Floating the Spokane River during the hottest days of summer has long been a favored pastime for generations of locals—blow up the big, fat tubes, load up the cooler and the car and go.
This process got much easier—no more figuring out tube transport and a shuttle system—thanks to Jon Wilmot and his company, FLOW Adventures, which he founded in 2005. This summer is their first tubing season, providing daily tube rentals and shuttle service to the put-in.
“It’s great for our customers. We handle the logistics so they can concentrate on having fun,” says Jon.
FLOW stands for “For Love Of Water,” says Jon. “We play in the water all four seasons.”
In addition to river tubing, FLOW offers whitewater rafting and inflatable kayak tours on the Spokane River, as well as the Lower Salmon River in Idaho. They also rent rafts and inflatable kayaks. During the winter, the business provides guided snowshoe trips and winter backcountry educational courses.
Jon, age 43, grew up in Cheney, where as a kid he enjoyed cliff jumping, waterskiing and wakeboarding at Williams and Badger lakes.
Life for Jon today still revolves around water, with at least 250 days a year spent within the Spokane River corridor paddling, rafting, stand-up paddling, tubing, trail running, mountain biking or just helping customers on and off the river.
“The most amazing thing I’ve seen on the Spokane River was two Bald Eagles sitting on the rock in the Bowl and Pitcher with three feet of snow on the ground while it was snowing heavily,” he says.
When floating the river, the first and foremost safety gear item is a personal flotation device (PFD)—one in good condition that fits well. It’s not just a good idea; it’s required by law to wear a PFD on moving water in Washington State. Other recommended gear includes a reliable tube, water bottle, sunscreen, and “most importantly, using footwear because some people think it’s cool to break beer bottles on the rocks,” says Jon.
“Be aware of yourself and your surroundings. The river is fun and a safe place to play if you use a little common sense and don’t pretend it can’t or won’t happen to you—that’s when life usually hands you your biggest lessons.” As for safe stretches of the Spokane River for non-technical floating, one is in the valley, from Harvard Road to Plante’s Ferry Park. “There are several put-ins and take-outs in this stretch,” Jon says.
The other stretch is in downtown Spokane, from the Sandifur Bridge to the TJ Meenach Bridge area. “You can lengthen the run by going up to Water Ave, but watch out for the mean and nasty bridge abutments,” he says. “Or you can make it longer by floating down to the sewer plant.”
While Jon’s summer work days are long and busy, he says, “Ultimately it just comes down to making people’s memories of the Spokane area all about our local rivers and lakes, which takes a ton of logistics, managing staff and the guests’ schedules.”
“One of my favorite things to hear guests say is ‘I have lived my whole life in Spokane and have never seen it from this point of view—floating the river.’ The river is why Spokane exists, so I encourage people to get out on your local river and enjoy it. If you have never seen Riverside State Park from the middle of the river, you are missing out.”
When Jon isn’t on the river, he enjoys telemark skiing, snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, trail running, and relaxing on the beach. Portland and the Oregon Coast, Sherman Pass (during winter), the Salmon River (in Idaho), and Washington’s Cascades are some of his favorite locations to venture beyond Spokane.
Here is Jon’s gear list for floating the river. A garbage bag for packing out your trash and a Discover Pass to support Washington State Parks are also recommended by Jon.
PFD: NRS Ninja.
TUBE: TUBE Pro 48” with can holder.
KAYAK: NRS Bandit Inflatable or Wave Sport Project X 48.
PADDLE: Werner Double Diamond.
SHORTS: Patagonia board shorts.
SANDALS/BOOTIES: Luna Sandals. “By far the best I’ve had, and made in Seattle.”
HAT: Sweet Protection helmet (for whitewater rafting/kayaking) or big sun hat.
SUNGLASSES: Smith Pavilion.