Great Places to go River Tubing with Kids

July 11, 2016
River Tubing with Kids
Ethan HippleNew England is rich with great spots to go river tubing with kids.

Summer is here and we are all longing for long sunny days at the beach or for a relaxing dip in a refreshing New England brook. Instead of planning a hike to a scorching mountaintop, why not get a hold of some old inner tubes and just float down a lazy river on a weekend afternoon? Swimming galore, great picnic opportunities, and plenty of chances to see wildlife, go fishing, and just enjoy the peace and quiet of a New England river in the heat of the summer.

Prior to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many New England rivers were unsafe for swimming. But all of that changed with the decades of cleanup work that followed that landmark legislation, and today New England rivers are experiencing a resurgence that means swimming is now safer, fish populations are rebounding, and pollution is diminished. Take an afternoon to celebrate our clean rivers by floating with some friends in the sun.

Tubing is a great multi-generational activity. Each summer, we try to take at least two float trips, usually with at least three generations in tow! We bring the fishing rods, a picnic, snorkel and mask, and try to schedule at least a couple hours just hanging on a wild beach somewhere, exploring and dozing in the sun. It is the definition of a fun summer day!

Here’s some tips:

  • Go when the rivers are flowing. Late summer floats often mean low water levels and lots of time dragging the tubes over rocky sections. If you are going out after July 4, go right after a rain so that the rivers are flowing and drags are less common.

  • Don’t go out in a flood. While going after a light to moderate rain can make tubing easier and more enjoyable, don’t go out after a heavy rain or during flood stages. Check river conditions before your trip.

  • Wear shoes: sandals or old sneakers will get you through rocky sections.

  • Bring a picnic! Nothing beats finding a hidden beach and having an epic summer picnic. We usually pack ours in a dry bag.

  • Outfit an extra tube to carry lunch and cold beverages.

  • Bring two cars to run a shuttle back at the end of the float, or just bring one car and a bike.

  • Leave plenty of time for swimming, napping on the beach, exploring rocky shores, finding hidden rope swings. No one wants to rush a float trip.

  • Aim for a section 3 to 5 miles long. You can go much further while kayaking or canoeing, but tubing by nature is a relaxed activity where you basically just be go the pace of the river. A trip that might take 90 minutes in June with higher water flows may take three hours in August with low water.

  • It’s nice (but not required) to have at least one canoe or kayak along on the trip. If you get tired of floating, the folks in the boat can tow the tubers. And it’s a good place to keep food and drinks as well.

  • Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and other essentials.

  • Even though it is tempting, don’t tie your tubes together with rope. This makes it hard to navigate around obstacles in the river and can lead to dangerous situations.

Where to go:
Here are some of our personal favorite places to tube in New England. But don’t be constrained by this list—lots of folks just get out the state gazetteer and just find a good stretch of river 3 to 5 miles long and head out. You will want to scout the entire route first, or get local info to make sure you don’t run into any heavy whitewater sections.

Another option is to go to one of New England’s many tubing and whitewater outfitters. Most offer low cost tube rentals, as well as handy shuttles back to your car at the end of your trip. These trips tend to be on busier sections of river, and some rivers like the Saco in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley can be a downright frat party scene on summer weekends, so choose your time to visit wisely.

Pemigewasset River, Lincoln, N.H.
This is a quiet river that runs from the White Mountains south towards Concord, N.H. It gets relatively light tubing use and is a gem of a river with many sandy beaches and secluded spots. There are dozens of great places to put in on the “Pemi” in the 20 mile section between North Woodstock, N.H. and Bristol, N.H.. Our favorite runs are

  • From the NH 175 bridge in North Woodstock to the NH 175 bridge in Thornton, N.H. (3.5 miles)

  • From the Holderness Road bridge in Plymouth, N.H. to the Daniel Webster Highway (NH 3) bridge in Ashland, N.H. (4.4 miles).

Deerfield River in Conway, Mass.
This is a very beautiful river tubing destination in Western Massachusetts, with some real wilderness sections. For a more secluded experience, put in at the Bardwells Ferry Bridge on Bardwells Ferry Road in Conway, Mass. Float downstream to one of many bridges that cross the river—choose your own desired length ahead of time and pull out when you are ready. For a 3.5 mile float (perfect length for families with kids) float down to the Stillwater Bridge on North Road. This stretch features class I rapids and swift water—great tubing for families.

A more popular destination (with more crowds) is upstream starting in Florida, Mass., going downstream to Charlemont, Mass. There are several local outfitters who offer tubes and shuttles on this section.

Presumpscot River, Portland, Maine
This is a great urban river float trip, a hidden gem in plain view in one of New England’s most exciting cities. For residents of the area, this is a great place to cool off on a hot summer day. For visitors, this float trip offers a natural oasis during your visit a city also known for its restaurants, breweries, and great music venues.

Start at the put in at Forest Avenue and Riverside Street. Float downstream on the very slow current past the Riverside Golf Course, keeping an eye out for stray golf balls. The lazy current makes for very easy, kid friendly tubing. Plenty of spots along here to stop for a swim and a picnic along the shore, but no sandy beaches. Continue under I 295 to the Blackstrap Road Bridge, where you can leave your car or bike shuttle in the take out parking lot. This shorter 2.25 mile float is great for families, and if the current is fast and you are at the takeout before you are done, you can simply do it again!

For a more serious adventure, continue on downstream for another couple miles to the takeout on the Presumpscot River Preserve, or read about the 25 mile adventure circumnavigation of Portland—for serious paddlers only!

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Ethan Hipple

Along with Kim Foley MacKinnon, Ethan Hipple writes AMC's Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. He fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager, when he worked on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trail crew. He has directed the New Hampshire Conservation Corps and is currently the Parks Director for Portland, Me., where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids. His latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, cowritten with Yemaya St. Clair.