There are so many ways to enjoy Richmond’s own James River, especially during the summer months. Our recent post showed you the best fishing spots on the James. But if you’d rather be in the water yourself, tubing on the river is a popular choice. Tubing is easy and fun. It’s a great way to spend some time outside with friends or family. In our guide to tubing on the James River we’ll tell you what to bring, what to leave at home, and more.
WHERE TO TUBE
For a great tubing trip, most people put in at Pony Pasture and float downstream to Belle Isle or Brown’s Island, depending on the river level. The trip is around six miles, and the time it takes to float depends on river conditions, but could be anywhere from two to six hours.
Several businesses offer tube rental and guided floats, but there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself. If you want to take this route, we recommend parking downtown where you plan to get out of the river. This way you’ll be able to dry off and go straight home. After parking, you can take a GRTC bus up to Pony Pasture Rapids Park. Get off at the Hawthorne Road stop. For this method you’ll want to carry your tube deflated and fill it up at one of the nearby service stations once you arrive.
And don’t forget to bring your friends. It’s not safe to tube alone.
Pony Pasture Rapids Park is located at 7200 Riverside Drive, Richmond, Virginia 23225.
WHAT TO BRING
- Sturdy Inner Tube – A regular plastic tube you would use at the pool won’t do the job for river tubing. You’ll encounter Class I and II rapids on this stretch of the James, so you need a tube that can withstand some rough handling and sharp rocks. Unless you plan to go tubing frequently, a rental is probably your best bet for a sturdy tube. Some companies that provide tube rental and other services are listed below.
- Sunscreen – You’ll be out on the river for several hours, so you will probably need to reapply sunscreen. Find a good waterproof sunscreen and take it with you to avoid painful sunburns. You might consider a spray sunscreen for ease of use, but any “sport” or water resistant sunscreen is a good choice.
- Other Sun Protection – In addition to sunscreen, consider wearing a hat and t-shirt while you are out on the river to further protect you from harmful UV rays. Just make sure it’s a hat you don’t mind losing as you never know what’s going to happen on the river.
- Appropriate Footwear – It’s important to choose shoes that will stay on your feet, so flip flops are not a good choice for tubing. Going barefoot may seem like a good idea when you start out, but you might have to walk some distance after you get out, so some kind of shoes are a better choice. Lightweight sneakers or sport sandals like Tevas are the best options.
- Food and Water – You’ll be out on the river for a pretty long time. Stay hydrated and energized by packing some snacks and water bottles. Just remember to take your trash with you when you leave.
- Watertight Bag for Valuables – At least one person in your party will probably need to carry car keys and a cell phone. Make sure you have a truly waterproof bag to store these items.
- Change of Clothes – If you have somewhere dry to store it, you may want to bring dry clothes to change into after your trip down the river.
WHAT TO LEAVE AT HOME
If you don’t want it to get wet, muddy, lost, or broken, leave it at home. Don’t bring any glass containers or Styrofoam coolers with you on the river as these pose a hazard. Small children and pets should also stay home.
TUBING BUSINESSES AND SERVICES
- Tube Purchase
- Tube trips with shuttle service for youth groups only
Location and Contact
6834 Old Westham Road
Richmond, Virginia 23225
River City Adventures
- Guided Tubing Trips – Guided tubing adventures are offered for groups of six or more. Guided trips are led by an experienced whitewater guide to help you make the most of your tubing experience.
- Half Shuttle Tubing Adventures – Tube rental, transportation to the put-in location
- Cooler tubes – Available for an additional fee
100 Stockton Street
Richmond, Virginia 23224
James River Park System
The James River Park System offers tubing trips on Saturdays through the end of July. Groups meet at the park headquarters and hike upstream to the put-in point before floating back down. A significant discount is offered to City of Richmond residents.
4001 Riverside Drive
Richmond, Virginia 23225
Tell us about your favorite tubing adventure, and don’t forget to share with friends!
Photo: Chris Dilworth