiliated with any outfitter links listed in this list. Be safe. Be smart. You are dealing with the natural forces of nature and safety should be your & your outfitter’s priority. Don’t put yourself or your children at risk. Use your PFDs and your common sense when involving yourself and your children on any river adventure. Know your limits and your child’s limits.
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