Tubing on the Salt River is one of the few activities that you can do outside during summers in Arizona. Between the months of April through October in most parts of Arizona, it gets so unbearably hot and sunny that most people would rather hide out in the comfort of air conditioning.
Tubing on the Salt River is not only an activity for drunken college students, it’s also a fun activity for the whole family (recommended for kids 8 years old and up). Best of all, tubing gets you outside in nature while also cooling you off during the summer in Arizona.
First-timers Need a PLAN
If it’s your first time going tubing, some advanced planning is needed to ensure that your trip is as safe, comfortable, and enjoyable as possible. But don’t worry, once you are sailing down the cool river with your friends and family, taking in the land (and if you’re lucky a glimpse of wild horses), the small hassle becomes totally worth it!
Basics: What you Need to Know for Planning for Salt River Tubing
Since it was our first time, we opted for the Salt River Tubing Company, the only outfitter that rents tubes. It is located a short distance from the Salt River and offers tube rentals, bus rides to the river, life jackets, and snacks for sale. Other options would be to go through an organized tour or to bring your own tubes.
When to go: April to October
What time of day to go: Before noon is best, followed by end of day
Cost: $19 per person to rent a tube which includes the bus ride to the river.
Ages: Recommended for 8 and older.
What to Bring for Salt River Tubing
There is no question that the Arizona sun is intense. In order to protect yourself from dehydration, heat illnesses, or sunburn while you are out on the river, bring:
Bring a lot of drinking water (preferably cold) in order to stay hydrated. Make sure you and your kids drink plenty of water while getting ready in the car, waiting for the bus, and on the bus ride. My kids must have asked me for water 5-6 times during the trip.
Bring at least 2 gallons of cold water for a family of 4. One bottle per person on a hot day is not going to cut it! Our water got warm so having ice and chilling the water beforehand are extra refreshing on a hot and sunny day.
Sunscreen. Depending on how pale your children are, you’ll want to lather them up with sunscreen on any exposed areas of the skin – including the legs and tops of feet, back of neck, arms, and shoulders. Our faces were pretty much okay because we all wore hats. If you have a visor or baseball cap, make sure sunscreen gets on the ears and back of neck
Hat. A hat is a must to shield your face from the sun! A wraparound hat with a wide brim is best. Who cares how dorky you look – you’ll thank me for it later.
Gear to Bring
Rope. If you are tubing with a group and want to stay together, then bring rope to tie the tubes together. They advise you against it, but everyone does it. There is no other way to stay together on the river unless you tie the tubes with rope!
Old sheets to cover up the tube. The tubes are black so they get hot to the touch after a few minutes in the sun. Old sheets make sitting in the tubes more comfortable, not only to protect from the heat, but also to protect from rubber burn.
Dry bag to hold your belongings. A case around your neck is also good if you want to have easy access to your phone.
Small Paddle. You can do without, but this helps to steer the tubes when you’re headed toward the branches on the river bank!
Clothing to Wear
Life jackets, I highly recommend that kids wear life jackets. The river is not calm all the way through and certain sections have faster rapids or deeper parts. It can be dangerous!
The right water shoe. Not flip-flops! Make sure they cover your toes and have thick, grippy soles. Two of us in our party lost their flip flops.
To increase the fun factor
Waterproof speaker. Because music makes everything more fun!
Snacks/Beverages. (finger foods or individually packed items)
Water guns. For people who like to wreak havoc on others.
Waterproof camera and selfie stick. You can get some great shots of your group!
Salt River Tubing Company – Be warned that the 1st hour is chaos
Tubing is a popular activity during high season (April through October) so be prepared because it gets chaotic at the Salt River Tubing Company. Waiting in line in the hot sun with crowds of people might get you (or your husband) to start questioning why you are there.
The lines were somewhat organized and efficient so we did not have to wait as long as we thought.
Here is what you should expect and steps to take to make sure the trip is as smooth as possible:
1) Prep at Home. Pack your gear. Don’t forget a cooler for water, ice, and snacks (if bringing)
2) Arrive at Salt River Tubing Company. Park, wait for the rest of the party, Lather up with sunscreen, drink plenty of water.
3) Stand in line for tube rental.
4) If you have kids who need life jackets or snacks/beverages, go to the snack bar line
5) After you grab the tubes and your supplies, wait in line for the bus.
6) Board the bus. Tip the bus driver.
7) Walk down to the river and tie the tubes together. Launch and start sailing down!
Here are some things to know about renting tubes at Salt River Tubing Company:
- You can rent 5 tubes per drivers’ license. We rented 5 tubes for our family of 4 – one for each family member plus an extra one for our cooler holding our drinks and snack.
- They have 2 sizes of tubes – small for kids 8-10 years old and the bucket, and a bigger tube for adults.
- If you rent a tube to hold drinks and snacks, they give you a bucket to go inside the tube.
- Life jackets can be purchased at the snack shop for $8 each. We all had kids between 10-13 years old and all wore life jackets.
After getting the tubes, you have to stand in line to board a bus that takes you to the river. Make sure you have enough hands to carry your cooler plus the tubes. Get your kids to carry their own tubes!
How long does tubing take?
There are options for 1 hour, 2 hour, and 4 hours. If you want to extend the time, you can always pull off to the side and have a picnic along the riverbank.
Is it safe for children?
There’s a reason that this activity is recommended for older kids. There were times that we got pulled into different directions, hit branches and rocks on the side, bumped into other tubes and people, and lost a kid or two (who had to swim back to their tubes).
Kids have to be pretty good about sticking to their tubes or they can be left behind to fend the rapids by themselves!
Is it worth it?
Some people may think that tubing on the Salt River is a rite of passage reserved for young, drunk 20-somethings looking for an excuse to drink and party in a natural setting. Surprisingly, it’s a great family activity for those with older kids and even more fun when you go with a couple of families.
WGG tip: Grab some prepared goodies from HMart before heading to the river and enjoy some gimbap while cruising down the river!