Water skiing is great and freshwater fishing is fun, but most Texans know there’s no better way to beat the heat than floating the river in an innertube. There are dozens of rivers in Texas that provide awesome tubing opportunities, so choosing the right one is basically a matter of deciding what kind of experience you want.
When it comes to tubing in Texas, the Guadalupe is the gold standard. Its waters are absolutely crystal clear, with long stretches of leisurely floating occasionally punctuated by faster-paced surges. There are plenty of drop/pickup points around San Antonio, San Marcos, and New Braunfels, so you can spend as much (or as little) time on the Guadalupe as you want. There are also plenty of cabins and campsites along the water for those who want to combine a little camping with their tubing. The Guadalupe River is dam-controlled, so it may be low or completely dry at times. Make sure you check the river levels before you set out.
San Marcos River
The San Marcos River (as you might expect) winds through the city of San Marcos. One of the river’s bends lies about thirty miles south of Austin, making it a popular daytrip destination for college-aged and young adult tubers from Texas State University *and* the University of Texas. Like the Guadalupe, the San Marcos is known for its clear blue waters. Unlike the Guadalupe, it never runs dry.
The 3-mile float along the Comal River offers a beautiful stretch of scenery, with massive oak trees along the bank providing ample shade. There are also several sandbars along the way where tubers often stop for a picnic or a swim. The river feeds the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, making it a popular daytrip spot for vacationing families.
The Trinity River is a popular tubing destination in the DFW area, with more of a party atmosphere than the others. The Panther Island Pavilion (a waterfront venue) hosts Rockin’ the River, a series of all-day river parties featuring live music, refreshments, and fireworks.
The beautiful Brazos River is located far from any major metropolitan areas in Texas, making it the least-crowded float on this list. Not that it’s completely isolated—the town of Caddo is nearby, as is Possum Kingdom State Park. For the most part, a trip down the Brazos is a quiet and relaxed affair. However, the pace may occasionally pick up as rainfall leads to quicker currents. Most tubing aficionados agree that mid-summer is the best time for tubing on the Brazos, since the water levels tend to run a bit lower as autumn approaches.
What to Expect When River Tubing in Texas
If you’ve never floated a Texas river before, your best bet is to contact an outfitter. You *can* try it on your own, but the logistics of exiting the river and schlepping your tube back to where you started can be exhausting. An outfitter will drop you off, pick you up, and take you back to your vehicle.
Floats generally take from one to four hours, depending on the river and the outfitter. You’ll need a tube for each person in your group, as well as a tube for the cooler containing your snacks and drink. This tube will be tied to at least one other person’s to prevent it from being swept away.
Tubing—unlike canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting—is a relaxing and leisurely pastime. Most of the time, you’ll simply drift along, soaking up some sun as you take in the scenery. That said, you may *occasionally* encounter faster currents, rapids, and rocks. However, these can usually be navigated fairly easily.
Here are some quick tips to make sure your Texas tubing trip is safe and enjoyable.
Protect yourself from the sun. Bring plenty of sunscreen. If you’re prone to sunburns, you might also consider a hat and a pair of *cheap* sunglasses (see #3 below). To avoid dehydration, you should also bring along plenty of water.
Avoid using a black innertube, as they get really hot in the sun.
If you don’t want to lose something, don’t bring it. If you absolutely must bring your wallet, phone, car keys, etc. along with you, make sure you keep them in a waterproof container that you can hang around your neck or tie to your bathing suit.
Invest in some water shoes or sports sandals. The river beds can be rocky and unforgiving, so you’ll want something on your feet that’s comfortable, water-resistant, and won’t fall off (which rules out flip flops).
It is legal to consume alcohol while on the river, but it is illegal to publicly consume or display alcohol in a state park. Since some rivers wind through state parks, this can make it tricky if you’ve got your heart set on enjoying an adult beverage while tubing. If you’re not sure what the rules are for your particular stretch of river, check with your outfitter.
When packing drinks and snacks, make sure you’re aware of the rules on the river. Most Texas rivers prohibit glass and Styrofoam containers. A few (such as the Comal River) have go so far as to institute a “can ban,” which outlaws any disposable containers (including cans, food packaging, and wrappers). When in doubt, pack your drinks and snacks in reusable containers.
And finally, although it goes without saying, we’re going to say it anyway. Don’t litter! Bring along a plastic trash bag to collect your garbage and throw it away once you’re out of the river.