Tubing the Poudre River Near Fort Collins – Colorado Trip Advice [GUIDE]
|Location: Fort Collins, CO (Map)||Cost: $10-20 Per Tube + Gas|
|Age Range: Ability to Swim Required||Trip Time: 2+ Hours|
Best Time of Year to Go Tubing
The time of year you choose to go tubing may be the biggest factor in safety. If the river is high, as it will be every spring, it is much more dangerous than later in the year. It all depends on the snowpack level, but usually May and June are the most dangerous months because of higher, faster, colder water. Waiting for later summer months is generally a good idea as the weather will be warmer as well as the water. To enjoy the river safely, you may need gear to keep your body warm (wetsuit, drysuit, special tops or jackets) depending on the time of year. If it's very warm outside and later in the summer, this is less of a concern. A life jacket to keep you afloat is recommended especially for children.
Where to Go Tubing
You can park in a few different places and jump on the river in town. You can also drive up the Poudre Canyon Highway (CO-14) if you are willing to drive a little farther. Note that areas further up the canyon are more risky to be on, but we mention one of the safer places below.
Shields Street to Legacy Park Off College Avenue - Fort Collins
Just north of Old Town, across the street from Chipper's Lanes and just south of the Human Bean is the turnoff to Legacy Park. This is the parking spot to use if you want to be able to hop out of the river and right into your vehicle. Once you are parked there, you can walk on either side of the river all the way back to Shields Street where you get into the river. You can even go a bit beyond Shields, but not much, as there is a man made dam structure up in the area. This is my favorite way to go because the walking gives you a chance to raise your body temperature before hopping into the river.
Alternatively you can take two vehicle to save time walking. Leave one at Legacy Park and drive the other to where the Poudre crosses Shields Street. There are numerous places to park there as well. Then you can hop right in and head down the river.
Filter Plant to Picnic Rock - Poudre Canyon on CO-14
If you are looking for a little more adventure, then this is the place to go tubing. The rating on this stretch of river is relatively easy, but keep in mind what was said above about the best times to go tubing. This float will take you from Filter Plant (CO-14 Mile Marker 116.4) to the Picnic Rock Access (CO-14 Mile Marker 119). On the river the float is approximately 2.4 miles and time varies based on the rate of water flow, but plan on it taking the good part of an afternoon. Because of the length of the float, make sure to take two vehicles parking on at Picnic Rock and the other at Filter Plant. When you drop your vehicle off at Picnic Rock, pay attention to what the area looks like so you know where to get out. There is a small damn down the river from Picnic Rock so you want to make sure to get out at the right time, but the area is fairly hard to miss.
Where to Buy Tubes
If you look in the right place, tubes aren't usually too expensive and will only run you about $15 for a standard rubber tire tube. If you're going to be tubing a lot, we suggest getting a more heavy duty tube with a nylon cover that will last for years to come. The more expensive tubes can be found at many of the big big sports stores.
When I asked my friend Dave, who is in charge of Larimer County Dive Rescue, where it is 100% safe to tube in the Poudre, he answered with an emphatic 'Nowhere.' If I asked him when it is 100% safe to tube in the Poudre, he answers with an emphatic 'Never.' That being said tubing the river is a very popular activity and lots of people do so on a regular basis; just be smart about it! We'll tell you how below...
Hypothermia - The water in the Poudre comes from snowmelt. Snow is cold. So is the water in the Poudre. In early spring, it barely gets above freezing. Hypothermia remains a real risk all year round in the Poudre River, so please take note. If you are shivering all over, as you will see in people who tube the Poudre, you are at least in the early stages of hypothermia.
Drowning - The Poudre is a wild and scenic river. Thus, there are rocks, varying depths, rapids, turns, and hazards that lie under the surface. There are all kinds of ways to find trouble in any river.
Natural & Man Made Hazards - There are dams, bridges and man made water diversion structures up and down the entire river. Sometimes they look like you could make it through them. You can't. Trust me, you can't.