What the float! Cruise down these Western Rivers to cool off.

Women floating down the river
Courtesy of Getty Images

One of my first memories of the West is a dreamy river float on the Salt River. My family and I headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, where we took a day trip out to Mesa to spend the day basking and floating in the sun.

It wasn’t far into our float that we stumbled on the Arizona wildlife. A pack of wild horses sat to our right on the bank of the river and much like the Rolling Stones song, these horses didn’t drag anything away but rather brought me a desire to see more of the West. It was the first time I saw a synthesis between outdoor adventure and the allure of nature. I still think of that moment to this day.

Growing up in Florida, river floats were always a summer pastime. Usually, they exist in the form of lazy rivers hidden within expensive water parks. Unlike the $5 drinks I paid for at concession stands back home, my Arizona float cruise allowed us to bring our own food and drinks to complement the ride. And there’s even more to be explored: The West offers a variety of rivers for lazy floats through iconic mountain ranges and more.

More Videos From Sunset

Float on and feel the hot summer sun warm your skin while the cold water of the river keeps you refreshed. No matter your age, river floats can be fun for everyone. I would know because my grandparents joined us on the Salt River that day!

The magic of floating the West is thanks to none other than the scenery that unfolds in front of you. Deep in the Pacific Northwest forest, you’ll float through miles of pacific pine with the North Cascades stretched beside you. Or on the drier side, you can twist through Arizona’s “other Grand Canyon.”

We’ve rounded up our favorite ways to float in the West so you can cruise into the finals days of summer.

Salt River: Mesa, AZ

Getty Images

A Salt River float with Salt River Tubing can be done in a variety of float times ranging from one-and-a-half to four hours. The float cruise brings you through the Tonto National Forest and offers wildlife viewing from wild horses to sleepy owls.

American River: Sacramento, CA

American River

Courtesy of Getty Images

Just east of Sacramento, American River Raft Rentals offers a float on the lower American River and has provided summer fun since 1974. Today, it is one of the largest river float operations in California.

Truckeer River: Tahoe, CA

Avoid the boat traffic on Lake Tahoe and opt for a relaxing river float instead. Truckee River Raft Co.’s 5-mile ride welcomes dogs, food, and drinks for the ride. If you forgot to pack your snacks, there’s a convenience store onsite where you can grab your float goods to go (including sunblock)!

Merced River: Yosemite National Park, CA

Floating down the Merced River has been a Sunset favorite for years, partly due to the amazing view of Half Dome. The river float actually graced our cover in May 1985! You can rent tubes from four locations inside Yosemite directly from the National Park Service and each rental departs from Curry Village. Get to the rental locations early as rentals fill up quickly. Currently, rentals are closed for the 2021 season.

Rental locations:

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge Tour and Activity Desk
  • Curry Village Tour and Activities Kiosk
  • Yosemite Village Tour and Activities Kiosk
  • The Ahwahnee Concierge Desk

If you can’t wait until next season, check out our 1985 cover. You can grab a copy at our Sunset shop.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Sunset-May-1985-cover-0821-707x1024.jpg

Madison River: Bozeman, MT

Cruise by the scenic Madison Mountain Range on a float down the Madison River. You can hop on a shuttle with Montana Whitewater in two locations in downtown Bozeman that’ll drop you off and pick you up from the river. You’ll float by campsites on the bank of the river, so you can scope out your digs for the night.

Deschutes River: Bend, OR

A Deschutes River float runs through the Old Mill District, which features historic mill buildings with restaurants, shops, and more, all the way to the historic Drake Park, a 13-acre park throughout Bend. The Tumalo Creek rental company operates on a park-and-float system with a shuttle that picks you up at the bottom of the float. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch surfers on the river. Currently, rentals with Tumalo Creek are closed due to the pandemic but you can already make a reservation for the next season.

Wenatchee River: Leavenworth, WA

Hidden within central Washington, this alpine town is modeled after the famous mountain getaways of Germany. You can float your way down the Wenatchee River through the Enchantment mountain range with Blue Sky Outfitters. Grab a sausage and cold beer from one of the many Bavarian-themed restaurants after your float.