Salt River Tubing with Kids


Today we’re sharing all about Salt River tubing with kids. 

The Salt River and its surrounding lakes have been a yearly destination for our family. Its accessibility, location, and safe water play has drawn us to its shores multiple times per season since we moved to Arizona.  

However, tubing the Salt River has always been something that we wanted to do, but we were never brave enough to try. We had heard both how fun it was, but also of course the dangers. So, when we got the invitation from our friends to go tubing down the river to say I was excited but terrified is an understatement. Even though I tried to convince them to make this into an adults only trip, they assured me that the kids would love it and we would all be safe. 

This is an adventure that takes a lot of effort by the parents, but once we were on the water we had a good time. My children were enamored in the whole experience and loved seeing this part of the river they had never seen before. 

Keep reading for our tips and tricks for making the Salt River tubing experience friendly for kids.




Salt River Tubing with Kids tip #1: Go with a family that’s experienced

Our friends are seasoned veterans at tubing. They have been going for years with their children. Have all the necessary gear and information to make it an enjoyable experience–plus when kids are around water, plus the more eyes the better.  

Salt River Tubing with Kids tip #2: Parking fee logistics (and how to park FREE)

Truly, the earlier the better for this summer outing with kids. 

Not only for parking (there’s a bus shuttle you can take from a parking lot if you’re renting tubes, but we had our own, so we didn’t need that service). If you’re doing it on your own like we did, parking runs out fast and we were taking two vehicles so we had to plan to be there as early as possible.

Taking more than one vehicle is the best idea if you aren’t using the shuttle: One vehicle parks at the final destination, either halfway or the end. Then everyone jumps into the other vehicle with all the equipment and rides to the beginning parking lot and parks there. This is to prevent you having to lug all your equipment and supplies back to the beginning of the river to get to your car once you’re done tubing. 

Pro tip: if you have a fourth grader,  the Arizona every kids outdoors pass allows you to skip the fee to park. Or, your America the Beautiful pass also provides free parking with this annual tag. 

Don’t have these passes? Make sure you get an $8 parking tag (Circle K at Power and McKellips which is on the way, sells them).  

salt river tubing with kidsSalt River Tubing with Kids tip #3: Start at the halfway launch point 

The full river tubing experience lasts about three hours; or you can start by launching from the halfway point to cut that time in half– definitely recommend this with kids.

Know that if you do the full river, there are some rough patches that are a little dicer with kids.

Pro Tip: try to get there as early as possible, specially, in the hotter temps and with kids. That way you have less crowds (and less folks drinking– the river can definitely turn into a drinking party as the day goes on) to weed through and can get done before the heat of the day. 

Salt River Tubing with Kids tip #4: What food to pack 

First, bring small coolers. Your coolers are going to have to float either on your raft/or on a separate tube so they need to not be too big or too heavy. So bringing three small ones for our large group was perfect.

Mom tip: Plan to eat as little as possible while actually tubing on the river (pack a picnic for after you’re done – we brought subs) and have a big breakfast on the way to the river.

We made the mistake of bringing too much food and having too much trash. For us and our four kids, there was a lot going on (children bouncing around and splashing, music playing, staying seated for safety concerns etc.) all while you’re trying to enjoy yourself and have fun. The last thing I want to be doing is fumbling around snacks.

Of course, pack more water than you think is necessary, and each individual should have their own stay-cold water bottle. 

Salt River Tubing with Kids tip #5: What equipment do you need

You’ll want to put your phones in waterproof bags. We had one waterproof backpack that had sunscreen. a pocket knife, and extra rope to connect all the tubes together before getting in the water.

Everyone wore swimsuits with a thin layer of clothing on top and some type of hat or visor for sun protection.

I suggest getting the largest flotation device/raft/lounger you can for the amount of people you are bringing. That way you don’t have to worry about attaching 10 or more tubes together. Then, use rope to attach 2 or more single tubes to it for holding the coolers and bags. Here’s a link to one similar to what we used

Paddles for steering; We just thought that you would easily just float down the river, but as our friends told us sometimes you get stuck on rocks or get too close to the shore line so you need to steer yourself away so you do not rip your raft or get detached from each other. Most importantly, the paddles will help you to stop when it’s time to get off the water.

salt river tubing with kidsThings parents should be aware of before you take your kids tubing on the Salt River

There’s a lot of drinking on the Salt River: it becomes a party scene as the day goes on. Go early and you’ll avoid the majority of this crowd.

Marshmallow shooters: Evidently there is some kind of tradition that people shoot marshmallows at strangers on the river. My children loved it and loved getting marshmallows from passerbys or picking up the wet marshmallows and throwing them. It was kind of gross to me so just watched and hoped none of them “accidentally” ate them! It’s a fun tradition, but I can’t lie seeing all the marshmallows floating along with other items that people don’t properly dispose of, made the water feel dirty.  

If you’re looking to just freely swim and/or waterplay, save that for the shoreline at Saguaro or the other surrounding areas. This area is not for open water play.

Watch for bees. When we went, they were really bad at the entry points, so just be prepared.  

Always remember to leave nature better than you found it and to pack trash back out. Bring more water than you think you’ll need, and life jackets for kids.


For more summer survival tips, check out our Summer Guide here

For more tips and advice on parts of the Salt River with kids, be sure to follow our Instagram page for a full series of tips along the river. 

See part 1, the Salt River Trail with kids, here.

See part 2, the Salt River’s Granite Reef Park here.



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