Save the beer for later: tips for tubing the Yampa River |

Save the beer for later: tips for tubing the Yampa River

Some people have misconceptions about the Yampa that leads to problems

A tuber floats down the Yampa River near the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Yellow, inflatable tubes have become an increasingly frequent sight on the Yampa River this week as temperatures rise and people seek a way to cool off and have fun.

While business has been booming for commercial tubing companies, employees and city officials urge the public to be safe and courteous on the river. 

A steady stream of customers passed through Backdoor Sports in Steamboat on Thursday, most of whom requested equipment for the popular river float through town.

Peter Van De Carr, who owns the business located at 841 Yampa St., said such requests have gained momentum since Monday, when the Yampa River dropped to below 700 cubic feet per second, the flow rate that typically kicks off tubing with commercial outfitters. Thursday has been his busiest day this summer, with about 150 tubers scheduled to get on the river. 

“We have like 200 soccer teams in town, so that’s brought a lot of business,” he said, referring to the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament.

Before they get on the water, tubers get a safety lesson from one of Van De Carr’s employees. Izzy Lidsky, a college student who has worked at Backdoor for the past two summers, offers each group the same advice.     

“Don’t bring anything that is going to fall in the river,” Lidsky said, items like cellphones, cameras and, yes, even beer. 

That does not mean they always heed her warning. 

“Almost every trip, someone loses something,” she said. 

Part of the problem, as Van De Carr explained, is people’s misconception of the Yampa as a steady, tranquil river. 

Tubing tips
  • Check the river flow to see if it is at a safe level for tubing. Water levels above 700 cubic feet per second are not safe for tubing. Water levels under 700 cfs still may not be safe for those who are not strong swimmers.
  • Life jackets are always recommended, especially when the river is at a high water level; small children should wear a life vest at any water level.
  • Wear shoes with straps (not flip-flops) and a swimsuit or clothing you don’t mind getting wet. River shoes are available for rent at most tubing outfitters.
  • Be aware of what you bring with you; you may tip over and lose gear.
  • Respect other tubers, people walking along the Yampa River Core Trail and fishermen.
  • Try to tube in small groups (about 5 – 10 people).
  • Leave no garbage behind. Take everything you bring with you out with you.
  • No alcohol, dogs or glass.

Source: Steamboat Springs Chamber

The river’s flow has been dropping steadily over the week, hovering at just above 450 cfs Thursday afternoon, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. While this means the rapids are not as large as in previous weeks, they remain hazardous for tubers.

A pair of younger boys snagged their tube on a rock in the middle of the river Thursday afternoon, the force of which eventually caused them to flip into the water. 

On calmer water, people may not encounter a problem bringing loose items like a cooler full of drinks, but not on the Yampa, according to Van De Carr. 

“You can’t do that here without losing all your stuff,” he said. “Everything has to be securely attached.”

If not, all those lost items stay in the river, posing threats to wildlife and degrading the integrity of native ecosystems, beloved by many locals. 

Aluminum cans, plastic water bottles and food packaging are among the most common items found during river cleanups, according to the American Rivers advocacy organization. People can help reduce the amount of such waste simply by keeping them away from the river.

To prevent flipping on rapids, Lidsky advises tubers to lean into the waves, just as one would in the ocean. 

Many parts of the tubing route through town also pass through neighborhoods, Van De Carr said. He urges floaters to be respectful with their noise levels and cognizant of their surroundings. 

“Those residents want to enjoy the scenery just as much as anybody,” he said. 

As long as people prepare appropriately and follow these tips, this is a great time to be on the river, according to Van De Carr.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “People have been psyched when they take out.”

Among the excited visitors was Dianne Hood, an Atlanta resident visiting longtime friends in town. Her clothes were still dripping river water onto the Yampa River Core Trail as she described her float.

“This is the highlight of our trip,” she said, adding that the Strawberry Park Hot Springs were next on her to-do list. 

Part of the enjoyment was due to the water’s temperature, which has been fluctuating between the low to mid-60s this week, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

“As I always say, the folks from Texas think it’s cold, those from Minnesota think it’s hot, and everyone in the middle thinks it’s just right,” Van De Carr said.

Steamboat resident Bob Boglioli, who took Hood on her second float ever on the Yampa on Thursday, said respectful recreation is a major priority for him, something he passes on to his guests.

As he put it, “We want to have fun on the river but also let everyone else enjoy it.”

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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