Floating down a river in an inner tube with a cold beverage is as much of a DC tradition as softball on the Mall, happy hour, and asking people where they work. But where to tube? Load up the car and head an hour west to Harpers Ferry, which sits at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. If you remember your high school U.S. History, in 1859, John Brown and a ragtag bunch of abolitionists tried to seize an army arsenal in Harpers Ferry as the first step in inciting a slave rebellion. But we digress.
Just outside of Harpers Ferry’s historic downtown, River Riders offers two tubing options—the slower, lazier Shenandoah float and the faster, more rapid-y Potomac run. While both are great fun, we prefer the whitewater option. The rapids you encounter on the five mile run aren’t daunting—you won’t spill your beverage—and they provide a little excitement.
After sitting through a safety video at River Riders, you’ll be ushered onto a school bus that takes you to the put in (that’s river-speak for where you put your tube in the water). The bus will be waiting for you at the end of the run. River Riders also rents cooler tubes for snacks and beer. (While every tubing operator cautions against drinking, they do it with a wink and a nod. Just make sure to bring cans and leave the glass bottles at home.) The downside? River Riders drops you off at the most crowded, popular stretch of the Potomac. Some weekends, it can feel more like a rowdy bar than a lazy river.
For a more DIY experience, head to Brunswick Family Campground in nearby Brunswick, MD. There, River and Trail Outfitters will rent you a tube and send you on your way. It’s your job to walk upstream along the C&O Canal trail, as far as you want, and float back down to the campground. This stretch of the Potomac is slower and less crowded than Harpers Ferry. The best part? You get your tube for the whole day, so you can take your time. Hop off the tube and explore the river banks, go for a swim in the crystal-clear water, or do another float. After, stop by Brunswick’s El Sloppy Taco for some pretty bangin’ Tex-Mex.
Pro-tip: No matter where you go for your tubing adventure, make sure to wear water shoes or old sneakers. The rocks can tear up your feet and flip flops won’t cut it. Another pro tip? Bring some rope to tie your group’s tubes together so you don’t get separated.
Ok, we hear you. Harpers Ferry is a bit of a drive. Here in the district, the Key Bridge Boathouse rents kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards. So city-folk have no excuse for not getting on the river this summer.