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A day on the river: Your guide to tubing in Central Texas

Grab some friends, bring some drinks and enjoy a long float on one of the rivers in this guide. (Comal Tubes/Instagram)

Floating the river is a beloved summer tradition in Texas—and maybe an unfamiliar one if you've recently relocated to Austin.

Here's everything you need to know, from a rundown of area rivers to a guide of BYO items.


River guide 

San Marcos River

The most popular tubing destination, the spring-fed San Marcos River stays a cool 72 degrees all year round and cuts through downtown San Marcos and the Texas State University campus. About 30 miles away from Austin, it draws floaters of all ages, from families with young kids to millennials ready to day drink. You can make advance reservations to rent tubes at Lions Club Tube Rental ($16), Texas State Tubes ($25) or Don's Fish Camp ($24), shuttle ride included.

Comal River

The Comal River in New Braunfels, about 50 miles from Austin, is the shortest navigable river in Texas. Similar to the San Marcos River, it's spring-fed and 72 degrees all year round, offering a cool respite on hot summer days. There is one fast section—a man-made chute that diverts floaters around the dam—but it is family-friendly and offers easy access to area attractions, including music venue Gruene Hall and water park Schlitterbahn. You can rent tubes from Texas Tubes ($25) and make advance reservations at Comal Tubes ($25), Landa Falls ($25) and Rockin' R ($23), shuttle ride included.

Guadalupe River

If you want to party, head to the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, approximately 50 miles away from Austin. The most popular stretch is the Horseshoe loop, which takes around two hours to float, but there are other, longer routes. For a more family-friendly float, you can access the river at Guadalupe River State Park, which prohibits alcohol. You can rent tubes from Tube Haus ($17) and make reservations at Shanty River Center ($20), Whitewater Springs ($24) and River Sport Tubes ($20), shuttle included.

Barton Creek Greenbelt

This local alternative offers a more relaxed float than the "big three" rivers—and a faster commute. There are no tube rentals, so you'll need to bring your own. Alcohol is not permitted on the river. Popular access points include the Loop 360 Access, which offers a two- to three-hour float down to Barton Springs, as well as swimming holes such as Twin Falls, Sculpture Falls and Gus Fruh (no tube needed at swimming holes).

What to bring 

Floating requires being prepared while also traveling light. Some essentials:

  • A mask, as some rental spots require them
  • Water shoes—the uglier the better (no flip flops!)
  • Sunscreen (don't forget your knees!)
  • Water to stay hydrated
  • A stocked cooler (and some extra money to pay for a cooler tube)
  • Something to hold your ID and money, such as a zip-lock bag or waterproof pouch

There are also some things you should leave behind:

  • Your phone and other valuables, which could end up on the riverbed
  • Styrofoam and glass

Post-float plans 

Floating is exhausting. Plan on stopping for barbecue or tacos afterward to replenish your energy—or bring snacks along—and taking a nap once home.

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