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What Is River Tubing?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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River tubing is an outdoor sport in which people ride innertubes or inflated disks down a river. Depending on the conditions at the river, tubing can be a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, or it can be an invigorating adventure. Many companies offer river tubing services to visitors who are interested, and it is also possible to purchase the necessary supplies for private tubing expeditions. On a gentle river, this sport is suitable for people of a wide range of ages and physical abilities, and it can be a great vacation activity for people traveling with children.

In a typical tubing trip, people wear swimsuits or other gear that can be comfortably worn in the water, and some people also don life jackets for additional safety. The tubes are launched in the water, and then people mount up and start floating. Single and double tubes are available, with single tubes generally being easier to control. Once launched, the tubes will freely float down the river, with the tubers eventually choosing a spot to land.

In addition to free floating river tubing, in which people drift with the current, it is also possible to find companies which offer towed tubing. In both cases, the tubes may take the form of donut-shaped innertubes, or tubing rafts, disks with raised edges which are designed for comfort. For safety reasons, glass, metal, and sharp objects should not be worn in and around tubes, as a puncture could result in an accident. Many tubing companies also discourage the use of alcohol and drugs prior to tubing trips, since being alert is critical for safety.

For tubers who enjoy more control over their tubing experiences, it is possible to find tubing parks, with controlled flows of water. Tubing parks can be a better choice for small children, elderly adults, or people with physical disabilities, because they are much safer than rivers. Some water parks also allow tubing in some of their pools and slides, along with tube rental, for people who do not want to bring their own tubes.

Like other water activities, river tubing does carry some risks. Tubes occasionally flip, and people sometimes fall out of their tubes as they travel over rapids and through rough patches. Wearing a life jacket is recommended, as is knowing how to swim, and tubing with a partner is always a good idea, in case there is an accident. Tubers should also make sure to arrange transportation from their landing stage, as river tubing is usually a one way trip.

Watersports that Don't Require an Ocean

River Tubing

Tubing is a fun and low-effort way to enjoy being on a river. River tubes are larger and sturdier than the typical inflatable tubes sold for use in swimming pools. Generally, you rent your tube from a company that may or may not provide transportation to and from the entry and exit points. Then you settle into your tube and float away. Tubing usually takes place on a section of the river where the current is strong enough to keep you going without your having to paddle, but not so strong that you risk losing control or being turned over. While you can’t avoid getting a little wet, you don’t have to submerge yourself entirely unless you want to. If you’re looking for a more invigorating experience, some companies tow tubes behind motorboats, and some water parks offer dedicated tubing sections with a controlled but fast flow.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting is the more active and higher adrenaline cousin to tubing. (The “white” refers to the foamy air bubbles generated by turbulence as the water passes over uneven elevations.) You sit in a sturdy inflatable raft, usually with other rafters, and transverse sections of the river that are faster flowing and have more drops than you’d typically experience with tubing. You also have a paddle that you use to keep yourself on track and prevent the raft from getting stuck.

Rapids are formerly ranked as Classes I through VII. If you’re a beginner, you’ll almost certainly start out on a Class I section with a professional guide who talks you through the process and helps to steer the raft. As you gain more experience, you can start to tackle faster and more difficult waters, though anything higher than Class III is best left to rafters with extensive experience and training.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

While the idea of snorkeling and scuba diving might bring to mind images of sea turtles and coral reefs, there are plenty of inland opportunities to see beneath the surface. Manatees, for example, are often found in Florida rivers, while human-made lakes sometimes act as time capsules for the abandoned buildings on the bottom.

Snorkeling is a leisurely way to view the underwater world without having to dive deep or train with specialized equipment, and it’s easy to get into with just a bit of practice and basic swimming ability. A mask protects your eyes and allows you to look into the depths, while the snorkel itself is simply a tube that you hold in your mouth while keeping the other end above the water so that you’re able to breathe while keeping your face submerged. Fins that strap onto your feet allow you to propel yourself farther with less effort than unmodified swimming, but they aren’t strictly necessary.

Scuba diving allows you to go much deeper into the water but requires specific training that includes classroom learning, practicing in a swimming pool or other controlled environment, and supervised dives. Some companies offer half- or full-day courses that teach you the basics and allow you to participate in a supervised dive without attaining full certification. Because you carry your own tank of oxygen, scuba diving allows you to stay underwater for 30 to 60 minutes at a time depending on how deep you go (recreational divers usually go no deeper than 40 feet.)


Canoeing is a great way to experience the water at a slower pace while still getting some exercise. A canoe is a lightweight open boat that’s propelled by one or two people using simple paddles. The paddling technique is quick and easy to learn, and you’re unlikely to tip over unless you get too rowdy. You can choose to cover as much distance as possible, or simply paddle out to mid-pond and drift around, even have a picnic! Many public, state, and national parks offer canoe rentals, as do private companies. In Maine, you can even book a moose-watching tour that includes canoeing with professional guides.

Water Skiing

Water skilling is a fast-paced thrill that’s surprisingly accessible to beginners (as long as you have some basic muscle strength and balancing ability). You strap your feet into skis and hold onto a specially designed tow rope that’s pulled by a motorboat. You’ll typically get up to around 30 miles per hour. While you can learn by trial and error with help from an experienced water skier, you can also take formal lessons. Regardless of how you learn, make sure you understand proper safety precautions and emergency signals.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon40336 — On Aug 07, 2009

Does anyone know where to purchase inner tubes in the Denver metro area?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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