Day trip from Scottsdale: Go tubing on the Salt River

It’s an experience that every Scottsdale area resident and visitor must experience to appreciate.

Looking for a cool and wet adventure? We invite you to spend the day or an afternoon tubing the Lower Salt River rapids in beautiful Tonto National Forest near Mesa, Arizona! Just minutes from Scottsdale, the Salt River is a recreational paradise that offers “chills and thrills” while floating on cool and refreshing mountain-stream waters. Enjoy a “floating picnic” and experience the natural wonders of the Salt River! You may choose two, three, and five-hour trips that include float time and shuttle bus ride, weather and water flow permitting. Tube rentals and shuttle service are available 7 days a week, starting at 9 a.m. and it only cost $17 per person/tube! Group reservations are available for tubing Mon.- Fri., excluding holidays.

The River:

Be careful when launching; the current is surprisingly strong. Tie everything together if desired, or leave tubes loose for riders to paddle at will around the river. Enjoy long stretches of tranquil water, punctuated by brief, fast-moving sections. Remember to pull up your legs when approaching rapids – sometimes the water is less than a foot deep!

The trip will take anywhere from three to six hours, depending on the speed of the river, starting point, and any stops along the way. Two popular spots to pull off and eat include just under the bridge where the highway crosses the river, and a small cliff-jumping spot a little further down.

Start your day off with a 30 minutes drive to East Mesa, the home of Salt River Tubing and Recreation.

Tubing trips with Salt River Tubing can last between 2-6 hours depending on the route you chose.

2-hour trip:  There are two, 2-hour tube rides. One starts from south of Saguaro Lake and ending at the Blue Point Bridge.  The other one starts at Goldfield and carries you down the Salt River south and west past Coon Bluff and ends just south of the Salt River Indian Reservation.  Tubers are picked up by shuttle and returned to their cars at the Salt River Tubing company’s headquarters.

3-hour trip:   The 3-hour route starts at Salt River Tubing’s main building and ends in Goldfield taking you slowly yet swiftly north and west on a Salt River extension to Goldfield.  The shuttle will take you back to your vehicle from Goldfield.   The views are spectacular and the water flow provides a safe yet adventurous trip for you and your friends or family.

5-hour trip:  The 5-hour tube trip starts off south of Saguaro Lake and floats you past the Goldfield Mountains, Blue Point Bridge and ends at Goldfield.  The incredible vistas of Tonto National Forest will keep you in awe, while the cool water and rush of the river inspires a sense of thrill for every tuber.

6-hour trip:  There is a 6-hour tube trip that runs only on Saturdays.  It starts just south of Saguaro Lake and tubers float through all points well past the Salt River Indian Reservation ending at a small tributary of the Salt River.

If you’re planning on the most adventurous 6-hour Saturday trip, be sure to let the Salt River Tubing Team Members know in advance whether you’ll need a ride back to get your car.  Limited shuttle service is available from this remote location.

There are several places to get out of the river. The last and most popular, for the bottom parking lot, is number 4. Don’t miss the landing – it’s a long walk back.

The parking lot (and toilets) are up a short hill from the landing area. Take a few minutes and deflate the tubes before going up; it’s much cooler and more pleasant near the river. Just make sure not to block the exit point. Deflating the tubes generally takes a while; use this time and send people to retrieve the car from the top parking lot.


Days and Hours:

The river will be open from 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. with the last tube rentals at 1 p.m.   After that, the river is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. May thru September. Depending on where you stop, a typical float can last between two and five hours.  Weather and how fast the river is flowing could dampen those plans. So make sure to check Salt River Tubing’s Facebook page and/or website for specific updates.  The last two-hour trip starts at 3:00 pm.  The last shuttle pick up is at 6:30 pm


Tube rentals are $17, plus taxes and fees. That includes the tube and shuttle to the river. Extra tubes may be rented for coolers.  They accept cash and credit cards.  Parking is free.  They require one person in every group of 5 to provide their driver’s license as a deposit.  You must be at least 8 years old and 4 feet tall to tube and/or ride the shuttle bus.


Make sure everyone has an inner tube or other flotation devices, plus at least one extra for the cooler and trash bag.

It’s possible to rent tubes from the Salt River Tubing company. With a cash-only tube rental, they provide bus service from the parking lot to and from the top and the bottom of the river. But huge crowds cause long waits for both tube rentals and bus rides (thousands of people flock to the river on especially hot summer days), the tubes are the same price to rent as to buy elsewhere, and the buses are cramped and hot. To top it all off, some days the company will only allow renters to start from the halfway point. They do offer a discount in exchange for trash pickup, but that’s only helpful for return trips.

For a once-in-a-lifetime tubing trip, it might be worth the price and wait times to not have to plan. For everyone else, bringing tubes is a much better bet. Any kind of floating device will do, from kayaks to pool toys, but the standard sturdy rubber inner tubes are cheap at most gas stations along the way. Old sheets come in handy here – the black rubber quickly heats up in the sun! Inflate the tubes with air pumps at a gas station and tie them to the cars for transport, or bring a power converter to inflate them in the parking lot.

Salt River Tubing does not own the Salt River Recreation Area, so if you buy your own tubes (try Walmart or Costco), and have two cars such that you can park one down river, and then drive everyone up to the point at which you want to start (and then drive back to get the car later) you don’t have to utilize Salt River Tubing’s services. Note: Salt River Tubing will not inflate your tube for you if it isn’t one of theirs.

The 411

If you have never been tubing on the Salt River before, there are some things you need to know that might not seem immediately obvious. Following these tips will hopefully help you to have a relaxing and fun day, with no mishaps or misadventures!

  • List of items to bring: Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, several bottles of water, snacks, towel, sheet, shorts, shirt, water, shoes, cash.
  • Make sure your butt is protected, meaning I don’t recommend wearing a thong. If the water level is low, you could be scraping bottom.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally several times throughout the day.
  • You can tie a plastic cooler with beverages and food to an inner tube. Styrofoam coolers won’t make it very far.
  • The inner tubes will get very hot. Sheets draped over the tubes will make them more comfortable. It will also help to keep smaller people from falling through the middle of the tube.
  • Leave jewelry and other valuables at home. Bring your driver license and money.
  • Don’t leave valuables in the car. There is no security in the parking areas. Lock your car doors.
  • Wear old sneakers or water shoes in the river. There are rough parts where you could hurt your feet.
  • If you tie your tubes together, it is possible that you will all get stuck or entangled. Despite all the recommendations about not tying the tubes together, many people will do it anyway.
  • People do get hurt while tubing, and occasionally people will drown. It can happen in any body of water. Be smart. If you can’t swim well, bring a life preserver or rent one.
  • Do not litter. Bring a plastic trash bag. There’s nothing worse than floating through other people’s trash.
  • Everyone who tubes on the Salt River is amazingly tired after a long day of lounging around. Drinking alcohol while tubing will make you drowsier, and could be risky.
  • Tubes will not be rented to children under 8 or under 48″ tall.
  • No glass. Coolers will be checked.
  • Make sure you have a way to attach your keys to your clothing such that they won’t get lost.
  • The best stops for tubing on the Salt River are 1 and 2 are relatively calm, and then, depending on water flows, it gets a bit more exciting from 2 through 4.
  • Bathrooms are at the designated rest area and picnic area by the bridge at stop #2. There are also restroom facilities at the end of #4.
  • There are parking lots at each of the 4 stops. You should park at the one where you think your journey will end. If you use Salt River Recreation’s parking facility, it is free but you have to pay for the bus trip. If you park in the public lot, the state charges a fee.
  • You can bring any non-motorized apparatus, but if you use Salt River Recreation buses they won’t let you on unless it’s a rubber or vinyl floating apparatus, like a tube or a small raft.
  • Police officers visit routinely, especially during busy weekends, and are on the lookout for underage drinkers and intoxicated drivers. Appoint a designated driver or arrange for transportation ahead of time.
  • Be responsible for your trash. Free trash bags are available at the rental station.

For more information, contact the Salt River Tubing at 480-984-3305 or visit Salt River Tubing

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One comment

  1. A local and years of tubing and watching the stupidity of others. Bringing sheets, towels and coolers means litter most of the time. Money, wallets, keys, GoPros, phones, cameras, trash, and personal items found in the river every weekend. There are people out there who make it a point to fish valuables from the river. They plant themselves at the entry and exit points. You really don’t deserve your stuff back. Glass is illegal. People should be carrying only what they need for that time frame, no extras. Attach a backpack or large Camelback to your tube and put a waterproof bag inside for food and stuff that needs to stay dry. Put the contents inside zip-loc bags as a secondary dry measure. Carry just enough drink for the trip; live with drinking something you can handle that would stay cold enough in just river water and doesn’t need ice. This method works every single time and I never lose or damage anything. And, it’s easy and light to haul. Live without the alcohol for the duration. Alcohol has been linked to almost all of the injuries and deaths on the river. The MCSO deputies are always out there and nail boatloads of you guys every day on the weekends. On holiday weekends, they saturate the area with deputies and check every vehicle leaving. Drunk people are especially ill-concerned about recovering their stuff. Tipsy and drunk people also forget to put on sunscreen every hour. You deserve that pain. Flipflops are always a bad idea. Always wear sandals like Tevas, water shoes, or sneakers. The river bed is slippery and rocky. Tying tubes together? Bad idea. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched tubers turn over tubes because of this. Rapids, rocks, branches mess with grouped and connected tubes; imagine clothes tumbling in a dryer. Coolers, towels, clothes, sheets and all that trash ends up in the drink and is rarely recovered. Look into the bottom of the river after every rapid point, points of entry and exits. The ropes? Use your feet to interconnect, so you can disconnect in the rapid section and reconnect in the calm sections. If you must connect, connect with a strap that has a buckle and only connect to one other tube. Oh and marshmallows? Wildlife are not suppose to be eating human food. It destroys their ability to digest their native diet. Their intestines and colons become impacted and they get colic. Foals and adults lie on the ground; writhing and suffering until their stomach or intestines split open and then they die. Did you also know that some Salt River horses have been found still alive, only to be euthanized because they couldn’t be saved? On multiple occasions, herds of deer have been destroyed around the Grand Canyon due to eating people food and wasting away because their digestive system changed so much they could no longer process their native diet. So yeah, keep track of your stuff and don’t release food or other stuff into the river. On 2/3 of trips in the last 6 weeks I saw people get too close to the horses and chase them down river. What are we, children? Leave wildlife alone and take pictures from a distance. Give them at least 20′-30′ space. Use your brain, practice common sense and enjoy yourself.

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