The only way to survive an Arizona summer is to spend as much time as you can on the water. And while there may be plenty of lakes to visit, one of the most fun days you can have is Salt River Tubing… if you do it right!
Tubing down the Salt River has become a hugely popular thing to do in the summertime in Arizona. So popular, in fact, that it can get really crowded and really confusing.
So I’ve compiled all the facts for you here…everything you need to know before you go, including:
- Using the Salt River Tubing Company
- Tubing on your own
- Is it ok to bring kids?
- What to bring
- Tips for having the best experience
Using the Salt River Tubing Comapny
As of summer 2020, it costs $20 per person to go tubing with them. This includes the use of their tube and a free shuttle ride to get you and your tube to the river and back. If you bring your own tubes, you still pay around $17 per person to use their shuttle. (They will ONLY allow you to bring inflatable items… no kayaks!)
There are few drawbacks to using the Salt River Tubing company.
- No Kids under 8 allowed. So if you have kids, you automatically cannot use this option
- The price… $20 per person is costly. Considering you can buy your own tubes for much cheaper, and be able to use them more than once.
- The shuttle is crowed and HOT. Picture this…110 degrees outside, and you are crammed onto an old school bus with no air-conditioning. Not pleasant.
- The wait for the shuttle can be really long. There are times we’ve waited almost an hour, and there was one time the wait was 3 hours long… just to get on the shuttle! (we ended up going home when we knew it was that long).
- The employees at the Salt River Tubing Company are not very pleasant. Don’t try to stand in an inch of their shade… they’ll kick you out. They’ll make you wait in the direct sun for the shuttle, no matter how long the wait is. They sincerely don’t care how hot and miserable you are.
If you choose to use the company to go tubing, GO EARLY! If you even wait until 10 am, you’ll be stuck in a very long line. You can always go a little later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, but the last shuttle picks you up at 6:30 pm to bring you back to your car. So you won’t have very much time on the actual river.
Depending on how much time you have, you can choose between a longer river route and a shorter river route. This map will show you where the stops along the river are:
- Stop 1 is the furthest stop and where you will get the longest ride from
- Stop 2 is the first place the shuttle stops and offers you the shortest ride
- Stop 4 is where everyone must exit, regardless of where you started
A few more tips for floating the Salt River with the Salt River Tubing Company…
- The tubes you rent with them are plain, black tubes. Black rubber gets HOT in the summer. Bring some old sheets to throw over the tubes to keep from burning yourself.
- Rent an extra tube for your cooler.
- Bring rope to tie the tubes to each other. They advise against this, but EVERYONE does it. And to be honest, you will definitely lose each other if you are not tied together.
Tubing On Your Own
If you decide to forego the Salt River Tubing Company, you can go directly to the same spots they use to drop everyone off. There are parking lots located at three spots (Stop 1, 2, and 4).
The only trick is that you won’t have a shuttle to take you back to your car. But you can easily work around this by bringing 2 vehicles (perhaps you go tubing with a friend anyway!).
Park one car in the parking lot of stop 1 (or stop 2 if you prefer) and park the other car at the end, which is stop 4. And then one of you drive the other back to where their car is at the start.
There are two really big advantages to tubing the river on your own
1 -You save a ton of money. Sure, you will need to buy your own tubes. But we found some really great river tubes for only $24 each. Which is basically the same as one time floating with the company. But in the end, we had our own tubes to use again and again. Not only for tubing the Salt River but for trips to the lake too.
Plus, the tubes we bought are a hundred times better than the tire-like tubes they rent you. These have cup holders and come with a rope that is already attached to the tubes, which makes sticking together a lot easier.
They also have a mesh bottom so you can keep some things in there with you and not worry about them falling out (a LOT of things get lost in the river). Or if you have kids that are still pretty thin, you won’t have to worry about them falling through the center hole.
And they have a cute little headrest! What more could you want?
TIP: Get an extra one for your cooler to sit on.
2 – You don’t need to wait for the shuttle. Yes, having a shuttle take you back and forth to your car is very convenient. But on a good day, you’ll stand in line in blazing triple-digit heat with no shade… just to get on the shuttle. On a bad day, it can take up to 3 hours (this actually happened!)
* The wait for the shuttle and the cost of the tubes to rent each time became too much for us and we have stopped using the Salt River Tubing Company. Even though it can be a pain to bring 2 cars, doing it on your own is a MUCH better experience.
Grab the two-person float with cooler in the middle HERE!
Is It Ok To Bring Kids Salt River Tubing?
If you go tubing with the Salt River Tubing Company, your child must be at least 8 years old and 48″ tall.
If you bring your own tubes and park at the river, there is no age limit (really because no one is checking). So if you want to bring young kids, this is the only way to go.
Tubing down the Salt River often has a very party-like atmosphere and you never know what you are going to see. So not everything is super appropriate for kids to see. But I did bring my 11-year old and she had a blast. I talked to her beforehand about the drinking or loud music, but it was never so crazy that I felt she was in danger. She ended up loving it and having a blast.
Really, it’s no different than spending the day at the beach. You’ll see coolers of beer and loud music there too.
Because there are some parts of the river that have small rapids, I would definitely recommend all kids wear life vests.
What to Bring Salt River Tubing
The expression “less is more” is all you need to know when you go salt river-tubing. Whether you take the shuttle or go on your own, you’ll want to bring as few items as possible. Here is a list of the absolute essentials I recommend you bring:
River Tube – If you decide to do it on your own, make sure you get a good river tube. I love this one because it has the cup holders, the rope to tie together, and they have a nice headrest. Don’t buy a cheap floatie, it’ll pop as soon as you hit some rough water. I have used this river raft for several years now and it holds up perfectly.
Cooler – When you go tubing, you need to bring all your own food and drink. You definitely need a lot of water and you want to keep it cold. But you also need something that can float down the river with you. This cooler is my favorite… I’ve been using it for years. It’s the perfect size to fit right in your river raft. It’s durable and strong.
And it has wheels… which you will be very grateful for when you need to roll it down a dirt path to the river (instead of carrying it full of ice and drinks and food). DO NOT bring disposable styrofoam coolers, they will break apart easily in the water.
Dry Bag – An absolute MUST on the river. Get yourself a dry bag to keep valuables in. The dry bag I have linked is perfect because it’s super durable and keeps your stuff super dry. I also love how it has a strap on it. We strap it to the cooler so it won’t get lost.
Side note: We once had our river raft holding the cooler and all our stuff tip over during a rapids section of the river. Thank goodness we had the dry bag attached to the cooler! We were able to turn the cooler right side up and the dry bag was still attached and everything inside was bone dry. If we hadn’t attached the dry bag, it would have gone floating down the river.
We use the dry bag to hold our keys, wallets, phones, and sometimes even our shirts so we have some dry clothes to put on at the end of the trip.
Waterproof Phone Case – I’m ashamed to admit I was one of those people that dropped her phone into the river… Thank goodness I had my waterproof phone case! These inexpensive phone cases still allowed me to take photos but kept my phone nice and dry.
Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker – Bring your own speaker or you’ll end up listening to everyone else music as you float down the river. This Bluetooth speaker is perfect for tubing. It’s durable and waterproof and has the nice handle you can tie to your cooler so it won’t get lost in the river.
TIP: These Yeti’s make great gifts for anyone you know who spends a lot of time outdoors. And they come in a lot of cool colors.
Water Shoes – You will NEED a good pair of water shoes. Do not attempt to go barefoot. Do not wear cheap water slippers. The river bottom is rocky and rough. And there are plenty of times where you are floating along and your tube goes straight for a rock or a tree. If you have a good pair of shoes on, you can push right off and continue on your way.
The shoes I’m wearing here are Keens and I never go anywhere outdoors without them. You can find them HERE.
Tips For Having the Best Experience
- Stay hydrated. The weather is hot and being on the water makes you feel cool. So it almost tricks you to think you don’t need to drink as much as you do. There are constant EMT’s at the Salt river to treat dehydration. Don’t be one of those people!
- TIP: For every can of alcohol you bring, drink a cup of water with it!
- Don’t bring glass. Cans and plastic only. Don’t be that person that drops a glass bottle on the bottom of the river so someone can cut themselves later on.
- Be respectful. The river gets crowded and loud. Don’t be obnoxious. Don’t litter!
- Take your time. There are plenty of spots to pull over and enjoy your lunch on a small beach.
- Stay tied together. Even though you see signs telling you not to. If you are not tied together, you WILL float in opposite directions and never see each other again.
- Keep your butt up! If you see rapids approaching, that’s a sign the water is low. Keep your butt up to prevent it from scraping along the rocks. Ouch!
- Don’t bring anything valuable that you can afford to lose. I hate to admit I lost my phone in the Salt River once. We have also lost sunglasses and a hat. Who knows what others have lost!
- Leave the horses alone. They are wild animals. Enough said.
- Be Safe. Every year, people are injured and people drown. It’s easy to flip over your tube and get stuck underneath. Add all the drinking in, and that’s how lives are lost.
The Salt River Horses
I wanted to write something about the Salt River Horses specifically. More than likely, you WILL see the wild horses while Salt River Tubing. The river is their main source of water.
These animals are beautiful and amazing to see. They are always the highlight of our Salt River tubing trip.
But PLEASE leave them alone! I’ve seen one too many drunk people try to approach them because they think it’s cool. Don’t be that person. Admire their beauty and take a ton of photos. But be respectful of wildlife and leave them alone!
In other words… DON’T be this girl!
The Beautiful Salt River Horses…
We happen to see several gorgeous horses on our last trip Salt River tubing. Enjoy some photos or these amazing creatures… (a lot of these images are zoomed in with a camera so we could maintain our distance).
Looking for more fun and adventure in Arizona? You might also be interested in:
- Spend a Day Renting a Boat on Lake Saguaro
- Hike Water Wheel Falls Trail in Payson
- Stay At The Strawberry Inn In Strawberry, AZ
- Visiting Vulture City Ghost Town in Wickenburg
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