From what I understand, if you went to college ANYWHERE in central Texas (UT, Texas State, UTSA, etc.), “floating the river” is as common a past time as football games and house parties anywhere else. And, thanks to our balmy, half a year summers, it’s something you can do pretty often.
Having gone to school in Houston, where a floatable river is hours away, I actually never got to do this college rite of passage. In fact, I believe the last time I was in a Texas river, I think a Schlitterbahn ride shot me out into it. Schlitterbahn is super fun and all, but the experience just isn’t the same.
So, better late than never, right? I finally floated the river in true collegiate style. By the way, the river floating crowd is not at all just college students. All ages float! This is just an association I’ve made (and maybe I’m the only one!)
Anyways, without further adieu, here’s how to float the river in Texas.
Step 1. Pick a river.
Your main floating rivers are the Comal, the Guadalupe, the Frio and the San Marcos River. All are about the same distance from Houston. The Comal is kind of chill, from what I hear, and doesn’t move as fast as the Guadalupe. If you’re looking for a good entry-level river, I think the Comal is best. Meanwhile, the party river is the Guadalupe. The longest float can take about 6 hours, and 3 if the river is full and moving swiftly (ours took about 4 hours). There’s a main horse-shoe route on the Guad that only takes 2 hours, and you can do it twice if you prefer that. If you’re an adventure seeker, the Guad has more rapids. A few people flipped, myself included, and I have a nice 6-inch skin on my knee. Ouchie.
Step 2. Stock up.
Grab a medium-sized cooler (a large one will fit in a tube, but you run the risk of it tipping if it doesn’t fit in the center of the tube). Our group had a HUGE cooler and it actually did just fine, rapids and all. Next, you’re gonna wanna get ALL the beer. Beer disappears so fast on the river (gotta stay hydrated, lol), so when you think you’ve packed enough, pack a half a dozen more. Go for the cheap beer, btw. It’s also a friendly thing to share your booze with strangers. New friends! Of course, bring koozies.
You also might wanna pack water and snacks. We did, and didn’t touch them. Regrets. Watermelon, strawberries, pineapples and cherries are fun to bring. Even funner if they are soaked in champagne or vodka.
Also bring sunscreen, but be aware it’s super had to reapply. You’re always wet!
Step 3. Pick a tube rental place.
You throw a rock and hit one of these tube places, but research and find the one with your priorities. You need one with free parking, free shuttle and walkable to the river entrance. We used TubeHaus (fun fact, central Texas has a rich German heritage, hence New Braunfels and, well, TubeHAUS). PS. TubeHaus has $2 off coupons online, and that makes each tube about $18 each. Which is pretty steep, but about the same everywhere. You can buy your own tube for cheaper and the river is a public, free thing, so you can just hop in, but be aware some shuttles won’t take you back to the starting place.
Texas State Tubes (San Marcos River) is another option. It’s $18 for a person tube and $10 for your cooler tube. Their tubes are bright and colorful and some have cup holders.
Step 4. Tie everything.
Tubers float in herds on the river. Tether everyone together, and especially make sure someone is tied to the cooler. You can get robe from HEB. If you’re in a big group of ten, maybe group five and five, just incase there’s a big rapid. You can also hold on to each other pretty easily! I recommend getting a waterproof bag (like, not a ziplock) and putting your keys and phone in it and tying it to YOUR tube. We put our clothes and our snacks in a plastic bag and put it in with our cooler (not tied to anything) and it somehow slipped out. RIP my dress. Forever bitter about that.
Step 5. Float.
Boom. You’re all set for 3-6 hours of drinking, sun and the occasional rapid. If you have waterproof speakers, your float will be 10x more fun.
Things to know:
It gets busy. Know that if you show up past noon during the summer, there will be crowds and lines. It’s a chill scene usually once you’re in — everyone is just floating and having a good time!
The laws. There’s absolutely no littering. There are free trash bags at the entrance of the river. TAKE ONE! Tie it to your cooler and put your empties. You can’t have any container less than 5 ounces, so things like Jello shots are strictly forbidden. Stick with just beer to play it safe. Also, there are cops (?) or patrol men that will do a cooler check. The fine is about $500, so don’t risk anything.
The rivers are pretty shallow. Anytime we had to stop and stand, the water was no deeper than my knee, but the depth changes, so be careful. The bottom is usually rocky and slippery, so when it does get really shallow (especially on the rapids), lift your butt!
Wear water shoes or attached sandals. RIP all the flip flops lost in the rivers. I wore flip flops and struggled hard to keep them on. I lost one once, but they float, unlike my sunglasses, which also was taken by the river at far too young an age (sad face). However annoying and risky wearing flip flops was, it was pretty necessary to wear SOME sort of shoe because of the rocky bottom, plus you have to walk at some point.
Your back and legs might be sore after. There’s no amount of yoga and crossfit that will prepare your muscles for four hours of holding your body in a tube. Don’t plan a marathon after a river trip, and you should be fine.