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 Beer City. Read on for tips and tricks for cruising the French Broad in style.
What to expect
Get ready for a pleasant and peaceful day on the water. There are no rapids within this section of the river, only ripples, so allow yourself to relax and allow the current to gently carry you away. In fact, 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 whole legions of floaters, but as long as you know what you’re in for, this can make for 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. Most outfitters rent cooler floats, although they strictly prohibit glass containers. A tube paddle is optional but can help you keep up speed during particularly slow sections. Remember to bring a change of clothes, your ID, and plenty of sunscreens.
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 drink your take-out beer. Float times will always depend on water levels.
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 approximately 1.5 miles downriver, about an hour and fifteen-minute float from Hominy Creek. For a shorter day, put in at Jean Webb River Park, two miles (about a forty-five-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, including Asheville Outdoor Center, Asheville Adventure Rentals, and 12 Bones BBQ.
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 beer, no driving necessary.
Your first option for dining is 12 Bones Smokehouse, which offers slow-cooked, scratch-made BBQ cooked in the traditional Carolina style. Their mouthwatering ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and sides (tangy pickled okra, jalapeño cheese grits) are famous throughout the Southeast; in fact, President Obama names 12 Bones as his all-time favorite BBQ joint, and claims it’s the number one reason he purchased a home outside of Asheville!
Unfortunately for everyone, their Riverside location is only opened during the weekdays. That’s right, the store owner claims their popularity would utterly overwhelm them on weekends, to the point where the cooks would not be able to keep up with demand! If you’re floating by Monday through Friday, make sure and stop for some of this legendary Southern cuisine. If you’re a weekend warrior, float on by.
Thankfully, The Wedge Brewery is just downriver. This is the most popular take-out for those who put in at Hominy Creek or Carrier Park. Famous for their Iron Rail IPA, The Wedge is a unique brewery that features outdoor seating in an eclectic and inviting ambiance. Split a pitcher of Apricot Pale Ale 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.
Your final stop on “The French Broad pub crawl” is the Bywater Bar, a hot-spot for adventure enthusiasts offering a full cocktail menu, outdoor grill, and 18 beers on tap. Between the live music, lawn games, and locals milling between bonfires, you may feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a summer camp for grown-ups. Just remember that someone still has to drive the shuttle back to the put-in, so imbibe accordingly.
River cruisers and fans of the River Arts District now have even more look forward to: the much-anticipated opening of both the Smoky Park Supper Club and New Belgium Brewery. Both establishments will offer yet another tempting reason to eddy out for beer, BBQ, and live music.
Rentals and Shuttles
For an affordable price, Asheville Outdoor Center and Zen Tubing offer rentals and shuttle services for a variety of river sections. Asheville Adventure Rentals offers shuttles, gear, and beta for all things paddle sports. Here at Frugal Backpacker, you can find kayaks, tubes, and air pumps, and we will gladly fill up any tube you bring in the door.
By all means, bring along your pup, but keep her safe and happy in the bird Dog K9 Personal Floatation Device, created by Astral Designs, a local Asheville PFD, and footwear company.
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