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The Best River Float Destinations in the USA

Posted by Harry Stewart on
Yosemite Merced River Float Tubing USA Destinations

Summer is a-comin.'

Come to think of it; it’s already here, so now you’ve got no excuse to stay cooped up at home. Get out there and make the most of this beautiful balmy weather, dammit.  

But let’s face it, hiking and camping are pretty hard work. Why not kick the summer off with a more relaxed outdoor pursuit instead?

Of course, few things in life are as laidback as gently floating along one of our country’s picturesque waterways, preferably with your besties in tow and an ice-cold brewski in hand.

The time is nigh. Get your crew together, pick up a cooler and a case, and watch all your worries float away downstream.

What to know before you go

River floating – A.K.A tubing depending on the vessel involved – is not exactly an extreme pastime so we’ll keep this section short and sweet.

  • Standard swimming attire is the norm. Chuck on whatever makes you feel sexy on the day.
  • Appropriate footwear is important. Give those flip flops a miss because they’ll just float off downstream. Instead, water shoes or river sandals are ideal, although an old pair of trainers will do in a pinch.
  • Out on the river, shit gets lost all the time. Keep those brand new Ray Bans on a leash and pack all your valuables in a waterproof bag that’s tightly fastened to your torso.
  • Tiresome regulations exist across all our rivers and vary from place to place. As a general rule, use a cooler with a sealable lid and avoid glass bottles and Styrofoam.
  • Float and tube hire is available almost everywhere, but consider bringing your own to stand out from the crowd.
  • Naturally, Chillbo’s superfly nylon raft, Don Poolio, is about as fresh as they come. With a comfy design and an array of outrageous patterns to choose from, you’ll be the most envied drifter on the river.

That’s all well and good, but where should you go? No stress. Chillbo has got you covered.

The Ichetucknee River, Florida

River float destinations are a dime a dozen in Florida, hardly surprising due to the states' countless pristine waterways and permanent stifling weather. The cream of the crop, however, is the crystal clear Ichetucknee which cuts through the lush Ichetucknee Springs State Park.

The most frequented six-mile-long stretch takes a modest 90 minutes to complete, although there’s no reason not to do it again and again. Some sections are pretty narrow, meaning your trusty watercraft mustn't span more than five feet to avoid getting stuck.

Bird nerds will want to keep an eye out for avian life seeing as the river is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park River Float USA Summer

The clear turquoise waters of the Ichetucknee River, FL | © Walter / Flickr

The San Marcos River, Texas

Keen for a river float experience with a strong social (boozy) element? Then the San Macros River is the obvious choice in Texas due to its prime location just a hop and a skip away from both San Antonio and Austin.

Popular with a youthful and exuberant crowd, it gets pretty rowdy on weekends and holidays so steer clear if that ain’t your thang. If it is, then the three-hour run just outside the town of the same name offers some of the most sociable river floating action in the state.

The Portneuf River, Idaho

The Portneuf River is the place to go in Idaho; a snow-melt fed stream which runs right through the heart of the sleepy town of Hot Springs.

Can’t make it this summer? No problem, because the best action takes place during the freezing winter months. At the annual Fire and Ice Winterfest, brave (crazy) revelers don outrageous outfits as they float between its snowclad riverbanks before finally plunging into the town’s hot springs to stave off hypothermia.

Come to think of it. Best go there in summer.

The Portneuf River, Idaho, USA, Best River Float

Taking a break at the Portneuf River (during summer) | © Edgar Zuniga Jr. / Flickr

The Trinity River, Texas

Texans looking to mix their buoyant weekend escapade with a bit of live music should mosey on down to Rockin’ on the River just outside of Houston.

Every Saturday afternoon in July, an eclectic mix of talented local musos bang out their best tunes to an army of floating revelers, most of whom stick around to watch the grand finale which entails an epic fireworks display.

The Merced River, California

For an awesome alternative viewpoint of the world famous Yosemite, jump on a float at Half Dome Village to drift down a gentle section of the Merced River. Half Dome itself is the obvious highlight of the three-mile course, but you can expect to enjoy plenty of spectacular landscapes of tall pine trees and towering mountains along the way.

River floating is only allowed under strict climatic conditions so check ahead with the park office to avoid disappointment.

The Merced River, California, USA, River Float Destination

Drifting down the stunning Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA | © Rennett Stowe / Flickr 

The Delaware River, New Jersey / Pennsylvania

Tubing the Delaware River near the tiny town of Milford attracts stacks of nature lovers from New York to Philadelphia and everywhere in-between. Wedged amid a multitude of populous urban areas, these lush leafy surrounds offer the perfect weekend escape for stressed-out city dwellers.

The Arkansas River, Colorado

Colorado’s mighty Arkansas River is known far and wide for having some of the best white-water rapids in the country, which is clearly not ideal for those of us just after a lazy afternoon float. With that in mind, come towards the end of summer when the rapids slow to a trickle to enjoy these stunning mountainous surroundings without the fear of impending doom. 

Keen to kick on? The outdoorsy hub town of Salidas has plenty of happening bars and bistros to indulge in after a long day on the river. Better yet, legal weed means dispensaries can be found right throughout the state.

The Arkansas River, Colorado, USA, Best River Float Destinations in America

Flowing rapids on the mighty Arkansas River, CO | © Bureau of Land Management / Flickr

The Middle Loup River, Nebraska

After a different kind of river float experience? Then head to the Middle Loup River in Nebraska to get tanked. We’re not talking about being inebriated – although that is an option too – but rather a series of lofty steel stock tanks that are normally used to feed cattle. These buoyant giant cans are roomy enough for six and come fitted with oars so you and your buddies can navigate your way downriver with ease.

The Yakima River, Washington State

Float enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest should check out the chilly Yakima River in Washington State, specifically the section that runs between Yakima and Ellensburg. One for the more adventurous types, expect to pass through deep canyons and negotiate strong currents along the two to four-hour route – best lay off the booze.

Those after an additional adrenaline hit could try their hand at a few cliff jumps en-route. Just be sure the water is deep enough to avoid taking an ambulance home.

Yakima River, Washington State tubing destinations USA

A cruisy section of the unforgiving Yakima River, WA | © Robert Ashworth / Flickr

The James River, Virginia

Oenophiles (or wine lovers for us laymen) would love a trip down the James River, an idyllic outdoor excursion that combines ample vino with the usual river float action.

Most enter the water at the sleepy riverside town of Scottsdale for an easy four-hour cruise before hitting up Virginia’s finest vineyards for a tasting session or two.


With all these groovy river float destinations and more to choose from, all that’s left to do now is grab your Don Poolio and make a beeline for the nearest waterway. Aye Aye, capin!

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