Monday, July 30, 2018

Saturday Adventure: Tubing the Catawba River (Fort Mill to Rock Hill)

Hope you guys all had a great weekend! We definitely did… it was busy but really fun. I wanted to write a blog post about our adventure on Saturday… Tubing the Catawba River! If you’re local (or within driving distance of the Rock Hill/Fort Mill area), you’re going to want to check this out while the weather is still hot! Which, let’s be honest, will be until October.

So, a little background… I’ve gone tubing several times before. I’ve been in the mountains near Greenville and also close to Boone, NC. However, I had never been tubing on the Catawba, even though it is right here, practically in our back yard! (Actually, when we lived in our old house, it really was just about in our back yard!) Over the past few years, I had seen pictures on social media of friends tubing on the Catawba and I just had to try it! The Catawba is much wider and deeper than other rivers where I have tubed before.

I had many questions, and I had a lot of help from friends in preparing for our trip, so I thought I would share some tips that were passed along to me, in case any of you want to try it! (And you definitely should… it’s so much fun!)

So, we debated about buying our own tubes or going through a rental company. When I started looking online, it turned out that you can buy the exact same tubes the rental companies will rent you… but they cost about $13 (Academy actually has them on sale right now for $9.99!) to buy vs. $20 to rent. All of the rental companies I looked into also included a life jacket with the tube as well. We found that you can buy life jackets at Wal-Mart for about $10 and up. (I’ll be honest and tell you that we were just about the only people with life jackets on the river— but I still think it’s better to have them than not. I think if you take a dip in the river, you absolutely should have one.) So for only $3 more than a rental company, you can own the equipment you need and go tubing any time! Here are the tubes we got:

We got this 2-person tube from Amazon.

This tube is awesome for a couple or two friends. We figured it would be great for day-dates! There is a round built in cooler, although we used it more for storage. We actually put towels in there and they stayed dry the whole time! There is also a place between the seats to store a small cooler. Each seat has a cup holder and handles. It’s super comfortable and you stay cool because you’re sitting in the water.

We got a single tube from Academy which was made by the same company— it was really easy to connect the tubes together because this brand of float comes with these nifty little connectors that lock together.

We also picked up a paddle at Academy.

I was advised by several people that a paddle would come in really handy in case we were having to steer around any rocks or in case we came to a standstill in some of the slower-moving spots. This paddle was great because you could adjust it to the length you needed.

The next thing I had lots of questions about was river levels. I’ll be honest… I had the hardest time figuring this part out. In the end, I found two websites that were really helpful.

This one will tell you when they are releasing water from the dam. Typically, you want to go when they are releasing water because it helps cover the rocks and you won’t get stuck in the middle of the river. If the water levels are really low, you will move very slowly down the river. (On this website, look at the Wylie Release schedule. Lake Wylie dam flows into the Catawba.)

And this website will tell you the approximate current river level— plus it explains the different ranges. The ideal river levels for tubing and kayaking are between 3000-3600 cubic feet per second.

Finally, it is always good to take a look at a map of the river. Here is one that will tell you a little about what you’re passing on your journey.

Click here to download a printable version of the map.

We decided to put in at the dam in Fort Mill. In case you’re like me and have no clue where the dam is… here is the address:
2541 New Gray Rock Rd, Fort Mill, SC 29708

We planned to start at the dam and get out at Riverwalk. We figured with the Pump House at the end, that would be a good “marker” for us to know where to get out. That’s about a 3.5 mile “cruise.” Based on what everyone told us, we were expecting it to be between 2-4 hours, and it was about 3 hours for us. It would be slower if they aren’t releasing water from the dam, though.

We dropped a car off at the Riverwalk, then went to the dam to get in the water. (Important tip… store your towels in your ENDING car. You’ll want your tubes, air pump, paddle, life jackets, waterproof bags/boxes (for phones/cameras), sunscreen, coolers, etc. in your car that you park at the starting point. (Make sure you have the keys to both cars with you in the tubes! We put ours in plastic bags in one of our coolers.) We carried a cooler of drinks with ice and another cooler with sandwiches and snacks with a cold pack. Take your sunscreen with you so that you can reapply as needed. I tried out my Young Living sunscreen and it worked GREAT! I loved the fact that a natural sunscreen worked just as well as commercial sprays! There is no better test than sitting in the hot sun on a river for 3 hours.

So now for the adventure! It was crazy busy at the dam on Saturday— LOTS of tubers! Parking at the dam is limited. There is a parking lot that can probably park 20+ cars, but after that, you can park on the sides of the road. Get there early to get a good parking spot, or you’ll be parking down the road. (TIP: if you go around 3:00 pm and see tons of cars parked far away along the road, take a chance and pull all the way down to the parking lot. Chances are, someone has left a parking spot close to the ramp.)

When we got in the river, we used the paddle (and Ryan gave us a couple of good pushes) to get us going.

Then we just relaxed and enjoyed the ride!

We would recommend wearing water shoes or Chacos (or something similar) because if you have to hop out for a second, the rocks are slippery.)

It was really cool going under the bridges. If you take this route, you’ll pass under two bridges and then you’ll get out at the ramp just past the Pump House.

If you haven’t been to the Pump House, you can grab casual eats/drinks after your tubing trip on the top floor without a reservation. There are also several other spots to grab a bite or a drink at Riverwalk.

We loved our tubing day so much, I’m sure we will go again really soon! We want to try the Riverwalk to River Park route next. That’s a little shorter. I hope this post helps you plan your tubing adventure!

WHAT TO BRING (I’m sure I’ve left something off— but if I think of other items, I’ll edit this post and add them.)

For the Starting Point Car

  • Tubes (obviously)
  • rope for tying tubes together
  • life jackets (especially for the kids)
  • pump to inflate the tubes
  • paddle
  • coolers with drinks/snacks/ice
  • sunscreen
  • water shoes/chacos
  • keys to both cars
  • sunglasses/hats
  • phone and/or camera in a waterproof bag or box (you can find these ar Academy or Dicks… or Amazon of course!)
  • speaker to play music (optional)
  • wallet/debit card (so you’ll have your license at the ending point— or you could lock this in your ending point car)

For the Ending Point Car

  • Towels
  • change of clothes if you plan to grab a bite at the Pump House afterwards
  • wallet (optional- see note above)

Finally, HAVE FUN! If you try tubing on the Catawba, drop me a comment and let me know how it goes! I hope you love it as much as we did!


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