The Routt to Adventure: Tubing the Yampa |

The Routt to Adventure: Tubing the Yampa

Tubing the Yampa River should be at the top of everyone's Steamboat Springs bucket list.
Shelby Reardon

There’s no better time to get out and explore Routt County and the Yampa Valley than summer. The Routt to Adventure is a series of short guides to popular and maybe some not-so popular activities and destinations around Steamboat Springs. I love to be prepared so I’ll offer a breakdown of what to bring, what not to bring, things to remember and any tips to get the most out of your day. If you have any suggestions for places or activities for me to explore, email

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On a roller coaster, riders are advised to keep their arms and legs inside the car at all times. While floating down the Yampa River, I advise you to keep your bum inside the tube at all times.

With the water dropping, more rocks are prominent, and even if your tube glides by them, your bum will not. In order to avoid the violation and pain that comes from striking a rock , when you come to a shallow spot, press your arms and legs down onto the tube and lift your butt up. The last thing you want is a rock in the tailbone.

I’ve lived in Steamboat Springs for just over a year and finally went tubing for the first time last weekend. I clung to a tube out of a car window, got a little sunburnt and bumped my bum on one particularly rude rock.

Getting to the air pump at the gas station was simple. Deflated tubes are easy to transport. Once they were blown up, only one fit in the back. I had to hold the other out a rolled down window, which is no problem when the car is stationary. When we started moving, the tube wanted to fly. Thankfully, the put-in spot was a whopping two minutes away.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

The water was perfect. Not too cold but refreshing. Not too shallow and not too fast. I might go earlier in the season next year, though, as the holes, or small, sudden drops, were not as exhilarating as I had hoped. I’m not sure what the official suggestions are for navigating the holes, but I wouldn’t go backwards, if you can avoid it. I leaned back slightly and never felt like I was going to tip.

Now, alcohol isn’t allowed on the river, but there are plenty of people holding cans everywhere you look. The only disappointing part of my entire tubing experience was seeing a man let an empty, partly crumpled can float away.

As he stood up from his tube, the can fell out of his tube and into the water.

“You dropped a can,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he turned, watching the can float out of reach.

My tubing buddy and I started paddling like crazy with our arms, racing each other to the can. As we both got closer, I tried to push his tube away, but he beat me to it and put the can, uncrushed, in his dry bag. It might be tempting to crush a can and make it smaller to dispose of it, but the sharp edges can tear a bag or even pop a tube.

The river is not a hotel pool. Trash cannot be sifted out with a net the next time it’s convenient, and pollutants cannot be filtered out and killed with chemicals. The river is a habitat and the centerpiece of the whole Yampa Valley ecosystem.

If tubing the Yampa is on your bucket list, I suggest getting to it quickly. Once the flow drops below 85 cubic feet per second, the river will close to all activities. As of Thursday, July 16, the flow rate was 135 cfs.

Stay safe and obey the rules on the river
  • Dogs are allowed on the river, as long as they are on a leash.
  • Life jackets, flotation devices and footwear that will not come off in water are the recommended.
  • No alcohol and no glass allowed.
  • No bathing or diapers allowed in the river.
  • Follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
  • No styrofoam coolers allowed.
  • Respect other river users such as anglers, kayakers and waders.
  • Respect private property.

Source: City of Steamboat Springs

What to bring

Sunscreen: If you think you put on enough sunscreen, add another layer. There’s nothing that will burn skin more than a couple of hours surrounded by reflective water. Don’t forget under your chin, your ears, the tops of your feet or the backs of your hands. Trust me. If you have a UV shirt, I suggest wearing it.

Dry bag: This one isn’t totally necessary for those renting tubes along the river. For anyone else, a dry bag will be a lifesaver. I bought a $5 bag at Walmart, which got quite wet even sitting in my lap, and nothing inside was even remotely damp. Don’t forget to buy a carabiner to attach it to your tube.

Patience: It’s hard to be in a bad mood on the river, but if you feel the sun getting to you, just remember, the river is public. If it’s a weekend or a hot evening, it’s going to be busy. There will be tubing newbies, veterans, rafters, kayakers, waders and even dogs. 

What to leave at home

Flip-flops: Flip-flops will fall off while on the river. It’s inevitable. They also aren’t the most stable shoes to wear when stepping on a river bed. Any sort of river sandal or shoe is at least 300% more acceptable than any pair of flip-flops. 

Expensive sunglasses: Unless you have a very trustworthy neck strap connected to your sunglasses, it might be best to leave the expensive pair in the car and bring a cheap pair that you won’t mind losing if it does happen.

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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