Photograph by Peter W. Cross
On hot summer days, let the current carry you under a cool canopy of trees. Refreshing and relaxing, river tubing is a low-tech, all-natural way to get out on the water. On most routes, you can stop to swim or picnic before floating on. Observe posted signs and rules of the river to stay safe and avoid trespassing.
Rainbow River, Dunnellon
Fed by refreshing Rainbow Springs (with an average year-round temperature of 70ºF) and lined with lush vegetation, the Rainbow is a nature-made course for a cool, lazy river ride. "Ease into your float, take in the quiet splendor, and let your senses do the workout," says Barbra Hernández, Marion County public information manager and a former National Park Service park ranger. "While dipping the heat and worries away, look for fish, alligators, otters, and other wildlife in their natural habitat." From April to September, tube rentals and a shuttle service are available at KP Hole Park and Rainbow Springs State Park. Parking is limited near the tubing areas, so arrive before 8 a.m. on weekends to guarantee you can get in.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Fort White
The 3.5-mile float from the north end of the Ichetucknee River to the last tube take-out spot won't cure all ills, but it is likely to dial down stress for about three hours. The current eases along at about a mile per hour, offering ample time to unwind and take in the scenery. Nine springs feed the crystal-clear river, home to otters, ducks, fish, turtles, beavers, and other wildlife. Tube rentals are only available outside the state park, and shuttles to and from the river operate Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Arrive at the park by 8 a.m. since there are limits on the number of tubers allowed on the river each day.
Chipola River Paddling Trail, Spring Creek to U.S. 90 Bridge, Marianna
It may not be white-water rafting, but this roughly four-mile run from Jackson County's Spring Creek Park to the U.S. 90 bridge can get the adrenaline pumping. "The tubing trip is not for the faint of heart," says Anna McAlpin, co-owner of Bear Paw Adventures, which provides tube rentals and shuttle service. "Depending on the water level, the trip can be an extreme adventure in fast-moving waters." This section of the paddling trail provides opportunities to spot a wide array of wild things, including barred owls, egrets, ospreys, turtles, and the occasional alligator sunning on a log.
Practical Tip: Put food and supplies in a 100 percent waterproof backpack, bag, or dry tube; and carry phones, cameras, and other electronic gadgets in waterproof cases. If possible, bring or rent an extra tube with a bottom in it to store your gear. Use a cord to tow the spare tube behind you as you float.
When to Go: Memorial Day through Labor Day is prime tubing season due to the hot temperatures and the wide availability of tube rentals and shuttle services. Due to the popularity of tubing, some county and state parks can reach tubing and/or parking capacity by 10 a.m.
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