Could there be a more quintessential summer activity than floating down a cool river on a hot day in an inner tube? It’s one of the first things my mind goes to when I think of the best ways to waste a 90 degree day in August—grab your friends, inflate some inner tubes, secure a cooler with some snacks and beer, slather on the sunscreen and get out there! Here are seven great options for tubing in Oregon.
Seven Best Rivers to Float in Oregon
The Clackamas River is a very popular destination for tubing since it’s so close to the Portland metro area. The busiest tubing route on the Clackamas is from Barton to Carver Park which will take you 3 to 4 hours to complete. Be forewarned this can be incredibly packed, especially on a hot weekend. And, it may not be as family-friendly as you might like (some people can take their drinking a little too far if you know what I mean). That said, if you’re able to go mid-week, you should be in the clear.
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If you’re willing to drive a little farther and pay a $5 day use fee, another great option is to put in at McIver Park and float down to Barton but this will take slightly longer, 4 to 5 hours.
The Sandy River is also a great option for those coming from the Portland area since it’s just under 30 minutes to get there from the city. The best route for tubing down the Sandy is to start at Dabney State Park and float down to Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site. Depending on how fast the river is flowing, this should take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. If you’re doing a car drop, note that you’ll need to pay the $5 day use fee for both parks, but this is a small price to pay for how much fun you’ll have!
Deschutes River in Bend
Long stretches of the Deschutes are well-known for the fantastic white water rafting it provides. But, if you’re looking for a more relaxing river experience, you can’t beat floating the Deschutes in Bend. Whether you live near Bend or are just visiting, this is one of the coolest things to do in the area and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
The easiest and shortest tubing route is to start at Riverbend Park and float for about an hour to Drake Park. There’s even a short section of (very) mild rapids as you pass through the Bend Whitewater Park. By foot, the two parks are only 1.5 miles away from one another so you could conceivably deflate your tubes and walk back to your car after you’re done. Or, you can actually rent tubes at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and they have a shuttle service you can hire to get you back to your car.
Willamette River in Portland and Eugene
For ten years straight, the Human Access Project hosted what was possibly the most fun Portland summer event—The Big Float. Sadly, the last organized float was in 2022, but guess what? The river is still there and you can still float it! An easy place to put in is at Sellwood Riverfront Park and float down to the Hawthorne Boat Dock, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge. Float time is approximately 2 to 3 hours.
You can also enjoy a great Willamette float down in Eugene. Put in at Island Park in Springfield and drift down to Alton Baker Park which will take about 2 hours. If you do this float, note there are two spots where you’ll encounter some rapids but they are navigable if you’re paying attention: once as you pass under the I-5 bridge (it’s essential to stay as far right as you can here) and again under the Autzen footbridge.
The McKenzie River is another great option if you’re around the Eugene/Springfield area and although there are great spots for whitewater rafting here, a mellow stretch that’s perfect for a lazy summer day is putting in at Harvest Landing and taking out at Armitage Park. This stretch is also very popular for fishing, blackberry picking, and will take you roughly 2 to 2.5 hours to complete. Note that the McKenzie is a fairly cold river even in the height of summer, so you’ll want a decent tube that allows you to sit mostly out of the water.
Near the town of Lebanon about halfway between Salem and Eugene is the beautiful South Santiam River. Start your float at Bates Bridge and float the 4.1 miles downstream to the Waterloo County boat ramp. A word to the wise: don’t try to go any farther than the Waterloo boat ramp because there’s a small set of falls just beyond it that are too dangerous to attempt in a tube.
Tips for a Great Float:
- If you don’t have a dry back, put your essential items (keys, money, phone, ID) in a gallon ziplock bag and put this in a backpack you can secure to your tube.
- Don’t skimp on the sunscreen! You’ll be spending anywhere from two to five hours under direct sun. Plus, you’ll likely want to jump in the water a few times to cool off, so reapply often!
- Drink plenty of water, especially if you’re also drinking alcohol (Also, don’t drink too much beer—save the partying for dry land).
- Ideally, you should bring two cars and drop one off at your destination so you don’t have to worry about how to get back. Some floats (like the Deschutes in Bend) will have shuttle services available, or you can try making friends on the river who’ll give you a ride back to your car.
- Don’t trash the river! If you pack it in, you gotta pack it out.