Ready to get your float on? Here's where and how to enjoy pristine waters and idyllic scenery on these favorite Florida tube trips.
By Lauren Tjaden
Florida invites you to kick back in a tube and drift along the currents of its spring-fed rivers, an adventure that involves baptizing your toes in deliciously chilly, crystal-clear waters; laughing and relaxing with your friends or family; and soaking up nature’s splendor.
Check out this list to learn about where you can enjoy this beloved Sunshine State summer ritual.
Famed for its enormous population of manatees – the gentle giants with adorable, squashed snouts and pillowy profiles-- Blue Spring welcomes visitors with refreshing, transparent 72-degree waters. Just 45 minutes from Orlando and 40 minutes from Daytona Beach, its allures include swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, biking and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, and taking a guided river boat cruise. But at the top of the list of park experiences, and equal to its winter manatee viewing, is its summertime tubing, a lazy and peaceful float that only takes 15 minutes.
Tube rentals are available through Blue Springs Adventures. You can enter the water at the upper entry, swim to the spring boil and float back down to the main swim dock. The float run lasts about an eighth of a mile. You can bring your own tube, but they’re restricted to 60 inches.
Tucked away in the top corner of northwest Florida, Coldwater Creek promises a cool float on a shallow, spring-fed river that flows through Blackwater River State Forest, an unspoiled paradise dotted with white sand beaches that invite swimming, sunning and picnicking.
While the average depth of the water is only two to three feet, in some places it’s six feet or even deeper, and that’s in ideal conditions. Be aware that river conditions can change rapidly, and that a few inches of rain can raise the water significantly and quickly.
For tube trips and shuttles, check out Adventures Unlimited or Bob's Canoes. Trips vary in length and duration; plan for three to five hours on the water.
The Travel Channel touts the Ichetucknee as “Florida’s Best Tubing River,” and it lives up to the hype, delivering a year-round, epic float down a spring-fed waterway under lush canopies of trees. The shallow, sensitive northern section of the river is closed to tubing, but you can choose from two options: Midpoint Launch and Dampier’s Landing, 45 minutes and an hour 45 minutes, respectively.
Tube rentals are available at several locations just outside the park entrances as well as in the park. Visit the General Store, sited in the south main parking area, for tram passes and rentals.
As for all summer tube trips, arrive early in case the park reaches capacity-- which it often does. For the river’s protection, no food, disposable items, pets, fishing, radios, coolers, or tobacco products are allowed. Check out the park’s tubing information for the complete rules, different launches and trips, and hours. You can save time by reserving a spot and filling out the waiver online before you go.
The spring-fed, crystalline waters of the Rainbow River deliver a time-honored tubing adventure through a natural wonderland. You’ve got two choices for floats:
One choice is a four-hour expedition starting at KP Hole County Park, with a tube rental package that includes the park entry fee, tube rental, and return shuttle. KP’s tubing season starts April 1 and ends Sept. 30, with tube rentals available daily 8 a.m.-12:45 p.m., or until the park reaches capacity. Their regulations state that children must be at least three years old to tube, and disposable containers and alcohol are prohibited on the river.
The other choice is a shorter, two-hour float on the upper part of the Rainbow River out of Rainbow Springs State Park’s tube entrance, located at 10930 SW 180th Avenue Road in Dunnellon. At the State Park, tube rentals include a shuttle. Their rules require that tubers are at least five years old, and tubers who are five or six years old must wear and fasten a lifejacket. Visit Rainbow Spring’s website for hours, more complete rules, recommendations and fees.
Sited in the northern reaches of central Florida, Madison Blue Spring State Park encompasses a first-magnitude, gin-clear spring that bubbles up into a limestone basin nestled against the Withlacoochee River, so enticing it was voted the No. 1 swimming hole in the country by USA Today.
Inflatable floats and tubes are allowed in the spring and adjacent river.
A vendor isn’t currently available for tubes or floats, so you’ll have to bring your own. Tubes can’t exceed 60 inches in more than one direction, and to help protect the spring, no food, drink, pets, tobacco, alcohol or disposable items are allowed.
Often described as Orlando’s natural lazy river, Rock Springs is beyond popular, with the park filling within an hour of opening on a typical summer day—and people waiting in line for it to open. It delivers a 68 degree, free-flowing natural spring, full-service concession, picnic pavilions and playground. The spring winds through a gorgeous natural landscape, with gin-clear water that drifts over rocks and undulating grasses. The park doesn’t provide tube rentals or provide a shuttle, but tube rentals are available from vendors outside the park. Or you can bring your own tube, or even own pool noodles or floats less than five feet. The float takes about 25 minutes. Once you’ve completed it, the walk back to the main park area is only 10-minutes on a paved sidewalk.
Just when you thought float trips couldn’t get any better, along comes Ginnie Springs. This privately-owned park welcomes guests with paddleboarding, volleyball, camping, snorkeling, and diving – and a mind-blowing float trip. On the journey, the Santa Fe River’s unbelievably clear water passes over gaping underground caverns and limestone formations, and twists by seven glorious springs that you can enter and swim in, all at year-round temperature of 72 degrees, colder than the river.
Most tubers enter the water at the Beaver’s Landing river access point and spend about an hour floating down the river to the Tube Exit at Twin Spring. When you exit at Twin Spring, follow the Tube Trail back to the Ginnie Spring parking lot, about a fifteen-minute walk.
Tube rentals are available at the Ginnie Springs General Store. But you can bring your own tubes if you’d like, of any size, and you’ll find a free air fill station to fill them, as well as free-to-use life jackets. Guests of legal age are allowed to consume alcohol while tubing.
The newest addition to Florida State Parks, this park encompasses an assortment of natural springs, including Gilchrist Blue, a large, second-magnitude spring with unparalleled visibility, yielding a whopping 44 million gallons of water per day and discharging it via a short, shallow spring run to the Santa Fe River. You can bring tubes into the main spring’s swimming area, designated by a rope, but not on the quarter mile-long spring run. This is for safety reasons, because alligators commonly frequent the area past the swimming barrier.
Tube rentals aren’t available, so you’ll have to bring your own.
The park also offers paddling and rentals, snorkeling, pavilions, and a concession stand. Other popular activities include camping, hiking, nature study and picnicking.
Leaping from the 22-foot dive/observation tower into the 69-degree, sapphire waters of Wakulla Springs is a rite of passage that has been enjoyed by generations of visitors. Another treasured pastime is kicking back in a tube in the freshwater spring, one of the world’s largest and deepest—and the perfect remedy for beating the summer heat. You can cheer on the jumpers, soak up the scenery around the spring and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife that includes manatees.
You’re not allowed to take tubes out of the swimming area and into the river, and floats with a bottom aren’t allowed. The gift shop, located in The Lodge at Wakulla Springs and open daily, sells tubes.
While you’re at the park, make sure to take a guided boat tour and to explore The Lodge, home to a soda fountain that serves up milk shakes and ice cream sodas from the longest marble countertop in the world.
Spring Creek and Upper Chipola River, Marianna
Fed from Merritt’s Mill Pond and flowing into the Chipola River, Spring Creek is a cool waterway that winds through an unaffected natural utopia of forests, wildflowers and sandbars where you can pull off and swim. The tubing trip from the head of Spring Creek to Magnolia Road takes three or four hours, depending on the water level and current. The first one and a half hours of the float, the water is clear and averages only about three feet, but in the latter part of the trip, it’s deep enough that you can’t see the bottom.
Tubers can access Spring Creek from Spring Creek Park and Turner Landing, but if you chose these, you’ll need to bring your own gear and two vehicles to shuttle.
You can rent tubes from Bear Paw Adventures, which provides a shuttle, or use your own flotation and just book the shuttle and parking pass. Rules include no Styrofoam or glass containers.
Fueled by 63 pure, fresh water springs and coursing some 89 miles, on the Chipola River by Altha, adventure and sweet water flow together for a thrilling tubing expedition. Sited about 17 miles south of Marianna, Chipola River Outfitters offers two trips, complete with rentals and pickup. Both include an idyllic float past limestone shoals and sandy beaches—plus the part that will get your heart pounding: rapids.
Trip #1 is Johnny Boy Landing to Lamb Eddy Landing, approximately four miles long and over a rapid with the not-so-reassuring name of Look and Tremble. The float takes about three and a half hours without breaks, or five hours with stop time for swimming or just kicking back. You can repeat the rapids as many times as you would like; just pick up your tube and walk back.
Trip #2, The Willis Bridge to Lamb Eddy Landing, is about two miles long, covering the same part of the river that trip #1 takes you over but with less float time, only one and a half hours unless you stop at the rapids or along the river. You’ll encounter the Bullet and Horseshoe Bend Rapids on this journey. Just remember the last pick up is at 6 p.m.
When You Go...
Remember, you’ll be on the water for several hours, so make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat. Pack your cell phone, camera and other essential items (like medication) in a small dry-bag, which you can find at most outfitters and outdoor stores. In the summer months, thunderstorms are common, so make sure to check the weather forecast before beginning your float.
Happy floaters are floaters who plan ahead. Be aware that many of the parks that offer tubing reach capacity early in the day, particularly on weekends and holidays.