It’s not really summer in East Tennessee until the tubing starts at the Little River.
Around Memorial Day, the stretch of the river just downstream of the wye in Townsend begins drawing people like the bell for a fried chicken dinner.
They come to cool off, and nothing does that better than easing down on a big inner tube and riding the chilling mountain water for a stretch.
Wayne Duer of Smoky Mountain River Rats tube rental – one of a handful of rental places in Townsend – has been helping people head down the river since 1995 and says age doesn’t matter.
“It seems like we have a lot of couples who come out and a lot of kids,” he said. “And, a lot of older people— going tubing is on their bucket list.”
The draw is a mix of adventure and relaxation that’s hard to find in other outdoor endeavors. The occasional rapids are something else. Fast, wild and unpredictable, they send the young and old into screams of excitement and fits of uncontrollable laughter as their tubes bounce around rocks and dash frenetically through the foaming, white water.
By contrast, I’ve come to enjoy those long, lazy stretches between the rapids where I can just lie back and let the river carry me and my worries away. The sun above. The cool water below. The green mountain foliage on either side. Life is good.
And, it’s so easy now with these tube rental establishments. No cramming old, patched-up inner tubes into my car. No trying to figure out transportation at both the start and finish of the run. No dealing with limited parking. The tube places take care of it all.
On a really hot summer weekend the river is literally filled with tubes and people having a good time. It’s a happy bunch. Why wouldn’t they be? There’s no better place to be on a hot summer day.
Here are some helpful tips:
First, the rental establishments are not allowed to drop off or pick up customers inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a good idea, because the congestion would make it a mess. So, they just drop you off at the park boundary, which is just a little before the wye, and you float down to a pickup point.
Second, you’ll take out in Townsend where there are plenty of places to eat or you can bring a cooler and picnic by the river.
Third, take sunscreen and footwear. Sunburn is really sneaky on the river. You don’t even notice you have it until you’re a lobster. And, trying to step over the rocks barefoot can turn what is supposed to be a fun outing into toe-bruising misery. Besides you don’t want to be “that guy” who’s slowing everybody down and complaining.