Best Places to Float

Colette Goh | Travel

Blog >

Best Places to Float

Best Places to Float

Looking for the best place to push off and float down the river?

Lucky for you, we’ve researched some of the best tubing spots in the country. These floating rivers were chosen for different reasons and we’ve created travel guides for each of these spots so that you’re prepped and ready to enjoy some fun this summer. 

We cover the length of the float, access points, costs, transportation, risks, gear, and the best places to stay in that area. 

If you want to learn more about how to river float or the best tubes for floating, we also have you covered.

Read on for our guide on our recommended rivers to float this summer.

Guadalupe River, Texas

What It’s Known For: this long meandering river is a well-known party river in the summer. The New Braunfels section is the epicenter of floating and the most popular river to float down in Texas. 

Length of the Float

  • “The Horseshoe” is a popular tubing section of the river that takes 1-2 hours (depending on water levels) to float. It is a fun loop on the upper Guadalupe that begins and ends at two different sections of the Horseshoe Bridge as it crosses over the river. You can repeat it by walking back or continue to “The Chute,” a river channel that’s a few hundred yards long and bounces tubers over small whitewater rapids for a fun adventure
  • If you want to float longer, you can stay in the river past the Horseshoe Bridge. You can float up to 6 hours down the river

Get in and Get Out Points

  • The Horseshoe: get in point is on the North end of the Horsehoe Bridge. The get out point is right before the other end of the Bridge. 
  • Other routes: You can get in at the same access point as The Horseshoe. You can get out at several access points, however, it’s easiest to book a tour for a longer tube as they will arrange a shuttle and transport for you

Transportation & Costs

  • Driving: park only in designated areas as cars may be towed
  • Shuttles are available if you book with a touring company 
  • Cost: if you go with a tour it’s about $15-22 per person which includes shuttle and tube rental fees
  • If you want to float without a touring company, it’s recommended that you do so on the Horseshoe, a bend in the Guadalupe River where you can walk about 10 minutes from where it ends and do it all over again. If you want to float longer, use a local company for pick up and drop off.

Risks

  • Check out the Canyon Lake Release Level to confirm the river is open and safe. Flows between 250-350 Cubic Feet Per Second (CFS) are optimum, there’s less chance of hitting rocks. 350-550 CFS are above average and only recommended by experienced people who are confident swimmers. Flows between 150-250 CFS are low but you can still tube. Below 150, you will have to get out and walk when the water is too shallow 
  • No lifeguards so wearing a life vest or jacket is always recommended. Dogs are allowed, so please bring a doggy life jacket for them

Type of Floats & Gear

  • Floats: you can use tubes with or without bottoms
  • Footwear: aqua shoes, sandals with straps, or secure footwear like tennis shoes are required to protect your feet from sharp objects or rocks in the river. Flip-flops are NOT advised
  • Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses
  • Life jackets
  • DO NOT BRING glass containers, styrofoam or plastic water bottles or food in plastic wrapping as these are not allowed by law

Best Places to Stay

Merced River, California

What It’s Known For: a stunning 3-mile float of the river that goes through Yosemite National Park. Admire Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the ancient sequoia trees at a relaxing, leisurely pace. Note that floating is highly dependent on river levels. Typically it’s around the end of June to early August (the busiest time of year at the park). 

Length of the Float

  • Depending on the water levels, the float is around 2 hours. But budget at least 1 hour before and 1 hour after the trip to figure out parking and walking to the get in and get out points (total trip time around 4 hours)

Get in and Get Out Points

  • Yosemite recommends you float starting at Stoneman Bridge and get out at Sentinel Beach
  • You can stop at other beaches (sandy or rocky) but it’s requested you don’t disturb natural vegetation or enter roped-off areas around the riverbanks

Transportation & Costs

  • Park at Half Dome Village and buy a Travel Yosemite shuttle ticket ($5) to get from Sentinel Beach to your car after your float
  • Free public shuttles are available but you must check the stops and schedules with your get in and get-out points. Check the Yosemite website for the public shuttle schedules in case there are any changes
  • You can book a 4-person raft at the Curry Village Tour and Activities Kiosk. All raft rentals leave from Curry Village. A shuttle will pick you up at Sentinel Beach and return you back to Curry Village
  • Cost: $35-67
    • The cost of the raft tour is $30.50 per adult or child, plus a National Park entry fee $35 and a reservation for ($2)
    • You can bring your own raft for free however there is the cost of the National Park entry fee and reservation as mentioned above

Risks

  • Rafting is extremely dependent on river levels. The water must be lower than 7 ft at 8 am on Pohono Bridge. Here is the link to check out river level
  • Be aware of trees, branches, and rocks in the river 

Type of Floats & Gear

  • We recommend a raft, kayak, or tube with a bottom as the water is quite cold
  • Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses
  • Water shoes
  • Life jackets
  • Bring snacks and water - many people picnic at Sentinel Beach at the end of the float
  • DO NOT BRING glass containers 

Best Places to Stay

There are a variety of campground and hotel options in the towns surrounding the 5 entrances to Yosemite Park. 4 entrances are on the west side of the park, while the remote Tioga Pass Entrance is the eastern entrance. You may want to choose an entrance and place to stay based on where you’re driving from, or which attractions you want to see along the way. Below we’ve included places to stay based on the park entrance

  • The Hetch Hetchy Entrance:
    • This is the farthest north entrance of the western access points into the park, and it’s one of the park’s quieter areas. The Evergreen Lodge is a historic resort with modern amenities that’s only 1 mile from the entrance
  • Big Oak Flat Entrance:
    • Groveland is 24 miles from the entrance and is the largest town between the Park and Sonora. There’s a great live music scene in the summer, and the famous Iron Door Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon in California
  • Arch Rock Entrance: 
    • The closest town to Yosemite is El Portal. It has campgrounds and hotels available
    • Midpines is West of El Portal and is quiet and peaceful. The town is surrounded by the Sierra National Forest and is 25 miles from Yosemite Valley. There are cabins, hotels, and B&Bs as well as great swimming spots in Upper Bear Creek and fishing along the Merced River
  • South Entrance:
    • The closest town to this entrance is Fish Camp, a tiny town that has all options for lodging, including the Tenaya at Yosemite, a 350-room resort with rooms and private cabins 
  • Tioga Pass Entrance:
    • Lee Vining is a delightful little town of 200+ residents. There are no chains here, just locally-owned businesses, restaurants, and lodges 

Buffalo National River, Arkansas

What It’s Known For: explore America’s first national river in the beautiful Ozarks. Known for towering, water-stained bluffs, gravel bar campsites, and the highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians, this river offers white water rafting, tubing, fishing, and tons of camping options

Length of the Float

There are so many options for floats on the Buffalo. Floating season is March - June along the Buffalo River. However daily launch sites are determined by the season and water levels. For example, upper Buffalo is best in April and May, middle Buffalo (Tyler Bend Area) is best in June and July, and lower Buffalo (Buffalo Point) is great throughout the season. To float the whole river, plan your trip in March.

  • Depending on water levels, it would take 4-6 hours for an 8-10 mile floating trip (depending on how many stops you make and water levels
  • Boxley to Ponca: whitewater rapid route for experienced kayakers that takes roughly 2-3 hours 
  • Hasty to Carver: a peaceful 4-mile trip that takes 2-3 hours and is perfect for fishing
  • Mt. Hersey to Woolum: 4-hour route that provides tons of bluffs, pools, and shoals to explore along the way
  • You can also float the whole Buffalo River from top to bottom over roughly 7 days and camp on the shores of the river

Get in and Get Out Points

Depending on when you’re planning to go, check out the links below for float routes and get in and get out points. Note you can get in and get out from North or South River access points.

Transportation & Costs

  • Booking a local outfitter is the easiest and most fuss-free to float, especially if you’re visiting the area. You can rent gear and have transportation arranged for you. A few outfitters are Buffalo River Float Service and Wild Bill’s
    • Canoes $57-$65, Rafts $115-170, Tubes $8-12, Kayak $55-65
    • During busy season like Memorial Day or Saturdays in the Summer, you should reserve your canoe, kayak, or gear in advance. 
  • Cost: You can bring your own gear, and arrange your own pick-up for $0. To make it easier for yourself, you can still pay to use a shuttle service to make it easier for yourself ($8 / person)

Risks

  • Check river levels and water conditions when planning your trip 

Type of Floats & Gear

  • Kayaks, canoes, rafters, and tubes are all great ways to float the Buffalo. Choose the right float depending on how far you’re floating, how much gear you have, and how many people you’re going with. For example, tubes and rafts are great for short floats or day trips with larger groups. 
  • Life jackets are required by law 
  • Sun protection
  • Dry bags to protect your phone and gear
  • Snacks and drinks

Best Places to Stay

  • Cabins: there are a ton of cabin rentals in the Buffalo River region with different levels of luxury and amenities
  • Backcountry Camping: you can camp along the Buffalo River if you’re doing a multi-day float or adventure. Just remember to follow the rules and leave no trace! 
  • Campgrounds: if you’re looking to camp but have access to bathrooms, book a reservation at one of the campsites linked above

Deschutes River, Oregon

What It’s Known For: this popular river is the pride and joy of Bend, Oregon. Located close to downtown, it becomes a sea of bright rubber tubes on a hot summer day. Or if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience, you can follow the shallow section of the Deschutes that flows through Tumalo State Park. It’s perfect for tubing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The views include a desert shoreline and small rapids. Keep your eyes peeled as it’s an important wildlife habitat for eagles, otters, beaver, trout, and osprey. The Bend Whitewater Park is located near the Old Mill District. It features 3 separate man-made channels - the Whitewater Channel, the Fish Ladder, and the Habitat Channel. The central Whitewater channel is great for kayakers, surfers, and paddle boarders. Tubers will love the Fish Ladder channel for some beginner-friendly rapids. The Habitat Channel isn’t for people and is left to local wildlife.

Length of the Float

If you’re looking to float through Tumalo State Park there are a few options

  • A simple 1-1.5 hour long float from the Deschutes near the entrance of the park, to go through the outskirts of Tumalo and finish at the parking lot at Tumalo Road. 
  • Or you can float from Tumalo to Twin Bridges Road which takes roughly 2 - 2.5 hours

There are 3 float routes that go through downtown Bend, ranging from 75 minutes to 140 minutes. This is a great option for first-time tubers, families, or visitors to Bend.

  • Riverbend to McKay Park: a short but adventurous float of around 75-90 minutes where you have the option of riding the Fish Ladder rapids
  • McKay Park to Drake Park: a more peaceful 75 - 90 minute route that avoids the rapids by starting after the Whitewater Park
  • Riverbend Park to Drake: the long route that takes about 120- 140 minutes and starts at the South end of the river, passes through Old Mill District, and goes through the Whitewater Park

Get in and Get Out Points

  • For Tumalo Park floating: Get in at Tumalo State Park entrance. You can finish at the Tumalo Road overpass as the parking lot is nearby. Or you can continue until Twin Bridges. Make sure you get out there as there is a dangerous waterfall past this point
  • For downtown Bend floating, check out the detailed maps for Riverbend to McKay, McKay Park to Drake Park, and Riverbend Park to Drake routes. 

Transportation & Costs

For Tumalo State Park, you can park at the Park entrance or several parking lots along the river. 

  • There is a $5 park day use fees 

For downtown Bend, It’s recommended that you park at the locations recommended below and use the shuttles. Because of the popularity, shuttling your own vehicles will be difficult as there is limited parking. 

  • Park and Float: open in the summer (10 am - 7pm) and has free parking, gear rental services, and access to the river shuttle
  • You can also park at Riverbend Park, McKay Park, or Miller’s Landing Park. 
  • Schedules
    • Cost: $5 for Ride the River shuttle which starts end of June and ends on Labour Day. 
    • Shuttles leave every 15/20 mins from 11 am to 7 pm. 
    • You can reserve the shuttle

Risks

  • Asses the skill levels of participants before participating in any rapids

Type of Floats & Gear

  • Life jackets: free life jacket rentals are available at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe at their Park & Float location or at Riverbend Park
  • Sturdy shoes: you’ll have to navigate rocks and walk to get in and out of the river to reach shuttles/transportation
  • Use River Recreation tubes, not pool toys or low-quality tubes
  • Sun protection: sun glasses, sunscreen and hats

Best Places to Stay

  • Camping: you can camp at Tumalo State Park if you want to be right on the Deschutes River
  • Alternatively, there are a ton of accommodation options in downtown Bend

Latest Blogs

View all