It recently occurred to me that I’ve never really discussed tubing on the Green River in NC, and I really feel like that has to change. I’ve discussed times that I’ve gone, but I’ve never described the trip in a way that other people could have the same good time that I frequently do.
The beautiful thing about the Green River is that there are so many options for how to experience it. You can take a tube or a kayak. There are several places to get on and off the river, so you can spend as little as maybe an hour, or you can stay nearly all day. You can pay for a guided experience, or just take your own gear and go down when you want. This trip is literally what you make of it.
For a beginner, I would recommend paying for the guided experience. I’ve went tubing several times with Wilderness Cove Tubing, and they were a genuine pleasure to work with. You just show up, park your vehicle, and they take care of the rest. Wilderness Cove supplies the tubes, they shuttle you up to the starting point, and they pick you up at the end. If you’ve never been before and might not go frequently, this is probably the easiest option.
After you’ve been down the river a few times and you know a thing or two about the experience, you may want to invest in your own tube and just take 2 vehicles. Once you have a tube, the only investment is the fuel to get there, and you can go as many times and as frequently as you want. Sure, there’s a little more maintenance and preparation, but it’s cheaper over the course of several trips.
If tubing isn’t your deal, plenty of people take kayaks down the Green River. I’ve never been on one personally (something I hope to change this summer), but everyone I’ve talked to about it seems to have a great time. This is obviously much more of an initial investment, but if you already have the gear and have gone kayaking elsewhere, it might be something you’re interested in.
Once you’ve been a few times and you know what you’re getting yourself into, maybe you just want to drive up to the swimming hole and play around on the rope swing. Instead of spending hours just lounging around, you get a much more condensed and active experience.
Planning a Trip
When planning a trip to tube down the Green River, there are several variables to consider.
First, and possibly the most important, is how long you want to spend on the river. If you’ve never been before, this can be difficult to judge. Dropping a figure like “4 hours” is hard to gauge without prior tubing experience. For some people, getting to the first bridge is plenty of time on the river and they’re ready to go home. For others, the roughly 4 hours it takes to get from Fishtop Access to the second bridge (at 35.305797, -82.274880 or 35°18’20.9″N 82°16’29.6″W) is about the right length for a trip. If that isn’t enough, you may want to stay on the river all the way to 3rd bridge. This is definitely something that differs from person to person, but I feel like the 4 hour midpoint is a good place to start. At worst, you either stay on the river a little longer than you wanted or have to get off when you still weren’t quite done.
Another issue to address is how many people are going. For small parties of 3 or less, it may be best to take a single vehicle and pay for the guided trip, even if you’ve been several times before. Larger parties of 4 or more might be better off taking multiple vehicles, especially those who have been before and know what to expect. Since self-guided tubers have to secure their own ride back to the top of the river, it’s nice to have a vehicle that can seat everyone in the party. The drive from the 2nd bridge to the top isn’t more than about 5 miles, but it can be a headache to make multiple trips.
Hitting the River
So you’ve decided you want to go tubing. You know how many people are going, how long you want to be on the river, and whether you’re taking your own tubes or renting them. Here’s how things are going to go down.
When getting ready for your trip, you’ll want to bring proper gear and basically nothing else. Swimwear and sunscreen are obvious necessities. As for shoes, I personally recommend Vibram FiveFingers if you don’t mind the look of “toe shoes,” but any sort of water-friendly shoe will do. You can use flip flops or go barefoot, but some of the rocks along the rapids can scratch you up. If you’re bringing your own tube, I’ve had a lot of success with the River Rat Swim Tube by Intex. We’ve had people bust store-brand tubes on fallen branches and rocks, but I don’t think I’ve personally seen a single River Rat tube get damaged. For those who want to prepare for everything, you can bring an extra tube, or you can just plan to walk/swim down the river if one bursts. If you’re bringing any sort of action cam, I would definitely attach some sort of flotation device. Since I’ve been tubing down the Green River, I have been with parties who have collectively lost a set of keys, a cell phone, 2 titanium wedding bands, and several shirts and sunglasses. If you drop it, it’s probably gone.
After you get off the river, you’ll definitely want a towel and probably a dry change of clothes. Also, being on the river for several hours is bound to make you hungry and thirsty, so it’s wise to pack some snacks and drinks. Other than that, there isn’t much to take with you. There is a convenience store just off Interstate 26 that offers drinks and boiled peanuts (which are great to take on the river with you), and a Subway to grab some food either before or after your trip.
Depending on how long you plan to be on the river, I would recommend trying to get off the river before about 6pm. In the mountains of NC, the sun sets quickly, and you don’t want to be on the river after dark. Most rental places run tubes from about 11am to 3pm or so, and it would be unfortunate to show up after the tubing window has closed. If you bring your own tubes, you can obviously go as early or as late as you want, but daylight is precious when you’re on the river.
If you’re renting a tube, most of the work is done for you. Show up at the rental place, leave your keys at the desk, and let the shuttle take you to the drop in point. If you brought your own tubes, it takes a little more preparation. Cell service is abysmal in the area, so I’ve always planned to have everyone meet at Fishtop Access and start getting the tubes inflated. Once everyone has gathered, 2 people take both vehicles down to the end point, leave 1 vehicle there, and both ride back to the top in the other vehicle. Again, it’s typically best to leave the vehicle with the highest passenger capacity at the bottom, since everyone will be riding back in the same car. Also, be sure to LEAVE YOUR KEYS and TOWELS with the vehicle at the bottom. If you take the keys back with you, it won’t do you any good. Typically, I leave the key either behind the gas cap, on top of a tire, or somewhere near the vehicle but out of view. I can’t guarantee that people won’t bother the vehicle, but I’ve never had it happen to me. Likewise with the towels, they aren’t going to do you much good at the top of the river. If you have enough people going to require 3 vehicles, it may be best to leave 2 vehicles at the bottom and reduce the need to make multiple trips.
Once you’ve left a vehicle at the bottom of the river and returned to the top, you’re almost ready to embark. Inflate all the tubes, apply your sunscreen, and make sure that you only have what is absolutely necessary. If you have 2 sets of keys for the vehicle at the top of the river, you can leave 1 set locked in the vehicle at the bottom and lock the other set in the vehicle at the top. Otherwise, just do the same thing you did at the bottom and leave it somewhere inconspicuous near or on the vehicle. Again, I’ve never had anyone tamper with my keys or vehicle, but I can’t guarantee that they won’t.
After you get on the river, it’s mostly smooth sailing. Keep an eye out for bridges to know your bearings, and you should have a good time. Between the first and second bridges is a swimming hole with a rope swing and some rocks to jump off. If you do decide to jump from the swing or some of the trees, be sure to check the depth of the water before you jump. The nearby sand bank tends to shift quite a bit over time, so it may be deep during one trip and shallow during another. Water is typically deep under the rope swing, but know your limits. If you don’t know for sure that you can hold your weight on the rope, jump from the smaller ledge first. For rented tubes, don’t stay so long at the swimming hole that you miss your shuttle bus. On Saturdays through the summer, it can get pretty crowded from maybe noon to about 4pm. Weekdays are typically much less crowded. Holidays are obviously going to be the most crowded, but you take what you can get.
Since this is a natural river and not a water park, there are some things you should watch out for. Snakes are pretty common through the area, so watch for those and give them as wide a berth as possible. Most other wildlife around is relatively harmless, but there can be spiders, wasps, and other such creatures along the banks of the river. Common sense can keep you reasonably safe, but there is always a risk for personal injury and getting someone off the river with a snake bite or broken limb is probably not an easy task.
I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone who enjoys watersports. It isn’t quite as exciting as a water park, but it is a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and relax on the river. I try to make a point to go at least once every year, and typically bring someone new along with me.
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