Beginner’s Guide to Tubing the James River

In our lives, “tubing” has two distinct meanings… this and this:

Prior to moving to Richmond, I’d been river tubing just once. It involved finding a rental company, making reservations, and forking over a lot of cash. So, when I came to Richmond and learned people tube on their own, I was intrigued. Turns out, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Just use this simple guide to help plan your tubing adventure.

Buy yourself some tubes

While there are tons of options out there, we’ve had good luck with the Intex brand available on  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get something fun and reliable.  There are many options, including single, double and cooler tubs, or our new favorite, tubes that connect.

The other piece of equipment you should seriously consider is a life jacket.  Depending where you decide to tube and the level of the river, life jackets may be required. There are some great alternatives to the huge orange foam things from the 70s and 80s.

Also, if you don’t have tubes that connect, you’ll want to bring along a sturdy rope so you can tie your team together to float as a group.

Plan the Route

The route we enjoy most runs from Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek and is a 3 to 4 hour float that takes you down 2.5 miles of beautiful James River scenery. Float time will vary with the water level, so be sure to check it and plan accordingly.

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You’ll need at least two cars to execute the required drop-off and drive back.  First, plug Reedy Creek (4190 Riverside Dr, Richmond, VA 23225) into your GPS. Have both cars meet there.  Pile all of your tubes (deflated), coolers and friends into one car and lock the other one up safely. It will stay behind at Reedy Creek.

Next, enter Pony Pasture (7200 Riverside Dr, Richmond, VA 23225) into your GPS. When you get there, you can pull up to unload all your stuff and blow up your tubes, but you may have to parallel park in the neighborhood as the lot is often full. Don’t forget to lock your car!


A few important tips:

  • Stay to the right – the rapids tend to be on the left in the James.
  • Butts up! – lift your bottom up when going over rapids to help ensure you don’t get stuck.
  • Be careful when walking on the bottom. There are major, abrupt drop offs as there are rocks lining the bottom.
  • I REPEAT: The rapids past Reedy Creek are intense, dangerous and not fit for amateurs in innertubes. Don’t do it, or you may end up a Trauma patient in the ED with us!


Don’t Miss the Take Out

After floating underneath the train bridge in the photo above, you should start keeping a lookout for the Reedy Creek Take Out.  The James will fork temporarily, and it’s important you stay to the right if you want to end up anywhere near your car. There’s a sign you can’t miss that says “TAKE OUT” with a big arrow guiding you to the right. Don’t go left. Even an UberXL won’t be large enough to fit your whole crew plus all your gear if you miss it.

When you exit the water and walk up, you’ll see the Reedy Creek parking lot where you left your other car.  Time to deflate the tubes and pile everyone in this car to head back to Pony Pasture and grab the other car.

Capture the Fun

If you don’t have a waterproof camera or a GoPro, you can easily take pictures or videos with your SmartPhone with the help of a $10 Joto Waterproof phone case.


So that’s it.  Grab your tubes, +/- a life jacket, cooler and some friends, and get ready for an awesome afternoon on your schedule.


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6 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Tubing the James River”

  1. Thank you for your post. I am new to the area and had no idea what to do or expect out of tubing. We followed your directions to a t and had a blast. I had asked friends only to get a million vague locations (I need addresses folks). Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was an article, which I can’t find, that said how you could park, catch a bus then float back to the parking lot. Do you know anything about this? Thanks.


  2. My wife and I are thinking about taking a tubing trip soon but aren’t sure where to start. We have a few locations picked out and are looking for tubes but that’s about it. We’ll be sure to look into some life jackets in case they are required like you suggest as well. I guess the next step is to plan the route and start packing. Thanks for sharing!


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