Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are certainly the state’s biggest attraction. The gorgeous peaks to the west of Denver are certainly awe-inducing. But, Colorado also has some great rivers and the ice-cold run-off from the mountains’ snowfall provides an opportunity to cool down in the summer. This is especially welcome when temps are consistently in the 90s.
You can enjoy a dip close to Denver with stunning scenery and float away to your heart's content on a fairly smooth river. One of the best places to do this is Golden’s Clear Creek, which offers some great tubing.
Cozied up to the base of the Rocky Mountains, Golden is less than 30 minutes from Denver. There's enough to do in Golden that you can return after a day on the river and take advantage of the city’s downtown area's apres-tubing eateries. Golden itself is a go-to place for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you're a daring stand-up paddle boarder who wants to trade calm reservoir waters for some rapids or you're a mountain biker looking for some grueling ascents.
Upriver from Golden, you can go whitewater rafting, with floats suitable for beginners to those who are more advanced and can handle whitewater rapids. On some of those more adventurous trips, river rafting companies screen your athletic ability and paddling skills before you can take the trip because 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 river tubing getaway from Denver. You can stay a while to enjoy a picnic in a nearby park or explore this historic mining town (which is also home to Coors Brewing Company and the Colorado School of Mines, an engineering university).
- This isn’t exactly a float in the lazy river. You’ll encounter some fast-moving water as you float along. Those mini-white water rapids look like unassuming ripples in a brook from the walking path but they feel much more powerful when you come face-to-face with them in an inner tube; you can get churned out of your tube and might need to do a little swimming down the creek.
- Wear water shoes. The Clear Creek River has gobbled up plenty of flip-flops. Wear shoes that secure to your feet so they don’t get swiped away by its characteristic, swirling rapids. Your feet will thank you. When you’re entering and exiting the river, the rocks can be brutal, especially if your feet are sensitive. Plus, you’ll be doing a lot of walking on the concrete between your points of entry and exit, so having shoes makes for a much more comfortable experience.
- Lift your bum: When you’re nearing rocks or rapids, do a little butt lift do a little butt lift so you don’t wake up bruised the next day. Try to avoid the shallow areas where you can see the rocks, as well. If you get stuck in a slow spot, fellow tubers will give you a friendly budge.
- Get the right tube: One of those black innertubes from a gas station will do just fine, but the bigger and 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 and you can check out daily water flow conditions. When the river is running 40 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 100 cfs, you can expect a mellow to moderate tubing experience. 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 snowmelt in May and June, the river is pretty frigid. By July, the creek warms up some and prime tubing time is in August and September. However, with some balmy days in October, tubing Clear Creek can be a unique way to enjoy the changing leaves.
Planning an Epic Day of Tubing
Fuel up with a good brunch: Make your first stop the Bridgewater Grill, at 800 11th St. in Golden 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 omelet, decadently stuffed with chorizo and green chilis, or the steel cut oatmeal topped with fresh berries and cream. They also serve Bloody Mary's (and Bloody Maria's, made with tequila) that are garnished so 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. As a bonus, they're great for sledding down snow-kissed hills come winter.Golden Goods, 1201 Washington Ave. in Golden, is near 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.
Rent a tube: 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 $20 to $50 a day, depending on the size and type of tube. You can find more information about the rentals at the Golden River Sports’ Facebook page.
Launch your tube: Golden’s Clear Creek River is a stand-out for water enthusiasts because the city built a special Whitewater Park, 800 feet in length, constructed with boulders and divided into sections that feature a series of drops and pools. Tubers will come across shallow surf waves, fast eddies, 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. It's recommended that you park another car near where you plan to get out so that you can shuttle yourself back to the starting point.
Get a sweet treat: Like a reward at the finish line, Golden’s main drag has plenty of places where you can grab an ice cream cone. Check out Golden Sweets at 1299 Washington Avenue in Golden. The ice cream shop and candy store also have a soda fountain. The Pretzel Fluffer Nutter will satiate both your sweet tooth and salty snack cravings; the peaches and cream shake 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 horseshoe pit, sand volleyball court, and a newly remodeled playground for kids. Down the creek, you can relax at Vanover Park with the sound of the creek in the background providing 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 on.
Rent a bike: Continue your adventure on two wheels by renting a bike from Golden's Bike Library, located at 1010 10th St. The bikes are free if you ride for less than two 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 Golden's hills.
Have dinner at Abejas: Enjoy the season's best ingredients at Abejas, located at 807 13th St. in Golden. The restaurant's focus is 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. The local fish dish is a must-have on the summer menu.