Tubing the French Broad River is a quintessential Asheville experience, one which combines languid, fluvial enjoyment with artistic urban charm. You will float through forests, breeze past breweries, and find ample opportunity to shore up for local brews, bonfires, and food trucks. It’s no wonder that tubing has become a time-honored tradition here in North Carolina’s biggest little city.
What to expect
Get ready for a pleasant and peaceful day on the water. There are no rapids within this section of river, only ripples, so allow yourself to relax and let the current gently carry you away. It’s quite possible to float the whole river without getting wet, although you’ll probably choose to swim or get blasted by the water cannon at the Asheville Outdoor Center.
Be prepared for a highly social excursion. While there are plenty of places to find solitude on the French Broad River, this section is not one of them. On any given summer day you can expect legions of floaters, creating a festive and convivial atmosphere.
What to Bring
Aside from a raft, water shoes, and the recommended PFD, the seasoned floater will bring along a well stocked cooler filled with snacks, ice water, and beverages. Glass containers and littering are strictly prohibited. A tube paddle is optional, but can help you keep up speed during particularly slow sections. Remember to bring water, a change of clothes, your ID, and plenty of sunscreen. Frugal Backpacker (52 Westgate Parkway in West Asheville) sells fun tubes with lots of personality and can inflate them while you wait.
As you plan your excursion, take into consideration how many miles you’d like to cover, time in the sun, and how eager you are to hang out at your take-out location. Float times will always depend on water levels. A few tube rental options exist, but if you plan on tubing more than a couple of times, you’ll come out better by purchasing your own.
For an extended day on the river, begin at Hominy Creek River Park in West Asheville, just north of the Biltmore Estate. A second option, Carrier Park, is located about a mile and a half downriver or about a forty five minute float from Hominy Creek. For a shorter day, put in at Jean Webb River Park, two miles (about an hour and fifteen minute float) from Carrier.
All three parks offer stacked concrete steps for easy entry. In addition, a number of informal pull-offs and sandy shoals offer even more opportunity to get in the water. Always be minded of private property.
Many riverside businesses offer and encourage river access, too.
While nothing beats a day on the river, some Asheville locals believe that the real fun begins at the take-out. That’s because riverside bars and restaurants offer a seamless transition between cold river and cold beverage, no driving necessary.
The Wedge Brewery is just downriver is a most popular take-out for those who put in at Hominy Creek or Carrier Park because of the public parking lot under Haywood Road. The Wedge is a unique brewery that features outdoor seating in an eclectic and inviting ambience. Split a pitcher and a bucket of peanuts, or grab a bite from one of the on-site food trucks such as El Kimchi or Melt Your Heart Grilled Cheese.
Continue on to New Belgium Brewery and Salvage Station. Your final stop on “The French Broad pub crawl” might be the one-two punch of Ole Shakey’s and The Bywater Bar. Between the live music, lawn games, and folks milling between bonfires, you may feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a summer camp for grown-ups. Both are private clubs, so check with them before tubing to find out membership criteria.
Just remember that someone still has to drive the shuttle back to the put-in, so plan accordingly. Also, keep in mind bars and restaurants along the river are businesses. Locals know it’s bad etiquette to park several empty cars in their lots while spending hours on the river. Leave one car at your exit location and check with the establishment to make sure it’s okay.
Rentals and Shuttles
If you’re visiting, Asheville Outdoor Center and Zen Tubing offer rentals and shuttle services for a variety of river sections at affordable prices. If you live in the area and plan on tubing more than once or twice, Frugal Backpacker (52 Westgate Parkway in West Asheville) sells tubes and inflates them while you wait.
More to Explore
Has tubing “wet” your appetite for the river life? There are some fantastic opportunities for adventure along the 140 miles of the French Broad River. Check out The French Broad Paddle Trail for a multi-day river trip or bounce down the class III rapids of Section 9 by raft or kayak. This ancient river is one of Asheville’s greatest assets—go forth and explore!
Featured image provided by Eli Duke