Planning a tubing day trip? Bryson City, NC is home to Deep Creek, a popular river tubing destination. With several places to rent tubes, plus local campgrounds, Deep Creek is a great choice for a tubing adventure. KAG’s Kristina Hernandez spent a day tubing with her kids. Here’s how her day went tubing at Deep Creek, plus some tips for planning your own tubing adventure.
Tubing has been on my summer bucket list for awhile. I had to wait until I felt comfortable taking my nearly-five-year-old out on the river. This was the summer we made it happen and it all went down at Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains in Bryson City, North Carolina. And we did it for super cheap, only $7/person for all day tubing.
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Tubing on Deep Creek
Deep Creek is a stretch of pretty shallow water stretching along the Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina side of the park in Bryson City. There are several campgrounds and places to rent tubes from in a stretch of less than two miles.
We rented tubes from Deep Creek Tubing & Campground where tubes cost just $7/each. They come with a life jacket although I brought ours from home so we didn’t need them. I saw other places, like Tube World just down the road. There were several others outside the park entrance.
I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to get a tube since I went on July 4th but there were plenty of tubes and I understood why Deep Creek Tubing doesn’t take reservations.
How Old Should Kids Be to Tube?
This is a question that parents need to ask themselves. Since it was just me taking my two kids, ages eight and almost five, I needed to be confident enough to know I could safely handle my kids and their tubes floating down the river since we would be tethered together.
Many tubing places have age restrictions, which we list in our giant list of places to go tubing in NC, SC, and GA. Deep Creek Tubing didn’t have any restrictions. I’ve gone tubing several times, just not with my kids, so I knew what to generally expect and could figure it out from there on what would be safe.
Both of my kids can swim but I wasn’t taking chances and they both wore life jackets. Great Smoky Mountains National Park now requires children thirteen and under wear a life jacket. You may bring your own, or rent one at Deep Creek with a $10 deposit, which is 100% refundable.
I saw several parents hang onto their kids’ tubes or use twine or ropes to tether tubes together. I felt more comfortable doing that, especially since my youngest was kind of scared the first run down the river.
Prepare to Walk
This was the first tubing experience I ever had where I had to walk my tube to the drop-in point and do it over and over again until I was too tired. Other places take you and your tube to the drop-in point and you float down the river until you hit the outfitters where your car is parked. Not at Deep Creek because vendors are not legally allowed in the park.
How it works is that you rent the tubes from the rental place, get some help tying them to the roof of your car, drive into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park maybe a mile down the road, park your car either in the big picnic area Or up a little ways into another parking lot, get the tubes down from your car and then carry them about a half mile to the first drop-in point, the lower part of the river where the rapids are more calm. You can walk further for a little more adventure but we didn’t do that.
Either way, you’ll pass Tom Branch Falls, a beautiful waterfall right on the river. We saw it multiple times because it’s on the trail you walk to get to the drop-in point. Its beauty never got old!
I had to carry the tube of my youngest kid twice and then both kids another two times – so three tubes total for a mile. It was a workout for sure but still fun and enjoyable. Water shoes are a must since rocks are slippery and the trail is very rocky. I saw people wearing sneakers so whatever works for you, as long as you have shoes on.
What to Bring
Don’t bring much with you because it’s very easy to lose valuables in the river. I bought an awesome little waterproof phone carrier where I put my phone and keys and had it around my neck. We applied sunscreen before we started tubing and again midway through the day. We all had hats, which one of my kid’s lost, of course.
Some people had sticks or rods to help push them out of the rocks when they got stuck – my version was to either use my feet to push off or get out of the tube in the rapids, slip on the rocks, listen to my youngest get all upset while I was flailing around, and then somehow hop back into the tube and reassure my child I was fine. Everyone has their methods.
Since you get out of the river usually where your car is parked, you can take a break during the day and eat lunch. Be sure to drink a ton of water since it’s hot and you don’t want to get dehydrated, which can totally happen even though you’re in water all day. There are no vendors anywhere in the park but since I had to bribe my youngest kid to get in the water, I did find out there is a good snack bar with ice cream right outside the entrance to the park. They also have nachos, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.
Bryson City is only about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Greenville so it’s certainly doable as a day trip. If you want to make it a weekend trip, I’d recommend staying at Sky Ridge Yurts, about 20 minutes away from Deep Creek. Yurts are awesome and Sky Ridge Yurts will blow you away.
Tube for Free
You don’t have to rent a tube at Deep Creek to have a fun day on the water. If you already own a river tube, you can park inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and hike the half-mile to the drop-in point and tube down the river. If I had a river tube, I’d totally do this! I saw a bunch of people tube with their own tubes or other flotation devices. Look for sales at the end of the season to score a big tube for a great price – or just go to Walmart.
Deep Creek Tubing Rentals
Here are a few places to rent tubes right near the entrance to the Smokies and Deep Creek:
Have you been tubing in Deep Creek?