Another item finally ticked off the bucket list! I could never imagine grabbing a rubber swim ring and floating down a British river, I just always associate them with being a bit grubby and full of rats and shopping trolleys (carts)! But when you’re in America, 1000 miles away from the nearest ocean, beggars can’t be choosers and riving tubing in Iowa is a much loved past time!
Updated: March 2021
River Tubing in Iowa
You may have seen pictures of river tubing in places like South East Asia…they are like bar crawls, surely the 2 don’t really mix?! It’s a similar story in America, but not quite so extreme. You grab a swim ring…complete with a built in cup hole and a back rest and then tie yourself to a ‘cooler carrier’ which looks like a mini blow up boat!
I visited Riverview Ridge Campgrounds and Recreation just outside of Cascade in East Iowa. This location is along the North Fork Maquoketa River. Tube hire was $15 or $5 if you took your own and the cooler carriers were $7.
The trip started at the top of the campground and lasted for around 2 hours. The journey is calm and relaxing so don’t expect white water rafting!! The night before my trip, it rained quite heavily, this churned up the river, making it a bit brown and muddy but without the rain I think we would have struggled, we bottomed out several times on the river bed as it was never more than around knee deep! You can check out my video footage below to get a feeling of the speed…
Other than ‘running aground’, the only other challenge we faced was the odd rogue tree, but me being me found it hilarious every time the big group of tied together tubes headed straight for the twigs!
Being overcast, the weather was pretty perfect. On a hot, sunny day I think you would get completely fried alive! The others in the group thought the water was quite chilly, but being used to the FREEZING UK coast line I found the water temperature quite comfortable! I’m glad I wore my rash guard just to protect myself in case the sun did come out.
Along the route, we stopped at 2 sand bars, the first one nearest the camp had a porta potty…this was the only one though so if you need to go further along in the trip you’ll be squatting in the bushes! Not only did we take along coolers full of drink cans, but we packed them with snacks too (I got to try Puppy Chow!). I would suggest water shoes for these stops, I took flip flops but I found that they sunk in the mud. For those that had water shoes, they found that when they wore them in the river, they’d fill up with stones, but then they were more comfortable when it came to the rest stops! I usually just stayed on my ring during these stops…I found that the cooler carrier was heavy enough to act as a good enough anchor on the sand bar to stop me from floating away!
The end of the route is marked by an orange and white post where the river narrows. Here we were picked up 5 at a time by a Kubota that took us along the trail through the woods, where we could then load onto a bigger trailer towed by a tractor to go back to the campground! The staff at the campground loaded all the hired tubes into a separate trailer but this does mean that any ‘personal’ tubes and all the coolers had to be taken with you on the Kubota. Essentially you just pay for the ride back to camp!
I was a little disappointed when the trip was over, I could have easily spent another couple of hours floating along! There were also kayakers along the same stretch of river, unfortunately us being such a big group, we literally took up the whole width of the river so they had to squeeze around us as we didn’t exactly have much control without a paddle!
I have since been river tubing in Iowa several more times! If you want to arrange your own float, it takes a little bit more planning. If you decide to use kayaks instead of tubes, you may need a trailer to carry equipment. You’ll need to find decent entry and exit points (with parking) and then have at least 2 vehicles, as you’ll have to leave one at the exit point and have one that can transport you to the starting point. Often, driving distances are a lot quicker than the float times so you won’t necessarily have to drive a huge distance between the two!
Iowa White Water Parks
Another option is to go to a FREE white water park. These are sections of river that have been created into rapids for tubers and kayakers. At the moment, Iowa has 2, one in Manchester and another in Charles City. It is possible to do a longer float from these locations but part of the fun is to just keep going through the rapids. In Manchester you can park in a parking lot next to the White Water Park and the start of the rapids. Once you reach the end you can carry the tube back to the start via a short pathway!
If you don’t have your own tubes, there is a small rental shop open in the summer a short walk from the Manchester White Water Park. You can find my review of River Tubing at Manchester Water Park in Iowa here. Rental tubes are made from very thick plastic so are a bit more robust when it comes to bumping into rocks and trees. We purchased a cheap double tube in advance from the local Mernards and after 2 trips it’s still going strong.
Other Companies That Offer River Tubing in Iowa (with shuttles)
Lou Lou’s Landing – Olin, Iowa
Monticello Canoe Rental – Monticello, Iowa (8 mile trail, 5-6hr float on tubes)
Decorah River Tubes – Decorah, Iowa
Off The Driftless Wellness and Adventure Company – Decorah, Iowa
Rock-n-Row Adventures – Eldora, Iowa (3-5hr float)
Seven Oaks Recreation – Boone, Iowa (June to September, 7 mile trail, 3-5hr float)
Racoon River Excursions – Des Moines, Iowa (approx 4-5hr float depending on river levels)
Rubber Duck Outfitters – Hancock, Iowa (4-5hr float offering canoes, kayaks, tubes and tanking)