Tubing Boulder Creek: Insider Tips for an Adventurous Summer Float

If you live in Boulder and have never tubed the creek, it's time to take a dip.
If you live in Boulder and have never tubed the creek, it's time to take a dip. Avery Stonich
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Tubing Boulder Creek is a local rite of passage, not to mention an adrenaline-fueled adventure. Big drops, roiling rapids, refreshing cold water, and a leafy canopy make this the perfect outing for a hot summer day. Whether you prefer doing laps through the western edge of town or running a long stretch of several miles, we've gathered the beta you need for a rollicking good time.

When to Go

Lying chest-down on the tube puts your face right in the action.
Lying chest-down on the tube puts your face right in the action. Avery Stonich

Tubing season runs from May to August, depending on flows in Boulder Creek. During peak runoff (usually May and June and sometimes into July), the water is colder and faster, so brace yourself for serious whitewater action. The creek mellows out later in the summer.

Creek flows are measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). The ideal range for tubing is 100–200 cfs. Above 200 cfs, conditions get a little spicy and you can count on getting flipped a few times, which is all part of the fun. Once flows crest 300 cfs, you better know what you’re doing before braving the rapids. At 700 cfs and higher, the whitewater can be deadly, so the sheriff’s office closes the creek to tubers. Heed this warning.

To find out the current creek flow, check out the Colorado Division of Water Resources graph. (The creek is running between 200 and 250 cfs right now, making for an exciting ride.)

Tube Gear 101

Go old school by outfitting a truck inner tube with crisscrossed bicycle inner tubes and a duct-taped seat platform.
Go old school by outfitting a truck inner tube with crisscrossed bicycle inner tubes and a duct-taped seat platform. Avery Stonich

For a cushy, stable tube with handles, head to Whitewater Tube Company at 3600 Arapahoe, where you can rent a tube for $16, or buy one for up to $50. They have 54-inch super tubes (for people who are 5’10” or taller) and 48-inch pro tubes (for people who are shorter than 5’10”). The shop is conveniently located near a good take-out on the creek, and they offer shuttle service so you don’t have to worry about shuffling cars.

If you are strapped for cash or want to go old school, buy a basic truck tire tube for $14.95 from the Conoco at Arapahoe and Broadway. This place doesn’t exactly gush with effusive customer service, but they will sell you a tube and let you inflate it for free. Ask the attendant for advice on how full to fill it, and check out the example tube they have hanging in the garage. While inflating, put your knees on the tube to help distribute the air evenly and avoid bulges.

If you are going the truck tube route, we recommend you take a MacGyver approach and customize it for the most comfortable ride. Slide a couple of old bicycle tubes over the tube in a crisscross pattern, taking care that the valves are positioned away from the inner tube to prevent punctures (you might even want to use a nipper to trim them). Secure a zip tie around the center point, and then duct tape something like an old Frisbee into the middle to create a platform to protect your butt. (Trust us, you’ll thank us for this advice.) The bicycle tubes also make handy handles.

Where to Go

Whitewater Tube Company has a handy map of the creek to help you plan.
Whitewater Tube Company has a handy map of the creek to help you plan. Avery Stonich

Boulder Creek can be runnable in a tube from Eben G. Fine Park all the way to 55th Street. If you’re feeling ballsy, walk upstream a bit beyond the pedestrian bridge at the west end of Eben G. Fine. This will be trial by fire, since you’ll hit some of the biggest rapids right off the bat. Don’t be surprised if you flip. Try to keep a hold of your tube, and run the river with a buddy so you can help each other out. If you’re not up for the gnarly drops, put in at the east end of Eben G. Fine Park or even farther down toward 6th Street.

Trying to tube through the whitewater park west of Eben G. Fine isn't recommended, since it has some burly rapids that can be quite dangerous.

Many people like to run laps from Eben G. Fine to the high school. When you get to the Broadway bridge, stay right to avoid going over the spillway. To float farther east and end your run near Whitewater Tube Company, pass under the 30th Street bridge and then look for the Bank of the West on the left. From here, it's a short walk back to the shop. If you hit the Arapahoe Avenue bridge, you’ve gone too far—unless you feel like continuing to 55th Street.

What to Wear

A wet suit is an excellent idea for tubing Boulder Creek.
A wet suit is an excellent idea for tubing Boulder Creek. Terry Stonich

Obviously you’ll need a bathing suit. Water shoes or wetsuit booties are also key since you’ll be walking across a rocky bottom, kicking against rocks and other obstacles, and walking laps and/or back to your car.

The water is really freaking cold (like tooth-chattering cold after a while), especially earlier in the season. If you’re planning to float a long stretch of creek—say, from Eben G. Fine to 38th—you might be happiest wearing a wetsuit, which also protects against scrapes on rocks. If you’re just going do laps from Eben G. Fine to the library, you can probably skip the wetsuit since you’ll get warm while walking back upstream.

A helmet and PFD aren’t required but are a good idea, especially during higher flows. Don’t wear sunglasses or anything else that can come off your body. Leave a towel and dry set of clothes in your car since you’ll be chilly at the end.

Tubing Technique

Lean too far back while running rapids and you're likely to flip.
Lean too far back while running rapids and you're likely to flip. Avery Stonich

You can sit in the tube or lie on it face forward; it’s a matter of personal preference. If you’re sitting, keep your butt up since the bottom of the creek is rocky and a saggy bottom will get bashed. (This is where that platform you built comes in handy.) Hold on tightly when going through rapids. Running through them backwards can help keep you from flipping. If you go head or feet first, keep your weight slightly forward as you ride the rapid to avoid sinking into a hole.

Tube to Work

Looking for an excellent excuse to show up at work sopping wet with a big fat smile on your face? Join in the ninth annual Tube to Work Day , which is Friday, July 15, 2016. Put in is 8 am at Eben G. Fine Park. Wear business casual attire (or a suit if you really want to make a splash); closed-toed shoes and a helmet are required. Organizers would prefer participants not drive to the start (this is Tube to Work Day, after all). Shuttle service is available from the LogRhythm at 4780 Pearl East Circle starting at 7 am.

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