Travel

The Best Rivers in America for Tubing + Drinking

Nothing better than sipping brews in a giant rubber donut.

Comal Tubes
Comal Tubes
Comal Tubes

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.

Chad Wadsworth
Chad Wadsworth
Chad Wadsworth

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.

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
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.

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

Florida State Parks
Florida State Parks
Florida State Parks

Ichetucknee River

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.

Where to rent tubes: Ichetucknee Springs State Park runs a concession where you can rent tubes for as little as $6.

 James River

Scottsville, Virginia
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.

Where to rent tubes:  James River Runners offers 1-4 hour trips for $25 per person and $8 for a cooler tube. Reeling & Rafting offers the same prices, with departures every half hour on weekends.

Michelle Dimucci/EyeEm/getty images
Michelle Dimucci/EyeEm/getty images
Michelle Dimucci/EyeEm/getty images

Yampa River

Steamboat Springs, Colorado
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.

Chipola River

Marianna, Florida
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.

Landa Falls Tubing
Landa Falls Tubing
Landa Falls Tubing

Comal River 

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. 

Where to rent tubes: Texas Tubes, Comal Tubes, and Landa Falls will all rent you tubes with a shuttle ride for $20-25.

Guadalupe River

New 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.

Where to rent tubes: Rockin R, Tube Haus, and River Sports Tubes all offer rentals from about $15-20 per tube.

Tyson Gillard/courtesy of Outdoor Project
Tyson Gillard/courtesy of Outdoor Project
Tyson Gillard/courtesy of Outdoor Project

Snoqualmie River

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.

Truckee River

Reno, Nevada
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.

American River Raft Rentals
American River Raft Rentals
American River Raft Rentals

American River

Sacramento, California
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.

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
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!

Where to rent tubes:  Old Cove Canoe, despite the name, rents tubes for $15. Twin Rivers at Brookdale Farms also offers float trips at $31 a tube.

NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Niobrara River

Valentine, Nebraska
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

Where to rent tubes: Several local outfitters run daily float trips including Brewers Canoers, Outlaw Canoe, and Sharp’s Outfitters. Prices range from about $25-50.

Shenandoah River

Harpers 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.

Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock
Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock
Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock

Rainbow River

Dunnellon, Florida
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.

Where to rent tubes: Rainbow River Kayak rents tubes for $15, with a shuttle ride. Ditto for Ride and Tube.

Cape Fear River

Lillington, 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.

Sacandaga Outdoor Center
Sacandaga Outdoor Center
Sacandaga Outdoor Center

Sacandaga River

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

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
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.

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

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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