Need a non-crowded, fireworks-free, blissful Fourth of July activity? River tubing meets all of these criteria, and it’s perfectly celebratory. Here are five float-friendly rivers perfect for a long and lazy afternoon.
San Marcos River in Texas
The San Marcos River’s convenient location about 30 miles south of Austin allows you to grab provisions in the city and hop in the water minutes later. The cool, spring-fed route passes through downtown San Marcos, but thanks to the dense trees, you wouldn’t know it. For an hour-long float, start at City Park, where you can rent a tube ($12) and storage box ($5) from Lions Club Tube Rental. Then mosey down the river until you reach Rio Vista Park. Tube rentals come with unlimited shuttle service to get you back to the start. It’s open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Aug. 24. Tube San Marcos, www.tubesanmarcos.com, City Park, 170 Charles Austin Drive, San Marcos; (512) 393-8400.
Merced River in California
For a float that’s purely about magnificent scenery, try the Merced River in Yosemite National Park. The three-mile stretch is crisp, clean and offers a pretty hot seat to the park’s mountains and scenery. Prepare for an easy paddle on a rented raft that holds two to four people. It starts at Stoneman Bridge near Half Dome Village and ends at Sentinel Beach. It costs $28.50 per person for rentals, or you can bring your own. Life jackets, which are required, and shuttle passes back to the start cost $5. You can rent rafts 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at least through August at tour and activity areas of Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village, Yosemite Village and the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Concierge Desk; no advance online or phone reservations available. Yosemite National Park, Yosemite, www.travelyosemite.com, (888) 413-8869.
Bend River in Oregon
You’ll want sturdy footwear and a sturdy tube to ride the rapids on the Deschutes River in Bend, but don’t let that deter you. Brave them, or hop out early for a drink at one of the town’s many breweries. Bring your own tube and start at the Bend Whitewater Park where you can hop a shuttle to the start at Riverbend Park beach. Depending on whether you shoot the rapids, trips take 90 minutes to two hours. If you want to float more than once, buy the $3 Ride the River shuttle pass for unlimited rides back to your starting point. Bend Whitewater Park, www.bendparksandrec.org, 166 S.W. Shevlin Hixon Drive, Bend; (541) 389-7275.
Lihue Plantation on Kauai, Hawaii
If guided adventures are more your style, opt for a three-hour mountain tubing tour of Lihue Plantation on Kauai. The underwater path was originally used to irrigate sugar crops; today, it makes a fun floating route from which to see Mt. Waialeale and man-made tunnels, lighted by your own headlamp. Tours are offered to those ages 5 and older every day between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. They cost $110 per person and end with lunch and time to explore a swimming hole. Book your tour online or via phone. Kauai Backcountry Adventures, kauaibackcountry.com/tubing, 3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue, (855) 846-0092.
Salt River in Arizona
The Salt River about 35 miles east of Phoenix has been called a “floating beach blast” by the local tubing company. It’s an obvious choice for big groups — eating, drinking and marshmallow fighting are encouraged — but the environment is still family-friendly. Check out the beauty of canyon walls as you drift along in part of Tonto National Forest. Tubes cost $17 to rent (plus tax and fees), which includes a shuttle pass, and you can float anywhere from one to four hours. Salt River Tubing, www.saltrivertubing.com, 9200 N. Bush Hwy., Mesa; (480) 984-3305.