Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are certainly the state’s show-offs. (And, hey, the gorgeous peaks to the West of Denver are most certainly awe-inducing). But, Colorado also has some great watering holes and the ice-cold run-off from the mountains’ snowfall is an ideal way to cool down in the summer, especially when temps are consistently flirting with the 90-degree marks.
We scouted out some of the best places to submerge yourself this summer.
In our quest to find the perfect river for tubing, we took a few factors into consideration. Among the attributes? Close to Denver, stunning scenery to take in while you float away, smooth river-riding logistics, and, of course, a fun, adventurous voyage.
With all those elements considered, that’s how we arrived at Golden’s Clear Creek, a which offers some totally tubular tubing and is a not-so-lazy river. Cozied up to the base of the Rocky Mountains, Golden is less than 30 minutes from Denver and the city’s downtown area has some delicious apres-tubing eateries. The city is also a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you're a daring stand up paddleboarder who wants to trade calm reservoir waters for some rapids or you're a mountain biker looking for some grueling ascents.
Further up the river, you can go whitewater rafting, with treks suitable for beginners to those who are more advanced.
On some of those more adventurous trips, river rafting companies screen your athletic ability and paddling skills before you can take the trip because, yes, the rapids are just that intense.
The lower stretch of Clear Creek that winds through Golden and is shaded by beautiful trees is perfect for a one-day getaway, and you can customize some add-ons to your day trip, with a picnic in a nearby park or free bike rentals to explore this historic mining town (which is also home to Coors Brewing Company and the Colorado School of Mines, an engineering university).
Before you jump in, here’s a few tubing primers:
This isn’t exactly a float in the lazy river. You’ll be encountering some elements. Those mini-white water rapids look like unassuming babbles in a brook from the walking path. They feel much more grandiose when you come face-to-face with them in an inner tube, though, and you can get churned out of your tube and might need to do a little swimming down the creek.
Wear some water shoes. The Clear Creek River has gobbled up plenty of flip-flops. Wear some shoes that secure to your feet so they don’t get swiped away by some of its characteristic, swirling rapids. Your feet will thank you: When you’re entering and exiting the river, the rocks can be brutal on your tootsies, especially if your feet are sensitive. Plus, you’ll be doing a lot of walking between your points of entry and exit on concrete, so shoes make for a much more comfortable experience.
Lift your bum: Trust us on this one. When you’re nearing rocks or rapids, do a little butt lift so you don’t wake up the next day more bruised than a banana destined for banana bread. Try to avoid the shallow areas where you can see the rocks, as well. If you get stuck in a slow spot, your fellow tubers are friendly and will give you a budge.
Get the right tube: One of those black innertubes from a gas station will do just fine, but the bigger and more sturdier tubes with enclosed bottoms will make for a much more joyful ride.They’re easier to steer and the extra stability makes it less likely you’ll topple into the river.
Check out how fast the river is running: The United States Geological Survey (or USGS) monitors the river flow. You can check out daily water flow conditions here. When the river is running 40 cfs to 100 cfs, you can expect a mellow to moderate tubing experience, according to Whitewater Tubing. Between 100 and 500 cfs, you’ve got a much swifter ride and it’s best to leave the river to the kayakers and canoers when the river gets between 500 and 1,000 cfs. Bans typically go in place if the river is above 1,000 cfs.
Know when to go: With fresh snow melt in May and June, the river is pretty frigid. By July, the creek warms up some and prime tubing time happens in August and September. (Though with some balmy days in October, tubing Clear Creek can be a perfect autumnal activity and it’s most certainly a unique way to peep the changing leaves).
Here’s how to plan an epic day of tubing:
Fuel up with a good brunch: Make your first stop the Bridgewater Grill, at 800 11th St. in Golden and which is inside the Golden Hotel, and request to sit on the patio, where you’ll get a scenic view of Clear Creek. Fuel yourself with a Colorado omelette decadently stuffed with chorizo and green chilis or the steel cut oatmeal brulee, made with fresh berries and cream. They also serve some Bloody Mary's (and Bloody Maria's, made with tequila) that are garnished well, you could almost turn them into a meal.
Buy a tube: If you’re a local, invest in a tube to call your own and that will take you on future rafting trips. Bonus? They're great for sledding down snow-kissed hills come winter. Golden Goods, 1201 Washington Ave. in Golden, is nearby the river and sells some high-quality tubes for under $40. Store employees will even pump up the tube for you so that you can use it right away.
Or rent one: Just visiting? You can rent a tube nearby at Golden River Sports, 806 Washington Ave. in Golden and play all day in the river with the locals. Tube rentals range from $23 to $40 a day, depending on the tube. There are smaller, 45-inch tubes that start at $23 a day; a roomy 54-inch tube that rents for $27 a day; and a tandem, double tube that rents for $40 per day. (You can also rent a ride-on alligator for $30 a day). You can find information about the rentals at the Golden River Sports’ Facebook page.
Make your maiden voyage: Golden’s Clear Creek River is a stand-out for water enthusiasts because the city built a special Whitewater Park, which is 800 feet in length and was constructed with boulders and divided into sections that feature a series of drops and pools. Tubers will come across shallow surf waves, fast eddies, and drops and pools. The course is free and is unsupervised. To access the course, you can park at Lions Park (a prime spot for a picnic, too). There’s also free parking further downstream at Vanover Park if you want to continue on your tubing journey.
A walkable path runs parallel to the Clear Creek River, with lots of drop-in points. Pro-tip: Park a car near where you plan to get out so that you can shuttle yourself back to the starting point. (Tubes fit best in SUV’s and trucks).
Get a sweet treat: Like a reward at the finish line, Golden’s main stretch has plenty of places where you can grab an ice cream cone. Check out Golden Sweets, 1299 Washington Avenue in Golden. The ice cream shop and candy store also has a soda fountain. The Pretzel Fluffer Nutter will satiate both your sweet tooth and salty snack cravings and the peaches and cream order is a summer-time favorite.
Continue to play in Golden:
Picnic or relax in the parks: Just north of Clear Creek, Lions Park is a local gem, complete with a horsehoe pit, sand volleyball court, and a newly remodeled playground for kids. Down the creek, you can relax at Vanover Park with the flow of the creek in the background setting the perfect soundtrack for a relaxing afternoon. The east side of the park features a climbing structure and nature play elements for kids to monkey around at.
Rent a bike: Continue your adventure on two wheels by renting a bike from Golden's newly opened Bike Library, located at 1010 10th St. The bikes are free if you ride for less than 2 hours. Otherwise, it's a $10 a day rental fee. Unlike typical bike shares, the bike library has a variety of bikes available for rent, including road bikes, mountain bikes, children bikes and light-weight geared bikes that are good for traversing over Golden's hills.
Have dinner at Abejas: Enjoy the season's best ingredients at Abejas, 807 13th St. in Golden. The restaurant is a relative newcomer to Golden's culinary scene. The focus? Seasonal meals prepared with local ingredients, which makes for an ever-changing menu. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. A must-have on the summer menu: Grape Leaf Wrapped Halibut, with baby turnips, roasted trapes, mustard seeds and an aioli.