Atmosphere

Power of the Poudre

When a lazy float becomes a wicked white-water journey.

July 2010

It's a sunny Saturday morning in the dead of summer. You're in dire need of cooling off. The city streets are practically sizzling. Plan of escape: Cache la Poudre, just over an hour's drive north to Fort Collins. No, not for fishing, nor for swimming—although that is a likely, if unintended, possibility. We're talking tubing, in a good old-fashioned black rubber inner tube.

So you pack a beverage, find a tube, head for Poudre Canyon, wade into the river, and settle in for a lazy ride with some tasty cold ones and pretty scenery. Easy, and gloriously relaxing.

Or so you were expecting. When the first rapid launches you from the donut and lands you upside down in an ice-cold eddy, you realize something's a little bit off. Maybe, just maybe, you started too high in the canyon—that part where the frothy rapids live. Ten minutes later, when you've been pummeled by a poorly positioned boulder, lost a shoe, and are hanging onto your bathing suit for dear life, you're pretty positive that your tranquil float isn't happening—and that this trip is way better. Provided you don't mind a little river carnage here and there.

The thing is, there's no official rulebook or outfitter to plan your day o' white-water tubing. So we've compiled these handy tips to help you out.

  1. Find your trusty vessel
    Big O Tires (1506 N. College Ave.), Discount Tire (1751 S. College Ave.), and Jax Mercantile Co. (1200 N. College Ave.) are good bets. Pump up your tubes at the gas station on the corner of North College Avenue/U.S. 287 and Jefferson Street, where you'll continue up 287 to CO 14 (Poudre Canyon Highway).
  2. Keep logistics in mind
    You'll need at least two cars: one to drop at your take-out point on CO 14, Picnic Rock (a sloped rock slab and sandy beach with picnic tables and barbecue grates), and one to shuttle tubers and tubes a couple of miles upriver to a put-in point.
  3. Dress accordingly
    The earlier the season, the higher (and colder) the water; try late July or early August. Go with Chacos or water shoes for the rocky bottom—anything but flip-flops, which are goners after the first overturn.
  4. Protect yourself
    Try to face forward as you approach a rapid so you can see obstacles, and hoist yourself up in your tube so your, uh, bottom doesn't bottom out.
  5. Protect your libations
    Pack your Nalgenes and other assorted refreshments in a dry bag while you float, and make sure you can securely attach it to a tube. If you flip, you will lose any loose items. Leave barbecue items in a cooler in the car so you can get your grill on at Picnic Rock when you're done.