Easy Thrills: Tubing the Spokane River

Parents like to feel in control, but you can’t control a river. Which is why I was a little nervous to take my young son, 6 years old at the time, tubing on the Spokane River last July.    The trip with outfitter FLOW Adventures, two hours long with class I and II rapids, was as thrilling and fun as it was easy to manage. I didn’t have to worry about gear or transportation. Along with friends, for a total of 3 adults and 3 children – ages 8, 6 and 5, at the time – we met friendly, easy-going guides at the river take-out point near the TJ Meenach Bridge. After receiving an overview of river safety, we were shuttled in a van to the launch point at People’s Park. Complete your waiver forms online to make the check-in process faster and easier; otherwise, you use FLOW’s tablet to complete electronic forms.

FLOW Adventures staff helped carry the large tubes across the Sandifur Bridge, and provided webbing to tether my son’s raft to mine. I used my own rope with large carabiners to connect all six rafts, plus our cooler’s tube, to create a large flotilla. This ensured we would stay together and float at the same rate in order to best enjoy conversation and camaraderie during our trip.

I recommend renting FLOW’s tube for your cooler – a convenient, safe storage for your water bottles, snacks, keys and other valuables. Don’t be like the woman I saw tubing the river while holding her smartphone above her head the entire time. And trust me, your kids will want snacks and cold beverages during the two or more hours of tubing.

FLOW’s tubes have covered bottoms, and are large and stable enough to float through the mellow rapids with ease – the right mix of excitement without fear of flipping. To test its stability, my son, who weighed about 50-pounds at the time, stood and jumped up and down while holding on to the tube’s side handles and never fell off or flipped.

After leaving People’s Park, the river’s first set of rapids provided heart-rushing thrills. Dips, torrents and waves splashed us. My son’s eyes were wide with excitement and perhaps a bit of fear – in a good way. Each set of new rapids was met with more squeals and cheers. The leisure float sections between rapids provided relaxation for storytelling, watching for osprey overhead and wildlife along the shore, and absorbing the serenity and unique vantage point of the river. A few of us had snorkel masks for dipping heads underwater to spy for trout. We passed people fly fishing along the banks and encountered do-it-yourself tubers who looked with envy at our large, comfortable tubes.

Floating the Spokane River should be on every family’s summer bucket list. It’s relatively safe (with the right gear and personal floatation devices), and is appropriate risk-taking for ages 5 and up. Remember Spokane County law requires everyone to wear PFDs on moving water, not just children (county code 6.03.020). Also, be sure everyone wears snug-fitting waterproof sandals (no flip-flops).

The Spokane River is only safe for tubing when the water level is low and air temperatures are hot enough to make the float through chilly water comfortable. FLOW Adventures founder and owner Jon Wilmot says, “We typically open tubing at about 1,600 CFS [cubic feet per second], as soon as the strainers start to lessen on the shorelines and the islands come out.” This summer he anticipates opening tubing season sometime after July 4 to mid-July.

Visit Flow-adventures.com for details about tube rentals and shuttle services (reservations required). Check current Spokane River conditions at Waterdata.usgs.gov/wa/nwis. //


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